Chapter Two Hundred Seventy Six

Seventeen months ago Clay and I were convinced that we were being called to start the adoption process. That set in motion a variety of things. We added a second story to our house, gained another bedroom and got the boys out of Alayna’s bathroom. I brought the big box of board books down from the attic and dusted them off, and sat on the floor and read them all again, and remembered tiny fingers and smiled at the teeth marks on the corners.

I gathered verses to pray for a girl we had not yet met. For a mother we’d never meet. The decision to adopt also began a process in our hearts, as we opened up to the idea of our family looking very different. I was a little afraid, but I was mostly excited. As the months wore on, our anticipation heightened. We became impatient. Where was our girl? Those who have read earlier entries on this blog saw this anxiety. You watched with us as our number crept down ever so slowly, cheering each time it did.

When Natalie Green from Africa New Life came to us and asked if we’d be willing to care for Rebeka while she was in Texas, we hardly had to think twice. Of course! We were all set up for a little girl. We even had new sheets in the closet. Rebeka would help us pass the time, so we wouldn’t be so anxious about the adoption. She’d be a welcome distraction.

And then she came.

And she is so much more than a distraction. Meanwhile, while all this was going on, Clay and I, separately, began to feel less sure about the adoption. Once we talked and realized we were both feeling the same thing, we began to pray. We gave it time. We did not want to make a decision based on fear, or selfishness, but only on conviction. Was this no longer what we were being called to do? But why? As we waited, and listened, and watched, we have come to see that not only is Rebeka much more than a distraction, she is the girl. She is the girl we’ve been preparing for all this time.

This house would not have worked very well for our family and Rebeka without the big remodel we did, in anticipation of a baby. I can’t imagine the four kids trying to share that little bathroom. And guess who is loving those board books, and learning so much vocabulary from them? And guess who each one of those verses was meant for? The ones about “I know the plans I have for you” and “The Lord will protect you” and “for those who have set their hearts on pilgrimage” and “blessed are those whose strength is in you.”

Picture taken by Merissa DeFalcis

When we were first talking about adoption, I said there was no way I could foster to adopt, because I couldn’t bear attaching to a child and then having to let go if things didn’t work out. Guess what we’ll do this Spring? Guess who is getting attached anyway? With every intention of sending her home to her family with much joy, we are loving her while she is with us. It will be hard to say goodbye, but it will be right.

This past month, we knew it was time to make some decisions about the adoption, as our paperwork began to expire. We have decided to discontinue the adoption process for now. It feels right. Who knows what the future has in store for us? Maybe a baby, maybe not. All we know is that right now we’re right where we need to be, caring for Rebeka and loving her heartily. She has become part of our family for a while. She watched homecoming festivities wide-eyed.

She took her first 4 wheeler ride with Nate and didn’t flinch.

Today she got cast #8 on her left foot and cast #2 on her right foot. I was struck by how gradual the process has been. How slowly her skin has stretched, to allow her toes to release. I see how we were like that. We were gradually stretched, with adoption paperwork and numbers on wait lists, and now here we are.

I want to thank everyone who sent us encouragement, prayed for us, and helped us in so many ways. You are a part of this story, too, and I hope this new chapter does not disappoint. I hope you marvel as much as we do at all the plot twists, the suspense, the unexpected turns. Only a master storyteller could weave such a tale, and we count it nothing but joy to be part of the tale.

 

 

“Rudy’s Cup” Friends

We have a tradition at our house. When kids visit, they get a Rudy’s bar-b-que cup with their name on it.

“Ya’ll come back now, ya’ hear?”

This was born partly because we had a bajillion Rudy’s cups leftover from various events, and partly because I hate when someone uses a cup, puts it down, forgets it’s his cup and gets a new one. By the end of some days, we’d have fifteen half-full cups lying around.

So we started writing names on cups, and when you come back to our house, we pull out your cup and you use it for the day. It’s become much more than a cup, though. It means you belong in the Davis house, you’ve put down a bit of real estate here, and we hope you come back. And looking back at cups from five years ago, we’re reminded of some friends who have moved away and the good times we had together.

The Davises will be writing a new name on a cup this August: Rebecca. Ten-year-old Rebecca is coming to Austin from Bugesera, Rwanda. She is going to have some treatments to correct her club feet, and possibly some other problems with her shoulders and hands.

Dell Children’s and several wonderful doctors and surgeons will be donating their services to make this happen . . . and she’ll be staying with us! She’ll travel with a translator who will stay for a couple weeks, hopefully through her first evaluations and treatments, but then she’ll be leaving. There are still many questions that won’t be answered until she gets evaluated, but we definitely know Rebecca will be here for many months. The kids and I can’t wait to meet her . . . Clay already has.

In November of 2010 Clay took a trip to Rwanda to teach a business seminar to small business owners. While there he visited Bugesera, a community where Africa New Life Ministries (ANLM) is starting a school and hosting a sponsorship program, and he met Rebecca. Through a series of coincidences we found out Rebecca was sponsored by a family who attends the same school as our kids, and the father in that family is a doctor. Connections started firing and here we are, awaiting our new friend.

We know Rebecca is shy, very tiny, and she has a beautiful smile.

She’ll leave behind her large family, father and mother, sister and brothers, and her small mud hut home. She’ll fly for the first time across the ocean to a family who will most likely overwhelm her with enthusiasm and love and questions which will all be jabbered in a language she can’t understand. Please pray for sweet Rebecca, that her surgeries would be successful and she’ll be able to walk properly. That she won’t be too homesick, that she’ll be able to communicate, that she won’t be fearful, and most of all that she will know the peace that passes all understanding. That we all would.

How will we soothe this child when she cries for her family, and for familiar?

How will we care for her recovering, frail body?

I want to write her story. Her amazing story. But first, I have to know it. We can’t wait to get started.

As for adoption news, our number has crept to #47. We continue to wait, knowing that’s all we can do on that front. We’ve begun to renew paperwork that’s expired, and we continue to paint our numbers on little onesies as the countdown continues. In the meantime, I know one little girl from Bugesera that’s going to need some tending to, and we’re just the family for the job. We’ve got a lot of love to give, I just hope she’s ready for us. I know we’re ready for her.

Adopting and Trapezing

Our neighbors recently set up a real-deal trapeze on their property. They did it primarily so their kid’s Boy Scout troop could get their trapeze badge, but they kept it an extra week and shared with the neighbors. After experiencing it all, from cinching the safety belt so tight I thought I might stop breathing, to letting go of the trapeze and swinging out my arms to be caught, I saw some parallels to the adoption process.

Chalking up: Before climbing the skinny little ladder to the platform, it is important to chalk your hands so they don’t slip.

Before adopting, it was important for me to make a list of all the reasons why I felt like our family was being led to that decision. Over the past few months, when our number stopped moving, my resolve was kept from slipping by going back to that list.

“Ready . . . hup!”: First they told me to put two hands on the steel frame of the platform while they hooked me into the safety harness. The person on the trapeze slid their hand into the back of my safety belt and once they had me held securely, they told me to let go with my right hand and let all ten toes overhang the edge of the platform. They swung the trapeze bar up and I grabbed it with my right hand.

Next, I let go of the frame with my left hand and reached for the bar. I think this was the scariest moment of all.

When they said “ready,” I bent my knees, and when they said “hup” I took the jump from the platform.

That feeling, of jumping off the platform clutching the bar in my hand, that’s kind of how it felt when we mailed off our paperwork. We were committed, with a considerable amount of time and money invested in the process by that point. We were ready, and “hup!” we put it all in the mail.

The first, basic move we learned involved jumping, swinging my knees over the bar, releasing my arms and reaching up, then grabbing back hold of the trapeze bar and letting my legs hang, then allowing the man holding the rope to my safety harness let me down easy as I turned a back flip to the net.

 Letting go: Once I learned the basic knee hang move, I was ready for “the catch.” An experienced trapeze artist swung from a bar across from me. The elements had to work just right. He had to be swinging at just the right time to catch me when I let go, and I had to be ready to let go, and I had to have good “presentation” with my hands pointed just so he could grab my wrists.  I missed it twice before I made it. That feeling of being held, of letting my knees slip from my bar and swinging from the arms, started with letting go.

There’s a lot of letting go with the adoption. Letting go of expectations. Letting go of control. And there’s a lot of moving parts, a lot of things that have to happen at just the right time for our number to move.

The splits: When Russell-the-rope-holder said I was ready for a new move, the “splits,” I wasn’t so sure. He explained it, I practiced, and then I did it. It was awesome, the first-day-of-summer sun setting, me swinging upside down in what was, sure enough, the splits. I was surprised, and excited, and so thankful for the experience.

The adoption got hard for a while. We wondered if we could do it. The waiting. The uncertainty. Worries crept in. And then our number inched forward. Not very much, but on June 4th we moved to number 54. On June 11th it moved to 53. Then on June 15th it moved again, to 50. And June 22nd, just as we were sitting down at the theater to watch the new movie “Brave,” we checked our email and the number was down to 48.

And it feels a little like swinging upside down in the sunset, doing the splits, these little number jumps. Surprise. Excitement. And so thankful for the experience.

 

 

The Honduran White Tent Bat, and a Number

The word “Honduras” jumps out at me these days from the most random places. The other day, I was reading an interview on Cynthia Leitich Smith’s excellent blog Cynsations. Kate Hosford was interviewing author Laura Purdie Salas, as part of her Celebrating Poetry series.

One particular answer from the interview really captured my attention. Salas says, “I came across the poem I wrote about Honduran tent bats, these tiny cotton balls of bats that huddle along the spine of a large leaf frond. They chew through the leaf’s ribs so that the fronds of the leaf collapse around them like a tent and shelter them from rain and predators.” I immediately got myself over to Bookpeople to get a copy of Salas’ book A Leaf Can Be.

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I had to see what these little Honduran White Bat creatures look like. Steel yourself . . . major squealing cuteness alert.

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And now steel yourself for more squealing. We got another number this morning and scooted up in line, shuffling along behind #54 and in front of #56.

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I wonder who they are, these other people in line? I wonder who SHE is, this little girl that will become our daughter? And mostly I wonder, and worry, about what’s happening to her right now.

Honduran White Tent Bats are about the size of a large marshmallow, the kind you use for s’mores. They can’t have much of a brain, but instinct has taught them what they need to do to protect themselves. I pray the same is true for our little girl. I pray some part of her knows how to beguile her caretaker. Some part of her knows how to hunker down and wait, snuggled up like a little white bat in the center of a sheltering leaf. I pray protection over her sweet self, until we can come for her. I pray these verses, Psalm 121:1-8.

And then I sing for joy for #55, and all the numbers to follow.

Getting in Line

Guess who got their number???

Who would have thought I’d be so excited about waiting in line? We recently found out we’re #65 on the wait list. It feels real again, after all these months of waiting. We’ve got a spot, and we’re standing on it.

It’s been almost a year. On April 7th, 2011, I sent an email to friends and family telling everyone that we had decided to adopt. A lot has happened since then. Lots of paperwork and notarizing and doctor visits and running around town. A trip to Houston to the Honduran Consulate. And then there was the waiting. I guess we’re still waiting, but this kind of waiting is different, because now we’re in line.

We can’t say how much longer it will be before we have that little girl in our arms. The committee who makes assignments meets once a month, and as referrals are made our number gets lower. Maybe our next number will be in the 50’s next time. Whatever it is, we’ll commemorate it with another onesie and hang it on the line.

 

We’ve hung this clothesline in what will be our daughter’s room, and we’ll hang reminders and encouragements and onesies with numbers on them until the number is 1, and we have a picture to add to our line. My niece recently gave us her fortune, and it went right up.

And if that weren’t enough, it’s time to plant my tomatoes again! Spring is here, Easter is around the corner, hope is all around us, and the Davises are standing in line, celebrating.

 

 

Hope in Cantaloupe

Did we hear that small, still voice wrong? Our type-A selves thought we had it all planned out. We thought we’d be getting our referral by now, and instead we’re waiting on a wait list number.

And then I get home from Spring Break and start cleaning out the fridge and we’ve got some cantaloupe that’s going bad so I tear off the lid to dump it down the sink, and I notice, on the lid, that it came from Honduras.

Random, or confirmation? That little word makes my heart leap. This isn’t the first time that out of the blue, Honduras comes into our life, like a little beacon that says, “Keep going, I have something for you, just be patient.”

Something sweet is waiting for us, and we are waiting for her. Until we get that picture and see her little face, I’ll take these small tokens. I keep a list of them in the middle of my Bible, and I pull it out when I begin to doubt, and I remember. There is a reason we stepped on this path. There are many of them.

Getting Messy

I really don’t like getting messy.

My cousin's daughter, decorating Christmas cookies.

Unlike my cousin’s daughter, I hardly touched the cake served to me when I turned a year old. What, no fork? Too messy. I like neat and orderly. Maybe that’s why I like puzzles so much. I love the feel of the right piece clicking into place. Of watching the unsolved part get smaller and smaller until I slip the last piece in and stand back to admire the nice, tidy picture.

Over Christmas I went to my parent’s house and we started a 3,000 piece puzzle. After more than twenty combined manhours, we were barely a quarter of the way through it. We had to leave before it was finished, and it went against every fiber of my being to break up all that hard work without seeing the finished product, neat and tidy and done.

3,000 takes a lot of space!

As a writer, things have been messy lately. See how hard I try to be organized?

I had a complete picture of my story with my first draft, but I knew it wasn’t good enough. To fix things, I had to break the story apart, move things around, and hit the delete button an awful lot. As I crawl into my story’s space and tinker around with dialogue, or cut and move large chunks, it gets very messy. It’s the domino effect. If I move a scene from Chapter 42 to Chapter 10, then the character’s motivations are all wonky and I’ve got to keep going back and smoothing out the ripples.

The adoption has become rather messy as well. As much as we tried to keep things neat and clean and organized in the beginning, we are now waiting and hoping and praying that things work out. That’s all we can do, everything’s on hold. There were other things that made life messy this holiday season. Loved ones died, neighbors grieved, and life no longer looked like the pretty picture I sometimes imagine is on the box. The one I imagine is promised to us.

I do not like being messy, but I can’t avoid it. Life is messy. Writing, and relationships, and cake, it’s all messy. But it can be sweet and rewarding as well. I have a memory of another time when I got messy. Really, really messy. I was in Rwanda, and there was a line of street children waiting to get their plates of food. But before they got their plate, they had to wash their hands. It was my job to hand them a piece of soap, dip a plastic cup into a large bucket of clean water, and rinse them clean.

The water splashed into the red dirt as the kids ran through the line, and by the end of the afternoon my feet looked like this.

When I took off my sandals, you could still see the lines of them, outlined with red, Rwandan dirt.

My apologies to all those with feet aversions, but I would not trade that messy moment for all the completed puzzles in the world, even the 3,000 piece ones. I do not like being messy, but I do love life.

John 10:10- “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.

Warning Signs

We’ve come across a lot of funny warning signs in our travels.

Glad they warned me, or I might have slipped recklessly . . .

Everybody pretty much ignored this warning sign at the Cliffs of Moher in Ireland.

I wasn't sure what I was supposed to do, but I was worried . . .

 

We came across this pamphlet lying around after a recent remodel.

PART-Protect Against Range Tipping

I never realized ranges were so dangerous they required an acronym and a pamphlet to protect people from possible tipping. It got me to thinking about warnings in general, and singing that Garth Brooks song The Dance in the shower. “I could have missed the pain, but I’d of had to miss the dance.”

What if life came with warning signs? Warning: you can have three children, but your hips will never be the same. Warning: you can go to New York with your husband but you’ll get really sick on the plane ride back. I would not have missed the dance in either of these instances. I’ve loved having three children (though not my hippy hips so much) and I’ll never forget that trip to New York.

I haven’t read The Connected Child by Karyn Purvis, a book many people say is a “must read” for adoptive parents. I’m drawn more to the memoirs. The stories. I think it has a little to do with warnings, and how they kill the joy sometimes. The Connected Child  is a great and important book, but it’s got a lot of scary stuff in it, things we’ll be struggling with when we adopt. Warnings make me worry, and I don’t feel like worrying quite yet. Worrying if she’ll attach. Worrying how I’ll handle tantrums and food aversions and parasites. I know they’re there, waiting on the fringes, but I’d rather focus on the girl right now. The worrying will come when it’s time.

But I couldn’t ignore Clay’s, “Oh no,” this morning when he got into his inbox and read a recent Honduran article. Warning: You can go ahead and decide to adopt if you want, go ahead and make plans for a baby to arrive sometime Spring of 2012 if all goes well, but some morning in late November 2011, you’ll read a Honduran article that mentions Honduras “going Hague.” If that happens, it may be years, it may be never, before you bring home a little Honduran girl. But go ahead. Try to adopt.

I clipped this from About.com:

The Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption is an international agreement between participating countries on best adoption procedures. These procedures have basically two goals in mind:

  • The best interest of children are considered with each intercountry adoption.
  • The prevention of abduction, exploitation, sale, or trafficking of children.

So that’s good. But becoming a Hague country takes a long time, especially for a country who can take three weeks just to walk a document across the street. So it isn’t good for us, if “good” means adopting a daughter soon. It’s times like these I hang on to these words of truth:

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” Romans 8:28.

I’ve heard the illustration that going through life is like holding a flashlight in the darkness. You only step into those small circles of light, you only see what’s just in front of you. We keep taking steps, until the light turns off. But while we wait for more news on the adoption front, I step into a day of Christmas shopping, reading the completed rough draft of a manuscript I just finished, and filling a crockpot with something that will smell good and warm our bodies for dinner tonight. That, even in the face of the scary article, is a step I’m willing to take.

Saying Goodbye

I’ve said two hard goodbyes recently. Last week, we put Benji’s guinea pig to sleep. And as much as I complained about his smell and the way his hay tended to drift out of his cage all the time, I’m going to miss that little Mo. He was my companion when I was clacking away on a story, he wheeted to us every morning (because he wanted carrots) and he would “kiss” me when I puckered up (smelling my breath, really). When Mo stopped eating, we knew something was wrong. When the vet said it would cost over a thousand dollars to keep poor Mo healthy, we knew it was time to put him to sleep. Benji was very sad, and I was, too.

Benji and Mohawk, Christmas 2009

A week ago, I said my last goodbye’s to “the farm.” My cousins and I went to the farm all the time when we were growing up. We rode go-carts and horses, made forts in bushes and fished in the tanks, hunted Easter egg (even in cow patties, thanks to Papa) and picked blackberries so my grandma could make pies. It was nobody’s home, and everybody’s escape. The time has come to sell the farm, but before it’s gone, we had one last shindig. All the cousins came, and their kids. There were scavenger hunts and football games, good barbecue, swinging from trees and pictures on the front porch, running up and down those old wooden stairs, skeet shooting and “poor man’s” skeet shooting with dried cow patties, and lots of good stories.

Family and the Farm

It’s so hard to say goodbye, but I think in the act of letting go we take the time to remember the stories attached to the stuff in our lives. And I know that sounds silly when I’m talking about a guinea pig. He was a rodent for goodness sake. But he was part of this family. He altered how we lived our lives, and his presence is imprinted on us, from the Christmas morning when Benji got him and Clay teased that we’d eat guinea pig for lunch the next year, to the way he ate a carrot like a typewriter. Mo and the farm will be woven into the fabric of the stories we tell each other, and future generations.

There’s an old glider rocking chair in Benji’s room that’s been there since he was a baby. He rested his little curly head on the arm while he took a bottle, and squeezed in beside me to read stories together. He can still squeeze if we try hard. A few years ago, I half-heartedly started trying to move the chair out of his room, but he refused. Neither of us was really ready to say goodbye for the sake of a bit more floor space. That chair will be moved to the baby’s room when she arrives. And she will squeeze beside me, or Clay, or one of the kids. And we will tell her stories. And she will become part of our stories.

We received another update about the adoption. Our completed and approved paperwork has been sitting on a desk for almost two months now, waiting to be assigned a number. We found out Honduras now wants more lab work done on all three kids. So back to the doctor we go, and the notary, and FedEx. No number yet, no place in line.

As much as I’m ready to say goodbye to this waiting period in our lives, I’m trying not to look too far forward and miss what’s happening right under my nose. Though we anticipate having a new baby girl, it means saying goodbye to the way our family is right now. We will trade some freedom and spontaneity and sleep for another go at thirty minute walks to the mailbox, learning to blow bubbles instead of eat them, and the wonder of boxes and wrapping paper at Christmas. Each new season in our lives means saying goodbye to the old, and it is hard and sometimes sad, but it is good to stop and remember the stories. We never have to say goodbye to them.

And they lived happily ever after . . .

A Bunny and an Angel Head

1,500 homes burned in the Bastrop fires

32,000 acres, charred

250,000,000 in insured losses, the costliest in Texas history

1 bunny that didn’t burn.

1 angel head that survived.

Nate and I were able to volunteer with the Austin Disaster Relief Network this past weekend (ADRN), joining a team to help clean the sites of two homes destroyed in the fire. One was 1,500 square feet, the other 4,500 , but after fire ripped through them both, square footage didn’t mean much.

I’d heard about these horrible fires, prayed for the families, but not until I strapped on a mask and felt my feet sink into the thick layer of ash did it all seem terribly real. We drug bits of metal, some giant sheets and other smaller pieces of picture frames or the middle of ceiling fans, into a pile to be picked up by crews later on. There were piles for appliances, toxic items like paint cans and electronics, and metal. The metal piles were huge.

Metal springs from mattresses. The guts of a grand piano with metal strings that tangled around our ankles as we hauled it out. Garage doors. Folding chairs. Elfa pantry shelves.

But in the midst of all the mess and ash were treasures.

Most of them were bits of china, already fired and used to the heat. We put aside the things we thought the owners might like to have, some broken and some intact. To me, these small tokens were pictures of hope and survival. Maybe to another they would be reminders of all that was lost. The writer in me saw them as concrete details. Things you could hang on to. Things that made it all seem real. They were the sorts of things I’d put in a story, if I wrote one about a fire.

We have some of these concrete details for our future daughter.

 

We’ve read warnings about buying things for your adopted child too soon. These things, hanging out in a closet for months or even years, can breed discontent or despair if you’re still waiting for your child to come home. But to me, they remind me that this whole adoption journey is real, with a very real child on the other end of all this waiting.

200,000+ is the estimated number of orphans in Honduras

100 children for every “nanny” in the government-run orphanage

10 children were adopted from Honduras in 2010

I’ve heard the statistics, but right now they’re just numbers banging around in my head, like details from the Bastrop fires. They could be pretty depressing. The yellow dress and board books are my “angel head” and “bunny,” tokens of hope and survival despite the numbers. We’re still waiting for things to settle in Honduras after the shake up in IHNFA, still waiting to be assigned the number we thought we’d get two weeks ago, still hopeful that things are moving forward.