Faith

Puzzle Update (And A Few Other Words)

If you’re just joining in, a big Hello! We’re in the process of adopting our second kiddo from Uganda. You can read more about that here. We’re also fundraising, whoop, you can read more about that one here. Much love.

Y’all. We’ve officially crossed the $10,000 mark. Say what!? I know. In just five weeks 337 puzzle pieces have been sold and $10, 110 has been raised. That’s so crazy awesome. We are so thankful and so grateful. Like, seriously. People are so kind and so generous. Believe me when I say it does not go unappreciated. Without you people who are giving we could literally not do this thing. So until someone comes up with a different way to say “thank you”… THANK YOU is all we’ve got.

People have asked how I’m feeling about everything this go around and my answer is almost always the exact same… I feel so fine. I feel heavy about it all but I feel fine about it, too. I feel the exact opposite of how I felt for the solid two years we were in the adoption process last time. I feel confident in what we’re doing and totally at peace. I just know this is right. There is literally no question about it.

Last time I felt anxious and worried and this constant sense of urgency and stressed times 4 billion. This time I just feel heavy about the whole thing. I know the reality this time, and the reality is what weighs heavy on my mind and my heart.

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The reality is there is another Wyatt, a living breathing human being out there, who simply needs a family.There is another Wyatt who doesn’t need anyone to come save or rescue him, but rather to come meet him where he is (in all his grief and anger and confusion and hurt) and just love him. There is another Wyatt who doesn’t need to be adopted so everything will be “fixed”, but rather needs someone to be there in the hard and the ugly parts of their story- to honor the losses, to celebrate the gains, to just sit with them in it all and tell them they’ll always be there. There is another Wyatt who is worthy of redemption and growth and healing. There is another Wyatt who is worth it.

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The reality that there is another baby- a baby who has eyes and fingers and toes and a heart- who just needs a family (a FAMILY for crap’s sake) and we can’t go to him without an insane amount of money. The reality that every day that passes is just another day that a baby goes to bed without someone to call mom and dad. And that’s the reality that keeps me up at night.

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And so sometimes (or all of the time) when I get embarrassed that we’re asking for money and I get tired of talking about this puzzle…

When I get frustrated when there are multiple days in a row where not one dollar has been given…

When I get mad that there are kick starter campaigns that raise more money than we’re trying to in no time…

When I feel like I’m pulling teeth and begging people to give…

When I want to scream that “liking” something on Facebook does not get us one centimeter closer to this kid…

When I think maybe we should stop and give up because, money…

… there is another Wyatt and he is worth it.

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Will you join us? Will you help us set another precious kiddo in a family? We literally can’t do it without you. $30/puzzle piece (buy 1 or a million of them, yes?). Click here to give via Paypal or email me for our address or our agency’s address (tax deductible, YEAH BABY).

When October Is Weird 

A few weeks ago I straight up burst into tears at the dinner table over JT. I don’t think I’ve cried about him since I was in Uganda. (Oh hi, almost a year ago… What!?) But we were talking about adoption and we were talking about Koctar number two and I just burst into tears. Because he was technically number one and so this is really Koctar number three, but it’s also not and that’s just still so weird. And so I cried about it because I can, ya know? Dustin just looked at me and said: “No one will ever replace him.” Bless him. And then I cried some more because, yes.

It’s a weird thing- losing a kid and then gaining one. I think about him always and I think about him never. Life looks so different and it feels so right, and yet there is still this tiny little JT size hole that will always make me wonder- wonder what life would have been like with him. I wonder what he looks like now and what his favorite color is and if he still loves to color. I wonder what his favorite subject is and if he still has that contagious laugh. I wonder if he has someone to call mom and dad and if he still gives great hugs. Because when you lose something that’s still living it just makes you wonder. And so sometimes I do.

We don’t talk about him very much anymore. I don’t constantly think about him. I don’t pray for him every single day like I once thought I would. My heart doesn’t physically hurt anymore. I feel a little bit sad about all of that. I also feel a little bit okay about all of that, too.

I think about him in October because that’s when we said Yes to him and that’s the thing that changed everything- that Yes did. I don’t regret that Yes, it just changed my heart and change is always a little bit hard.

And so I bought a wind chime and hung it up in our backyard in his honor. My heart needed to acknowledge him and for some reason a wind chime made sense.

And then when I took this picture tonight I just kept thinking: this life- this crazy, beautiful, hard, chaotic life that we have right now- it’s because of you, kid. And so for that very reason you’ll always have a spot in my heart. And I’m totally okay with that.

See you next October, buddy.

Puzzle Update!

Hello, hi. If you’re just joining in, we’re in the process of adopting kiddo #2 from Uganda. You can read more about that here. We’re also fundraising. And all the people said, Hooray. You can read more about that one here.

One hundred and fifty seven (157!) puzzle pieces are gone. Like, paid and accounted for and GONE. That’s a whopping total of $4,710… almost the total of our first agency fee payment. (Insert all the praise hands.) What in the actual world? People are so kind. People are so generous. People are so good. They really, really are. Dustin and I are so grateful for the people who are choosing to rally around us financially right now. We’re honored and humbled and just so stinking thankful. The notes and text messages and emails that have come along with each donation have left me in tears exactly every time. We’re so proud to have each of you in this village. We really are. 

Do I think we can sell the remaining 593 puzzle pieces? Funny you should ask. That puzzle remains in it’s original bag, unopened, with the receipt attached to it because no, I’m not totally sure we can. It’s just so many. That number is ginormous, ya know? But we’re still believing and praying and hoping because that’s the only thing that makes sense right now. 

If you want in, we’d love to have you. You can click here to donate, you can email me to get our address, or if you’d like a tax deductible way to give I can give you our agency’s address as well. $30 per puzzle piece, $120+ gets you an Africa Christmas ornament Wyatt helped make. The first round of those are packed up and ready to go! We’re having to make many more batches because y’all are so good to us. Really, it’s humbling.

wyattIMG_2182Thank you times a trillion. Let’s keep this thing going, shall we?


Several weeks ago, like long before we knew we were for real about to do this thing, I had some burning thoughts about adoption and fundraising. Dustin and I talk about it often- how grateful we are for the people who financially rallied on our behalf- because if it weren’t for them Wyatt wouldn’t be here. Like, he literally wouldn’t be here. He would be with another family who had the money and that would be that. We talk about how brave people were to open up their wallets and buy into a story that hadn’t even really started yet. We talk about how kind and generous and thoughtful people were with their money. Sometimes I just get overwhelmed with it all, the fact that Wyatt is here and it’s only because so many people helped make that happen. And so I scribbled down some thoughts and shared them with our people, because I so honestly believe them to be true.

Hands down my favorite thing about life right now is getting to introduce Wyatt to the people who took a risk and literally bought into this story at some point over the last two years.

There are some seriously big opinions out there in regards to fundraising and adoption, but so many days I look at him and am just floored with gratitude. He wouldn’t be here if we had waited until we had a trillion dollars in the bank. He just wouldn’t. He’s here because people said, “Here’s our money. Go do the big thing.”

Last night as we hung with a college friend who has her name on the puzzle in Wyatt’s room, I was yet again reminded of how proud I am. Proud of who Wyatt is and so proud of who our people are.

My heart could explode thinking about having a whole new round of people rallying around a whole new kiddo all in the name of family. Like, for real, it could actually burst. I also can’t wait to introduce y’all to him or her. What a gloriously fun day that will be. 

Because The Puzzle Is Back

If you’re just joining in, Hi welcome. We’re in the process of adopting our second kiddo from Uganda. You can read more about that here.

I just need you guys to know that I have been sitting at my kitchen table now for one actual hour staring at my computer saying things out loud like: “I don’t want to write this. I don’t know what to say. I DO NOT WANT TO WRITE THIS.” I have grunted and exhaled and gone to the bathroom and poured myself another glass of wine and checked Facebook and my email. I have even said a string of “blah blah blahhhhhhs.” I have started writing and deleted paragraphs and then I have repeated that ten times. I am currently contemplating if I’m going to not write this at all and instead go watch Scandal, because I really just want someone in a white coat to look me in the eyes and say with conviction, “It’s handled.” Okay. Glad that’s out of the way. (Dustin says I need to delete this whole paragraph and just say: “This is really hard to write. Coming back to you guys and asking for your help again is just really hard.” But whatever, I like this paragraph. SO IT STAYS.)

Adoption is hands down the most awesome thing I have ever been a part of. It’s also one of the hardest things I’ve ever been a part of. Adoption is beautiful and broken and redemptive. Adoption is constantly honoring losses and celebrating gains. It’s full of tension- always holding a space for what should have been while also holding a space for what is. It’s the gospel in my living room and my kitchen and in my back yard. It’s grief and laughter and growth and trauma all wrapped in one. Adoption is the most unnatural and natural thing on planet earth, to parent a child that was never intended to be yours. It’s easily the biggest thing to ever happen to my heart.

And we’re here to do it again. It makes no sense and at the same time it makes every bit of sense. One day I will tell you the whole story and you will be like: “Shut up. OH MY GOSH YES.” You will. I swear to you. That will be such a fun day. I will most definitely cry.

A little over two years ago we came to you guys and said: “Hey. We feel like we’re supposed to do this really big thing. It’s crazy expensive and we can’t do the whole thing by ourselves, but with your help we can do a lot of it. Who wants in?” And a ton of you bought in. Like, you bought in with actual dollars and it was one of the coolest things we have ever been a part of. Hundreds of you rallied and stood beside us and we raised $11,000 in six weeks. All of your names are on a puzzle that is currently hanging in Wyatt’s room. It’s one of my most favorite possessions, I feel confident it’s one of the things I would grab if our house were ever on fire.

And so we’re doing it again. The puzzle. Except this time it’s going down a tad bit differently.

Let me give you a few numbers just in the name of transparency. To complete Wyatt’s adoption we spent a total of $35,000. We raised/were given $15,000 of that. Two years ago agency fees were roughly $16,000. Today they are $22,5000. Investigations, DNA testing, and lawyer fees have all increased dramatically. (And we stand for ethical adoptions so we are totally okay with this.) And then there are the home study update costs and USCIS fees and travel costs and in country expenses. It’s all just a lot. And coming off of one, we simply put just need your help.

So the puzzle, we have a 750 piece puzzle. Each piece is $30. If we are able to sell all 750 pieces we will have raised our exact agency fee payment of $22,500. We know this is insane and risky and a lot to ask of you guys. We get it. We really do. But I also just feel so at peace about it. Like it’s going to be okay. You guys made me believe in you two years ago and I can’t stop doing that now. People are good. They are so good. Wyatt is a walking testament to that.

So here’s the skinny:

1. We have a 750 piece puzzle. Do we even know that many people? I cannot talk about that right now.

2. We are selling the pieces for $30 a piece. You can buy one puzzle piece or 25 puzzle pieces. You can buy one for yourself or every member of your family. You can empty out a piggy bank or give your tithe or just write a check for a random amount, it doesn’t even have to be about puzzle pieces. You can do literally whatever.

3. There are 3 ways you can participate: You can click the PayPal link and enter in your dollar amount. (It will make you set up an account, sorry about that, but PayPal has the least amount of processing fees of all and we just really want to honor your dollar.) If you would rather send a check you can email me at courtney.koctar@gmail.com and I can give you our address. OR if you would like to send a check directly to our agency (that would be tax deductible) you can email me as well, and I will give you that address.

4. Once all the pieces have been purchased (IF they are all purchased?) we will put the puzzle together and write each of your names on the cardboard side of the puzzle. And then we’ll hang it up with the names facing out in this little one’s room and it will make me cry and be my other favorite possession.

As a bonus… we really wanted Wyatt to be a part of this in some way. So, if you buy 4 or more puzzle pieces ($120+) Wyatt will send you a homemade Africa Christmas ornament. (Christmas will be here in one hot second and we would love for you to have a tiny piece of this story hanging in your house over the holidays.) It was super fun to make these with him. I only lost my crap once when he bent the cookie cutter so bad that it looked more like a shoddy Florida than an Africa. And we only had one tantrum when he thought they were cookies and I had no earthly idea how to explain a Christmas ornament to a child who has never experienced Christmas before. Fun times! But for real, I could cry thinking about Wyatt having a part in bringing his sibling here.

We’d be honored and humbled and consider it such a privilege to have you be a part of this story. Let’s do this. Who’s in?

Go Forth And Have No Fear

I have straight up agonized over this post… Thought about it, prayed about it, talked circles around it, put off writing it. What do we say? How much do we say? How do we say it? How do we really do this again? Will people rally one more time? What if they don’t? What.If.They.Don’t? And every time I started to panic about it, I just felt this gentle nudge that said: “Go forth and have no fear.” And so this post is just that.

Part of me wants to tell you about how we’ve always known our family would grow through adoption, like multiple ones. And then I kind of want to tell you about how we’ve always wanted Wyatt to share the same skin color as other people in our family, how that’s just so important to us. I thought about telling you that I so desperately want Wyatt to share something with a sibling, and how I so desperately want that something to be Uganda. I wanted to tell you about how many times we’ve almost talked ourselves out of it, how many times we’ve looked at each other and said: “Are we crazy? Are you still okay with this? Are we about to F everything up?”

And then I thought about sharing how we got to right here- how many months ago we started talking about doing this all over again and how much research we did before being pulled right back to Uganda. I kind of want to tell you about how many hours we spent looking at other countries and talking to people in the foster care system and then how close we were to saying yes to four siblings in Ethiopia. And then another part of me wants to just list the ways Wyatt has changed and grown simply by being in a family, and then how much he has changed us just by being in ours. But at the end of the day I just don’t know how much any of that really matters right now. Maybe if we were having this conversation over coffee or you were at my kitchen table or we were sitting on my front porch with a glass of wine, then maybe. But even then I don’t know.

But what I do know is this: Kids belong in families. They belong in Black families and white families and Hispanic families. They belong in American families and African families and European families. They belong in Christian families and Catholic families and I don’t believe in anything families. Kids belong in families. Every time. They just do. (Obviously they also belong in safe families.)

The hard thing about adoption for me is that it’s so easy to say no. It’s so easy to agonize over it and overthink it. There are a million different ways you can talk yourself out of it. There are four trillion legitimate reasons to be scared and apprehensive and to want to just call it quits on the whole dang thing.

But when I look at our life- our house, our families, our people-there is so much laughter and love and goodness to go around. And I can’t stop thinking about how much it’s not that crazy to want to share it all with another little human being who needs a family. I don’t think it’s all that crazy to say: Alright I’m willing and I’m able, here I am send me. I’m scared and I’m nervous and I don’t know exactly how this is all going to work, but here I am send me.

And so here we are… paperwork has been filled out, background checks have been run, fingerprints have been given, physicals have been had, birth certificates have been ordered, and our one and only home study visit has been scheduled… officially adopting #2 from Uganda. (!)

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Can we talk about his cheese game, though?

We’re excited and nervous and expectant of what is to come. We’re all of the things right now. Every last one of them. A friend texted me the other night and said: “Excited to see God weave another beautifully broken and redemptive story into your lives again.” And that made me tear up because, yes. That though. Because kids belong in families, you know?

P.S. The puzzle fundraiser is making another appearance. (And all the people said, “Hooray!!” Right? You totally just said all of the hoorays.) But seriously it is. Because we can’t do this without you guys, on the real.

The Story Of Wyatt

Whenever we started the adoption process I remember praying so hard for our child, whom we knew nothing about. We prayed two kinds of prayers back then. We prayed “alive” prayers and we prayed “not born yet” prayers. Because when you don’t know anything, you pray for everything. And so we prayed.

Our “alive” prayers went something like praying for safety, a full tummy, and health. We prayed he knew he was loved and wanted. We prayed for healing in his heart- for the hard things he had undoubtedly experienced. We prayed for his heart to be opened and prepared for the change that was about to go down. We prayed he was happy and that he spent all the days laughing. We prayed for his caregivers- for strength and love. We prayed, always, for biological parents- that if there were any way they could raise him they would. We prayed that if there was another option, a way he didn’t have to lose his everything, it would happen.

And then we prayed “not born yet” prayers which sounded a little different. All we prayed for was his biological mom, because really that’s all there was to pray for. We prayed she was safe and healthy, and that she had enough food. We prayed she felt loved. We prayed support would rise up around her. We prayed for resources for her. We prayed she would choose life. We prayed for things like the delivery and we prayed she didn’t have to do that part alone. We prayed that if there was any way for her to do this, keep her baby, she would.

And so for months we prayed those two prayers. Over and over and over again.

Then we met JT, and those prayers shifted a little. We had a face, a name, a smile to pray for. And so we prayed, and then we went, and then we came home. Y’all know. And I will always be weirdly grateful that sweet boy didn’t have to lose his everything- that Uganda is still his and always will be, grateful that he’ll grow up knowing that red dirt in his heart.

I so remember getting chills when I read JT’s story, because May was a big (sad) month for him and May was the month we both felt so strongly that we were supposed to start the adoption process. And I don’t think for a second that was a coincidence. If God could part an actual sea, why would he not be able to burden two people on behalf of a little boy a zillion miles away, you know? And so I so believe that was purposed, and I will go to my grave believing that we were always supposed to pursue him. I will go to my grave firmly believing we were always supposed to walk away, too. But we were supposed to go, we always were.

A few months later, the tiniest one year old I had ever seen hit my inbox and I wanted to say no. But we didn’t and I knew we never were. And I so remember sitting on my couch reading Wyatt’s story through tears because I knew, yet again, it wasn’t a coincidence. As we were praying all those prayers a whole year ago, a zillion miles away Wyatt’s mom was doing exactly what we were praying for. As we were feeling burdened, Wyatt’s mom was in the late stages of pregnancy. While we were begging God to keep her and her baby safe, He did. As we were asking God to be in the delivery, He was. While we were praying prayers for life to be chosen, He chose it for him. As we were feeling burdened with a sense of urgency, God was saying: Yes. But not yet. I have something else for you, and then Yes.

And I so believe that was purposed. Every last bit of it. We could have said no. We really could have. But oh my word am I glad we didn’t.

IMG_0670 (2)Wyatt Mukisa, you are our greatest blessing. Truly. You were purposed, always. You were designed for greatness. You were sought after. You were chosen. You were wanted. You were a leap of faith. You were our best Yes. We’re glad you’re here, buddy boy. You’re our favorite.

I remain confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. -Psalm 27:13

On Being Ready

I visited Wyatt for five weeks before I was legally allowed to take him with me. For five weeks I drove two hours there, stayed a few hours, and drove two hours back to the city where I was staying. Five weeks. Those were some of the longest and hardest five weeks of my life to date. I loved going to visit him because I got to see him. I got to know him, on his turf, and in his environment. I got to teach him to roll cars back and forth and to play peek-a-boo. I got to hold him and sing to him and rock him to sleep. I hated going to visit him because I had to leave him. I had to walk away from a child I was trying to form a relationship with, a child I was supposed to view as my own, but was waiting for someone else to tell me if that was or wasn’t going to happen. I was asking a child to trust me, to risk love, and then every single time I walked away. And so those visits were both sweet and terrible.

The screams that would occur when I left still to this day make me sick to my stomach. There is something so unnatural, almost outer body, about having to walk away from a screaming baby, a baby who is screaming specifically for you. A baby who is screaming for you to stay, and then five weeks later will scream all over again for months because you took him away. Grief is so confusing like that. And so when it was time to go, I would hand him back to one of his sweet caregivers and walk away. I would turn around and walk the walk back to my car never once looking back. I couldn’t look back. And so I would just walk, with a giant lump in my throat, thinking this had to be the world’s worst plan. How can this, what I’m currently doing, be good for a kid? As I would walk, listening to the screams of the baby who is now my own, I would say over and over and over again: “Please God let him be okay. Please God let him be okay. Please God let him be okay.” All the way back to the car, and the two hours back to the city, those words, on repeat.

One of my favorite things to do while I was visiting Wyatt was to sing him songs and rock him to sleep. One of my most favorite memories is showing up one day and having a girl say to me: “He cries when you are not here and he sings your songs.” Bless. So I would sing and rock and hold him while he slept. And I would say: “please God please God please God.” Over and over and over again while he slept in my arms.

Please God, let this happen. Please God, let me be okay if it doesn’t. Please God, let this be right. Please God, keep satan away. Please God, let me believe regardless of the outcome. PLEASE GOD PLEASE GOD PLEASE GOD.

The other day I rocked Wyatt and held him while he slept. I haven’t really done that much since the Uganda days. He had woken up riding the whiny train, and in our house if you whine before I have had one sip of coffee you get to go back to bed after breakfast. So that was where we were. I was rocking that sweet, whiny boy back to sleep. I held him and rocked and he fell asleep, and it all just reminded me so much of Uganda I almost couldn’t breathe.

I was reminded of how scared I was to love him. I was reminded how terrified I was to risk hurting another tiny human being again, how terrified I was of being hurt all over again. As I rocked I thought about faith, how much going back to Uganda was just that: an act of faith. I thought about how guarded I was, how prepared I was to walk away for good, forever, to come home again sans a child. I was reminded of how much I had to reconcile: getting to a place where I believed that God was still good, even if the same thing happened again. I just sat and rocked and remembered how hard all of that was.

And then I sat and rocked and thought about how sweet it is right now, six months later. I thought about how thankful I am, for him, for how he’s growing and changing. I thought about how thankful I am, for him, for how he’s growing and changing us, too.

Later that day I had a friend ask me how I got to that place of doing it again and I almost laughed because I was like, I DIDN’T. I knew we weren’t done but I was in no way ready to go back. I was never ready to actually get on a plane and do it all over again. That’s why it was a secret, because I didn’t believe it would really happen. That’s why I didn’t talk about it, because it made me physically sick to my stomach to think about. That’s why I didn’t buy one thing for Wyatt before we left, because I didn’t believe he would ever live in our house. I got a tattoo, for crying out loud, because I needed something on my actual body that would help me go back. I bought a necklace with the word “courage” on it and wore it almost every day I was there, just as a reminder and more like a trick into believing I had courage. I was never ready, though. I don’t think I ever would have been ready.

Six months later and I think I’m finding that I’m just really thankful that I wasn’t.

On Men And Grief And Father’s Day

Father’s Day is Sunday. Hooray for all the dads. You make a lot of people’s worlds go round. Dustin and I were talking about this time last year a few days ago. About how we were still very much in the thick of all the anger and grief and confusion. About how a lot of things were happening in our hearts this time last year. I got to choose what we did for Mother’s Day, because duh. And so I chose to go out of town and drink a lot of beverages and not go to church. (Best decision ever.) Dustin got to choose what we did for Father’s Day, because duh. He chose church. I will never ever forget sitting in the back-ish of the auditorium as the preacher asked all of the dads to stand up so he could say a word and pray over them. And I immediately lost it. Like, alligator tears falling down my cheeks. Like, I need to leave this space right now but I can’t because ALL OF THE DADS ARE STANDING IN MY WAY. Like, I’m about to make some ugly cry noises up in here and that is going to be all kinds of awkward.That kind of lost it. I remember I just felt so sad. I felt sad that Dustin should have been standing up next to me and he wasn’t. I felt sad because he was supposed to be a dad at he just wasn’t. And I hated it so much.

And so I wanted to share this post Dustin wrote last year again, because I think it matters. Guys matter. Their hearts, their sadness, their grief… it all matters. Whether you’ve lost babies through foster care or adoption. Whether you’ve lost babies at birth or through miscarriages. Whether you’ve lost babies at 6 months or 16 years. Whether you’ve lost the idea of babies because infertility is very much a thing… Hugs to you this week, friend.


If there is anything that makes us more uncomfortable than grief itself, I think it might be grief and men. This experience has made me super aware of how much men grieve too, and how much there isn’t always a place for them to do that. It has made me want to scream, “don’t forget about the guys!” a time or two. I am so excited that Dustin decided to join in the conversation and share his side of the story and his experience with grief and loss. So we’re closing out our “When Your Friends Are Hurting” series today with this one. If you missed any of the others, check them out here. [adoption loss, miscarriages, divorce, and losing your mom to cancer] I am so grateful to the friends who were willing to be a part of this. Thank you for letting us hold on to and share your stories. Let’s keep these kinds of conversations going. They’re so good and so important. Deal?

On Monday, March 24, I woke up expecting to Skype with both Courtney and our son for the first time ever.  Courtney went to Uganda a few weeks early, so I was still at home in Nashville.  For several days, Courtney was only able to go visit JT at the orphanage for a few hours a day, but on that Monday, JT was going to be able to leave the oprphange and go stay with Courtney.  Each day leading up to that Monday, Courtney would send me pictures or videos, and I was so excited about getting to talk to him on Skype for the first time.

When I woke up on Monday, I checked my phone and pulled up several emails and messages from Courtney, and I immediately knew something was wrong.  After several attempts, we were finally able to Skype, but JT was not there.  As I sat and ate my cereal, I listened to Courtney explain the situation – something happened, and we would not be able to adopt JT. Seeing Courtney cry through the bad Skype connection was gut-wrenching.  Knowing that Courtney was 7,800 miles away and had to handle all of this alone destroyed me.

Once the conversation was over, I finished getting ready for the day and went to work.  I have learned, in recent years, the art of compartmentalizing my emotions.  My daily life and all of the good things exist in one compartment, while pain, anger, regret, fear, sadness, negativity, hurt, and loss each have their own compartments.  Life goes on, and everything runs smoothly as long as everything stays in its rightful spot.  As I drove to work, I struggled to find a compartment to put this news about JT, because walking into work with tears running down my cheeks would be embarrassing.  For the first few hours, I managed to hold myself together.  Then Courtney and I Skyped again during my lunch break, and I started to realize that it was going to be impossible to bottle up all of my emotions.

I managed to hold myself together until I returned home.  JT’s room had everything in its rightful place – the toys, books, bright colored sheets, and clothes.  Everything was ready to welcome this little guy into our home and our lives.  After eating half a bag of Santita’s corn chips, a gallon of salsa, and a few slices of pizza (with the help of an adult beverage or two), I went into JT’s room.  I sat down in the rocking chair by his bed, pulled out my phone, and watched the video of JT saying “Hi, Daddy!” and “I love you, Daddy!”  Cue the waterworks.  I was flooded with sadness, and I busted out in one of those ugly-cries girls always tweet about when they are watching “Parenthood.”

On several occasions throughout the following weeks, those fits would hit me at work, so I had to escape to a stall in the bathroom or go sit in my car until my eyes were no longer red and watery.  At least once a day, I still think of JT and wonder what he is doing, and I can feel the tears starting to well up.  Father’s Day at church was especially (and surprisingly) difficult to bear.  The preacher asked all of the fathers to stand, and as he prayed for them, I had to look up at the ceiling to keep the tears from falling down my face and puddling on the floor.

Courtney and I faced the same troubling experience in two very different ways.  She was there.  She met him, talked to him, hugged him, kissed him, and ultimately had to say “Good-bye” to him.  I only saw pictures and a couple of videos, but this feeling of emptiness will always be with me. It was heartbreaking having to pick her up from the airport a few days after we learned we could not adopt JT.  The next time I picked her up from the airport, she was supposed to have our son with her.  It was supposed to be a joyous occasion.  When I thought about my future, JT was a part of it. I pictured us going to Vanderbilt basketball and football games together, and I was inches away from purchasing season tickets.  I thought about playing catch with him and teaching him how to play basketball like my dad taught me.  I thought about going to the lake with him and seeing him jump into the water for the first time.  I envisioned taking him to Texas to introduce him to my family and friends (and Tex-Mex and real bar-b-q).

The people that helped me the most through the last 4 months have been the ones who felt the pain with me in that moment or found various ways to take care of us.  They didn’t try to sugar-coat the situation or find the silver lining.  They didn’t try to convince me to move forward. No one knew the “right words” to say because the whole deal was flat out awful.  The best encouragement came from the people who responded with a sincere “That sucks,” (some even added four-letter words to that sentence on my behalf), or “We are praying for you and JT,” or “What do you want us to bring you for dinner?”

As a man who hates showing emotions, these past few months have been a struggle for me, but I’m getting better.  It’s OK to have feelings. It’s OK to be a guy and to be vulnerable enough to show emotions.  Ultimately, I have learned that I can’t keep everything safely tucked away in a compartment. To the guys in the “grief trenches,” know that it is reasonable and normal to have emotions. Keeping everything bottled up or trying to play the tough guy when everything hits the fan is not a good idea.  We need to open up and “process” things (that’s counselor-speak Courtney likes to use from time to time).  In college, Courtney nearly broke up with me because I never showed my emotions, so having an open dialogue with Courtney about JT and the rest of our adoption process has been amazing and freeing.  Going through this with her and feeling safe about sharing what’s on my heart has brought a sense of peace to what we have been through, and it gives me encouragement as we continue through the rest of our adoption process.

On Sacred Spaces

I’m finding it so hard to write about Wyatt without talking about JT. Their stories overlap and at the same time their stories are very separate. Both of their stories take up space in my heart. It’s different space but it’s space nonetheless. I feel a lot of feels when I think about the both of them. It’s hard because the memory of JT will never be bigger than Wyatt, but there would be no Wyatt without JT. And so there will always be a JT. One day we will tell Wyatt our adoption story, and I would guess that JT’s name would probably come up. His pictures will always be in our house, and I think one day Wyatt will ask who that is and we will have the privilege of getting to tell him exactly who that is. Wyatt points him out on our refrigerator and I hope one day Wyatt will pray for him by name. And so when I think about Wyatt I think about JT, too. Two sweet Ugandan boys who have changed us in so many ways. There’s so much tension in that space right there, but it also feels so sacred to me.

I remember when we got Wyatt’s referral. I sat at my computer and cried. I cried because it wasn’t JT and I cried because it would never be JT. I cried because it all still really hurt and I cried because it felt good, healthy to keep moving forward. I cried because I didn’t want to say Yes and I cried because I knew we were going to. I cried because following Jesus just really pisses me off sometimes. I cried because I was so scared to go back and I cried because I knew I was going to have to. I cried because I wasn’t excited and I cried because I was maybe a teeny tiny bit excited and that scared the mess out of me. I cried because Wyatt was so cute. (His referral picture is him sitting in a chair in a dress, with a look on his face like, “Could y’all hurry the h@ll up? THEY’VE GOT ME IN DRESSES OVER HERE.”) And so I just cried because that moment was all of those things. It was sad and happy and bittersweet and overwhelming.

My last night in Uganda was a hard one. Wyatt had finally, finally fallen asleep. I had Taylor Swift on as loud as I could play it without waking him up. I had just finished packing up all of our things and was drinking my last Nile Special. I was sitting at my kitchen table trying to write an email that would tell a lot of people where I had been for the last two and half months and what I had been doing. I was trying to form words around introducing our child for the first time. And all of a sudden I couldn’t stop crying. Like, head in my hands, possibly making an audible noise, for real couldn’t stop, kind of crying. I felt so relieved and so overwhelmed and so excited and so sad. I sent Dustin an email that said something like, “I’m so excited about Wyatt and I feel so sad about JT. It’s the first time I’ve let myself feel both of those at the same time since I’ve been here. I can’t stop crying.” His response was so perfect. He said, “Yeah, it’s hard because that part of the story will always suck.”

Right, though? Because the Wyatt part of the story will always, always be exciting and the JT part of the story will always, always suck. It’s both. It will always be both.

I think this journey has taught me a lot about permission to feel. How so often we don’t allow ourselves the space to just feel life. How so often we don’t allow others the space to just feel life. How uncomfortable it can be to admit we’re not excited about something that’s exciting. Or how uncomfortable it can be to sit across from someone who admits that. How we’re so into happy endings and we’re always searching for redemption and for things to make sense, that we can so easily miss out on the beauty and the tension of life itself. But I’m finding that there’s something so sacred about this idea of giving ourselves permission to feel. To feel the happy and the sad. To feel the excitement and the heartache. To feel them both at the same time. To even say it out loud and then just sit there with it all.

Adopting Wyatt has taught me a lot about Jesus, too. It’s taught me that he will never fix what happened with JT. Wyatt doesn’t give us closure and he doesn’t give us peace about what happened. Adopting him doesn’t help us make any more sense about what happened and why it happened and the pain we felt and still feel about it all. Wyatt didn’t save our adoption story or make it whole and he most certainly didn’t redeem it… Wyatt has taught me that those are things that Jesus does and the minute I think a child can do those things for me I think I’ve missed it. Adopting Wyatt has taught me that longing for Jesus to come back doesn’t stop when our earthly stories piece together nicely. And I think that’s why I will always love that JT is a part of our story, because he makes me long for Jesus.

So I’ve decided that I want to keep calling things awesome and not awesome. I want to keep feeling the feels that don’t always go together but describe the same thing. I want to be the kind of person who grants permission and creates sacred spaces. Not just with myself but with my people, too. I’ve found there’s so much freedom, so much truth, so much healing, and so much goodness in those tension filled, sacred spaces. Because it’s in those spaces that I find Jesus the most. Those spaces almost feel so holy to me. And so I want to keep doing those things because yes, yes to it all.

To The Ones Who Know Advent

I remember sitting at our kitchen table this time last year and saying to Dustin, “I think I get advent now. Adoption has made me get it. I’ve never longed for something I know is coming so much in life.” This time last year we had just sent all of our papers to Uganda. We were done fundraising. We had paid all the money. We had done all the things. The only thing left to do was go. And so we were just waiting. We were waiting for a court date and we were waiting to travel. We were waiting to meet our son. We were waiting to hold him and know him and love him. We were waiting for someone else to tell us, “You can go to him.” We were waiting and longing and aching for what was to come. We were preparing. We were expectant.

Oh sweet friends sitting at that kitchen table a year ago, if only you knew. So many things can happen in a year. So many damn things.

I’m ready for Jesus to come back. Like, officially really ready. I couldn’t say that before March. I couldn’t say that until I saw evil and darkness with my own two eyes. I couldn’t say that until I held a little boy and then had to walk away from him. I couldn’t say that until I saw broken systems and broken families right in front of me. I couldn’t say that until I experienced injustice. I couldn’t say that until I experienced fighting for a life that I can never make better. I couldn’t say that until my heart was ripped out of my chest. I couldn’t say that until I knew grief and brokenness. What happened in March changed me. It changed me hard. I long for Jesus in a way I’ve never longed for him before. I ache for him to come back; to redeem and restore and make things new. I’m expectant of him and his return, for what that will mean for this world. My heart simply longs for Jesus.

Next week is Christmas and I find myself longing and waiting again this advent season. I’m longing much in the same ways as last Christmas: I’m waiting for a tiny person to be in my arms for good. I’m longing to be a mom. I’m longing to have a family. I’m preparing and expectant and waiting. I’m aching for our story to know redemption.

I’m finding that advent gives me permission. It gives me permission to long and hope for something. It gives me permission to want and wait and expect. Advent allows me to feel the pain of wanting something I don’t have yet. It grants me permission to feel grief, to feel the brokenness of living in this world. Advent allows me to anticipate, anticipate what is coming.

I think what I’m learning right now is that advent is okay. It’s okay to wait. It’s okay to feel pain and brokenness. It’s okay to hurt. It’s okay to anticipate what is coming. It’s okay to truly long for something. It’s okay to prepare. It’s okay to sit in the tension of waiting and hoping and hurting and expecting. Living in advent is okay. It’s okay because it’s teaching me that my heart will always long for something more. Living in advent is teaching me that I will know the hard things, the hurting and waiting and aching and longing. Living in advent is teaching me that my heart will not always feel joy.

I think living in advent also prepares your heart for Jesus. We don’t know what it’s like to long until we have longed. We don’t know what it’s like to prepare and wait and expect until we have prepared and waited and expected. We don’t know advent until we know it. I would live through the past year again if it meant that at the end of it all I would long, like truly long for Jesus in a new way. I would do it all again if it meant that all I would want was the hope that Jesus brings. I would do it all over again if it meant that my heart would physically ache for redemption that only Jesus can fulfill.

I kind of think life is just one big advent season, we just only talk about it at Christmas. We’re all just waiting and longing for something more. We’re all expecting that redemption will come. We’re all just aching for the king, the savior, to come back. We’re all just sitting in the tension of longing, waiting, anticipating, and expecting. We’re all just hoping in the not yet. We aren’t supposed to want to stay on this earth. This life was meant to prepare us for something greater. And so you know, if at the end of the all the hard and the longing and the aching, all I can say is: “Come Lord Jesus?” I’ll take it.