Wednesday, January 27, 2010

an ordinary day

dear bella ~  today is an ordinary day.  it is one of those mid-january days filled with quiet and cold.   i did have to get up early, pack a few lunches, check a few backpacks and shuffle four tired kids out the door, but that is most days.  that is my normal... my ordinary. but now it is quiet and i am home this morning with nothing pressing on my list,  nothing exciting on my calendar,  and nothing exceptional in my day.  i have been sitting here with my coffee and my dog and my morning and i have been thinking about you.  i just wanted you to know that.  i wanted you to know how somedays my first thoughts are of you.  often as i wake in the morning, i think of you preparing for bedtime in china.  i pray that you are wearing a warm, comfy sleeper.  i pray that you are cuddled up with a soft blanket and listening to the soothing sounds of nighttime.  i kind of doubt this is the case, but i pray that for you.   i want you to know i would pretty much do anything to skip over to china and be the woman who rubs your back or smooths your hair as you drift off.   when it is my turn to close my tired eyes, i often consider what you might be doing 13 hours ahead of us.  you are usually close to lunch time in your day.  there is this wee bit of comfort in knowing that.  i imagine your days in the orphanage are often rather ordinary days.  i'm fairly certain they aren't days filled with pony rides or ice cream cones or visits to the circus.  i really know so little about orphanages and exactly what happens in the course of the day. perhaps that is in some way a blessing.  a few nights ago your sisters, emily and sarah, and i sat on their beds and talked about what we thought your day was like.   we tried...but none of us really had much of an idea.  our talk quickly shifted to what it might be like when you are finally in our home. under our roof.  in our arms.  that was easier subject material.  that was something we could put colors and scents and textures to.  our heads were immediately filled with thoughts of small buckled shoes and smocked dresses and baby doll strollers.  we could hear your quiet voice and maybe even your loud cries.  we could smell the fresh, soft scent of your hair after a bath and could feel your chubby hand in our own.  the joy of your giggle and the delight in your laughter are something for which we already long.  emily - your very oldest sister - made me promise we would dress you in only the cutest of clothes. she said specifically,  "none of these hand-me-down things, mom!"...not for our precious baby sister.  i fear you will be treated like a queen.  oh my!  i know i should immediately begin combatting that mindset...but i won't.  i can't.   i have this hunch you just might have two older sisters and two older brothers at your majesty's beck and call within a short time of making your entrance.  i won't let you run-a-muck with this, mind you, but i suspect i won't be able to fully halt or mask my secret delight in watching you rule your older and obedient subjects. oh yes, we shall see...someday.
someday i will walk through the door of your orphanage. someday i will stand in the very room in which you tonight sleep.  someday i will see where you have spent almost 2 years of your life.  i will know more then. the walls might not talk, but they will show signs of the life you have lead.  on that someday i will be the strange lady who holds you in her arms and carries you out of that orphanage door.  i will be the woman who will walk you into the china sunshine.  i will take you to a park and place you in a swing.   i will sit with you and watch birds or bumble bees or butterflies. i will gladly and eagerly watch you.  i hope that even on that first day we might smile together.  i wish i could send this letter ahead - an introduction of sorts.  i wish i could announce our visit well before whisking you away from all that you know.  it will be hard.  i have dreamt a few times about what "gotcha day" will look like for us.  trying to prepare myself, i envision you crying, maybe screaming...clinging to the one who brings you to us.  i see fear in your eyes and resistance in your body.  i allow myself to see this because i know it might very well look like that.  anything less will be better.  we will take you any way you come to us that morning. when you can't hold fast to us, we will hold fast to you.  we might even at some point feel like darting out the door in our fraility and fear.  but we won't.   i want to tell you that right now.  we won't. being abandoned once is one too many times for any child.  along the paperwork road we had to submit a letter of application to china.  we received specific instruction on what needed to be written.  one phrase that we had to copy and include was, "we promise to not abandon or abuse this child."   that is all they wanted us to say on the subject.  i found that phrase sorely lacking.  completely insufficient. utterly inept. my wordy self was prepared to write a paragraph, an essay, even a treatise on the fact that we would not abandon or neglect.  i could have written song lyrics and poetry and at least two term papers on our promise. instead, today, i will write this letter.  this letter which no chinese official requires or will ever read.  this letter which you will not read anytime soon.  this letter which i wish to send ahead, but know that instead it must stay and wait for you.  perhaps someday you will have the chance to read some of my words and know how much you were loved even before you arrived.  i would like you to know that...someday.  but today, well, this is just an ordinary day.  i am planning ordinary things. but in the midst of my normal-everyday-stuff, i will think of you.  i will think about how God is working to place you in our home. how He goes before you and how He will come behind us.  a year ago i had no idea we might be anticipating a little girl from china.  a baby sister.  a toddler. a third daughter. a fifth child.  another heart to love. another hand to hold.  another gift to treasure.  and all i can think of on this very ordinary day is very extraordinary.
                                                                                                                  ~  with love, your mom

Monday, January 18, 2010

grand prize winners

i can't promise it is always pleasant to be the recipient of a letter from the United States government.  even if we are anticipating good news the mad dance of butterflies can be felt in our stomach while slicing into the envelope.  similar to when we were beckoned to the principal's office as  middle schoolers.  depending on the colorfulness of our prepubescent years, we may or may not have been able to come up with one offense, but boy did our minds work overtime trying to recall every possible misstep.  through my school years, i was called to mr. borchart's office many times.  only on one or two occasions (if i remember correctly) was it for trouble.  but there was never a time, however, when the mere summons didn't cause some serious nerve racking rumbling and tumbling.  it was about authority. it was about power.  mr. borchart had a firm handle on both.  he had the authority and the power to bring good or bad to my world and there was very little i could do about it...(or so i thought).
this was very much how i felt tearing into our letter from the US government this afternoon.  it was the letter we had been anticipating.  we expected it would hold good news of our immigration approval.  but, there was alway that chance...  that chance we could have messed up.  failed to submit something.  neglected to sign in the correct color ink on the correct line. we had checked our paperwork and rechecked and then rechecked again.   i am a firm believer, however, in operator error.  i like a little wiggle room when i am at task.  i knew early on i was much better suited for a career in horsehoes than one in neuro-surgery.  i could get credit for being close in horseshoes...not so much with brain surgery.  i am especially grateful, however, that we are not all created in this same way.  i really do prefer my airplane pilot and my varicose vein surgeon to have a great love of precision and accuracy. in fact, i count on it.  one of my favorite math concepts, perhaps my only favorite math concept, was rounding or approximating.  i loved that.  "678 is about 700."  that worked great for me.  it works for me even today.  when rick asks me what i spent at target...i just use that favorite math concept and round (down).  it's quite a lovely tool.  he caught on to that trick years ago, though, and now knows that if i say this new lamp cost about $60 was most likely $69 dollars.   as a teacher, i seemed  never to be able to pass out the correct number of papers per row to my students.  i never worried if there were exactly 11 sheets for 11 students.  i realize that sounds quite sloppy.  it reeks of inexactitude.  it drove some of my more analytical students crazy.  but in the middle of discussing macbeth, i would smile sweetly and respond, "this is english class, not math class."  i did try to be a little more careful when averaging their grades come semester's end.  i tried.
so as you can see, i had reason to doubt the content of this letter.  i was also pretty sure that if something had to be redone or resubmitted for the US government  it wasn't going to be a timely thing.  i had no illusions that they would hurry up something for someone that had already messed up.  so, it was with some slightly shaky fingers that i slit the envelope. i carefully unfolded the document and scanned it repeatedly.  it took me about a half hour to decide if it was good or bad news.  seriously.  remember this is a government issued notice.  we receive publisher's clearance house notifications all the time announcing us to be the grand prize winner....the next millionaire!  the bold, glittery, enormous words jump out at us as soon as the paper is extracted from it fold.  those exuberant announcements come printed on slick textured and multi-colored paper...with stickers and holograms and our own names emblazoned upon them: Jody McNatt - you're a winner!  you've won! we've won and we didn't even know we had entered anything to win. crazy. 
so there i sat with my 100% bona-fide-government-official and serious-looking document.  small print. evenly spaced and seriously sedate.  all black and white no nonsense. lots and lots of words and numbers and codes.  i scanned and rescanned the notice attempting to find one phrase that announced us to be winners.  and there it finally was:
You have been approved to adopt one child from the following Convention country: China.
one line in the middle of the paper. one line in a sea of unintelligible government-ese.  i caught my breath.  standing in my kitchen i said out loud,  "this is good. i think this is good." and it was. it was only one more step in a long process.  we are certainly not done.  there is more to do and more approval to anticipate. but at least for today, we won! we have been approved.  we aren't going to be millionaires...but we certainly do feel like grand prize winners.

Friday, January 8, 2010

neither rain, nor sleet, nor snow...

i climbed into my yukon xl with all of its four-wheel- drive-power-and-performance and i braved the roads. treachorous.  hazardous.  perilous.  it was time for sheer courage, will and determination to link arms with a stylish pair of boots and head out. nothing would separate me from getting this next batch of adoption papers to the fed ex office this morning. not even a snow day in atlanta, georgia. not even the guy who literally crept at a snail's pace out of our subdivision.  not even the policeman who had closed the road due to ice and told me to, "go around."  i would happily go around, but i would get there.  nothing would keep me from growing a day closer to adopting bella.  i had no choice but to zip up my coat and dodge southern drivers on my way to the fed ex office. i was crossing my fingers that they would be open and in business.  it was time to trust that old postman's adage, "neither rain, nor sleet, nor snow...."  this morning we woke up to a winter wonderland.  okay, well, maybe that is a bit over the top.  we woke up to a light dusting of snow.  it looks as if some gigantic sky fairy flew above us last night with  fistfuls of powdered sugar.  it sort of looks like my kitchen countertops after the girls have been busy baking.  you get the picture.  we are not talking knee deep.  we are not talking shoveling or snowplows.  we are barely talking boots, and yet, everything in atlanta will close down today.  schools cancelled last night, due to "wintry conditions."   i am certain the lines at our local market were long with fretful southerners clutching bags of bread and cartons of milk.  i have never seen a town hunker down quicker with the waltzing of a few white flakes in the sky.  as a northern girl who lived smack dab in the middle of the chagrin valley snowbelt (by the way, smack dab is an authentic southern term) i am always amused at this hyper-type-reaction to even the chance of a few flurries.  the screeching halt in atlanta is really kind of funny to a girl who (at age 16) drove herself 40 mintues to school with sandbags in her trunk, metal chains on her tires and a younger sister in her passenger seat.  speaking of screeching halt, last night while we were stopped at a major intersection  there was this terrible screeching sound.  it was a mixture of metal grinding and the road squealing...i am sure it had a few curse words mixed in from those closeby.   we heard it well before seeing the tiny white toyota come sliding toward the intersection.  apparently the driver saw the light change and decided to slam on his brakes.  not such a good idea when there are "wintry conditions."  he somehow managed to miss the 400 cars (atlanta traffic)stopped in the intersection.  but i have to say my father's defensive driving lectures replayed in my mind, yet again.
 i began this piece telling you about yet another trip to the fed ex office.  today's purpose was to send most of our adoption dossier to our agency in nashville.   we are still waiting for our immigration clearance, but, in the meantime, all of the dossier papers have to go through a "verification" process.  clearly there are adoption officials with the sole purpose being to find new and creative ways to shuffle papers.  all of the official documents which we have busily collected and have had carefully notartized, now have to travel through another parade of notaries, i.e., verification.  i guess this is a "just to be sure" kind of thing.  it does make me wonder though;  is this process to make sure they are sure or are they testing us to make sure we are sure.  this next step will include checking the county, state, and country levels on all documents.   i really cannot even wrap my mind around what that all entails.  i am just thankful my part in this is only sending the entire bundle off to our agent.  he will take care of the rest.  today it seems to be about trusting that the fed ex system follows the same adage as the post office, "neither rain, nor sleet, nor a (light dusting of) snow".... will keep these papers from nashville.    i drove home thinking about the things which could have kept us from bella grace xue.  there have been so many hurdles.  so many hoops to jump through.  so many planets which have had to align.  i am quite glad we didn't know all of this up front.   God has clearly given us just what we could handle for the moment.  most of all, He has given us the unbelievable, unwavering sense that He is in control of the hurdles, the hoops and the planets.  He is even in control of the wintry conditions. He continues to show us that He is coordinating our union with this little girl in china, just as He perfectly coordinated our coming to Him.  there is nothing, no nothing, that can keep Him from us.  nothing that can keep Him hunkered down. there is nothing which brings Him to a screeching halt.  there is nothing that can separate us from His great love.
 "who shall separate us from the love of Christ?
shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. for i am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God..."  ~ romans 8:35-39

now, off to buy myself some milk, bread and a snowplow.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

a long way

i still claim this whole adoption journey to be the fault of my friend beverly.  she was the one.  she was the one that brought us the file of a little girl in china named xue zhu zhang.  well...i guess the chain was actually, lily - amy - donna - beverly...but beverly was the one who, in her most matter of fact, and funny, funny way, dropped it into the lap of my computer and said, " she is!"  she is the one that continued to echo the already whisper in my heart, "why not?"   she and her daughter, neilly, even threatened, "if you don't, we will..."  her friendship and encouragement is as much a God-Thing as is this child we pursue.  beverly is unwavering in her support of us.  she has this spark of humor which truly lightens the heaviness of all the awful stuff that straps itself to adoption.  in the past months we have had to process a long list of what ifs. 

we have had to consider baby zuzu's serious heart condition, her abandonment, the inaccessability to her medical records, her prognosis, the psychological effects of institutionalization, her developmental delays,  her possible limitations.  we had to sit, individually, and watch 8 hours of online hague convention training which basically detailed every worse case scenario imaginable. included in this online training were pages - no volumes - of medical and psychological reading spelling out for us, this won't be easy.  rick and i have had to fill out pages and pages and pages of paperwork and answer countless questions about these doubts.  we have consulted with many medical professionals.  some who have been encouraging and some who have shared grave concerns.  

we knew from the very beginning zuzu was not a sure thing.  we were even told she "was a risk." we were instructed to, "think of your other children."  we have been reminded that a child with these kinds of medical needs "will change your lifestyle."  we have even been asked, "do you know what you are doing?"  we knew other families were encouraged to decline her file.   i write "decline her file" because somehow it seems gentler.  somehow less harsh to decline a file, than it does a child. i don't make light of that in any way.  what a tremendous responsibility and burden that comes with having to choose.  i know full well that grief, as we slept scant hours over that weekend in july when we had to decide.  i know, without a doubt, that these other families did the right thing.  they followed God's direction.  they had good reason. there is not an ounce of judgment. in fact,  i am so very thankful for their courage.

okay, so back to beverly...i know she will give me a good southern tongue lashing when she finds that i have written all this.  but, oh well, i will cross that bridge with her later.  anyway, i just wanted to share the kind of thing she passes along to me every now and then.  she seems to know.  she just seems to know when i need a nugget of extra encouragement.  i wish i could share with you all of her little anecdotes and messages -there is a particularly good entry back in july (july 21st) if you want to go in search of it has something to do with her singing about birds in the shower! (okay, now i am really in trouble).  anyway, below is the note i received from her earlier today.  beverly and david adopted their third child,  Lilia, from the ukraine just a couple of years ago.  my funny and brave friend left for the ukraine with money taped to her body.  they went in search of this little girl.  she could have used about 10 beverly's herself to cheer her on. they were there for weeks.  it was dismal and dark and beyond depressing.  they visited orphanages and had to make quick decisions.  decisions that mattered.  do you ever feel overwhelmed standing in the grocery store deciding what  to bring home for dinner?  imagine standing in a foreign country, in a desolate orphanage,  deciding  which child to bring home?  i think that is why she does what she does.  i know this is why she is a holder of our sometimes trembling hands.

beverly's note:
Today L (lilia) told me that she loved me SO much and paused, and said," YOU came a LONG way to Ukraine just to get me." "Yes, I did, and I would do it all again." She then put her toy down and ran to hug me.

As I was putting ornaments in a box several hours later, I was enjoying looking at all of the picture ornaments as usual, and it just hit me that her little face was looking up at me from our family's Christmas box. It just gave me a thrill all over again... she belongs in someone's boxes of history. I just get excited for you guys all of the time. Its such a delight to have one of God's most precious placed into your home.

can you see why i love this friend?  zuzu is a long way from us right now - the other side of the world, to be exact.  and yet, my sweet friend helps me, regularly,  to bridge this distance with her delightful anecdotes and her unwavering hope for our zuzu.  when so many others continue to focus on the what ifs...God has given me a friend who continues to ask why not.  we have said over and over again this is not the story of the mcnatt family.  it is not even the story of a little girl named zuzu.  this is the greater story of the 147 million orphans in our world today.  this is the story that is underlining and bold-facing and italizing the phrase Why Not.  Why Not.  Why Not.  ultimately this is the story of our God who had a long, long,LONG list of what ifs about us...and He (without the help of beverly) said, Why Not.  and just like beverly's little daughter, lilia, said, "YOU came a LONG way...just to get me."

note to beverly:  before you give me any grief over this...consider, first, that i could have added photos!

Friday, January 1, 2010

all things new

out with the old... and in with the new.  really? is that truly what we seek come december 31st?  why is it that on new year's eve we are so drawn to the words old and new. endings and beginnings.  not just drawn to them, but mesmerized by the sound of them. no matter how practical our nature, we find ourselves cast under the spell of their newsprint promise.  we spend our final days of the year chewing up these words as if they were verbal cud. turning them over in our mouths and minds and eagerly spitting them out at each other in agreement.  it seems the older i get, the more this holds true. perhaps i am just closer to old and the desire for new grows more and more desperate - a theory which we can debate another time.  in a generation which can barely stand still long enough to ponder anything, we, in a mass collaborative effort, rebel for just one reflective moment at the stroke of midnight.  

as if this midnight has something to do with it.  as if this midnight holds the power to change a lavish stagecoach back into a pumpkin and return a princess to her peasant girl status. as if there is a fairy godmother holding the great treasured clock of all time in her fantastical hands.  as if she is listening intently to our reflections and regrets and resolutions. as if this grandmotherly fairy and her sage, accomplice, father time, plot secretly together for our good.  this stroke of midnight is nothing if not a stroke of genius.  if we could shake the wishes from our heads and the cliches from our writing, we would know deeply the power of this moment is a mere fairytale. but then again, perhaps we are all, on occasion, in need of a little fairytale. we have, afterall, created an entire holiday explicitly for this purpose.  we make much of it. we have teams of people designing cocktail napkins and matching party hats.  noisemakers are tested in quiet rooms and champagne is bottled and labled with the celebratory year.  cheese dip and  sparklers, and even sparkly clothing combine together for this one enchanted evening. 

i know this desire quite well. i am a girl with an extraordinary embrace for fairytales.  i, too, can fall  effortlessly into the hypnotic lull of a good story. i have, on more than one occasion, wept simply because the final chapter in a captivating novel, has come to a close.   friends and family, alike, have dubbed me as a girl wearing rose-colored glasses...a girl who views things with bright eyes.  i am certain i've crossed paths with a critic or two wishing to dunk my ponytailed head in a good dose of reality.  but i also wish that with a quick scribble on a list, i might change old habits, create healthy ones and thus improve the line of my horizon.  i would like to believe that with some exceptional resolve, a resolute spirit and a large glass of champagne i will begin afresh.  anew.  aright.   oh, friends, that sounds not only delightful,  it sounds downright necessary.  don't we all deserve this chance regardless of our past year, our past mistakes, our past failures. our past... in general.

funny that most of us spend our days fighting with this elusive friend, this thing called time.  there's either never enough or perhaps, for some of us, too much.  regardless, most of us tend to contentiously argue our way through it.  and yet, it is the thing in which we are quite willing to place great trust come the year's end.  do we seriously believe that a date on a calendar is worthy of our fear and trembling? the truth is, we are desperately in need of the new.  we all, each one of us, are created to shed the old.  it is how we are made.  it is a beautiful thing.  a necessary thing.  it is a need woven so deeply within us, we cannot ignore it for very long.  it will resurface, if only every new year's eve.  it will.  no one can escape this need to peel off the layers of our onion-skinned selves.  

but, undoubtedly, we look to the wrong things.  we look to the fairytale and all the actors and devices she employs.  we look to these things and find as believable as they seem when the curtain is up and the lights are on, they fade away by the show's final call.  they present themselves in glitter and glory and keep us distracted from our very need. they keep us searching on the glossy surface.  keep us rummaging through the glitter...and missing the truth.  our glitter-ful hands will, ultimately, be left clutching only dust.  our distractions will drown us in the weight of their shimmer.
this new year's eve, enjoy the glitter.  enjoy the sparkle and the sparklers.  flirt with father time and befriend your fairy godmother.  but know that these things will pass.  their wisdom and their glory and their glitter will crumble.  the champagne bubbles will flatten, the sequins will loosen, and the noisemakers will (hopefully) quiet. know this.

know also, it is the simple, quiet Jesus who comes wearing nothing sparkly, who comes with no fireworks to announce His presence, who comes to bring the new.   He needs no oversized disco ball or gigantic peach to drop when He declares His do-overs. He chants no clever bibbidi-bobbidi-boo, but, He has promised, "I make all things new."  His dusty, rough carpenter's hands do not wield a fairy wand, but they do hold the answer to our new beginnings...our fresh start. He came as a newborn babe and was laid in a most un-glitzy manger.  there was no glitter or gold to be found anywhere in that lowly stable.  the sheep most certainly did not shimmer and no one danced in the streets of bethlehem.  the only ball that dropped was joseph's failure to call ahead for a room.  and yet, this simple babe, held in His hand the very power to send out the old and bring in the new. though often inconceivable and unbelievably miraculous, i assure you, it is not a fairytale.

      "therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation;
 the old has gone and the new has come."  ~ 2 corinthians 5:17.