On Funerals And A New Year

My grandmother passed away a couple of days ago. We had her funeral yesterday. There was something oddly beautiful about starting the new year off with a funeral. I can think of no better way to start 2017 (and my thirties, what?) than by reflecting on the life she lived and the legacy she leaves behind. 

For the last several weeks the idea of enjoying my people better has been on my heart as something I want to do more this year. Just simply enjoy them. It’s sounds so easy but it’s proven hard for me to do on a daily basis in this season of life. And so it was almost like a little wink from above when I was asked to say something at the funeral yesterday and that be theme of my grandmother’s life. She enjoyed others well. 

So I thought I’d just share what I said yesterday mainly for myself but also in case anyone else needs a reminder or encouragement or permission to enjoy your people, your season, your current life. 

Happy New Year, friends. May we enjoy each other well this year. 

When I think about Memaw I think most about how she was kind, classy, graceful, warm and caring. I also think of deviled eggs and regular Cheerios with tons and tons of sugar sprinkled on top. I think about how she was joyful and genuinely fun to be around. She loved being around family and friends and I think people truly loved being around her too. 

My sister Caitlyn who couldn’t be here today said, “When I think of Memaw, I think of someone with a whole lot of class. Regardless of where we were going or what we were doing, she was always dressed to the nines and her lipstick ready to be reapplied. Whether we were going to lunch at the Picnic, or swimming at the country club, she always looked her best. Because of the level of elegance and grace I witnessed from her, I try to embody the way she held herself around people. While Logan and I are saddened that she will not get to meet her great-granddaughter, we know that she will be looking down on her from above.” 

I was thinking about some of my favorite Memaw memories and hearing some of my sisters and cousins favorite memories, and I think if I could sum them all up it would be that she enjoyed us. And as a kid isn’t that the best thing? To simply be enjoyed as we are. It sounds so simple, but now that I have kids of my own and I see in their eyes the desire to simply be enjoyed I think that’s the greatest gift she could have ever given us. She humored us and did things we wanted to do and laughed with us. She showed us love in little ways that have lasted forever. 

Whether it was paying us actual money to give her horrible back massages or letting us drive her car around the parking lot or going swimming with us but heaven forbid we get her freshly permed hair wet or letting us put on her lipstick or taking us on special shopping trips and lunch outings. She enjoyed us. She loved spending time with us. And we knew it. 

I even had the privilege of watching her enjoy my children, her great grandchildren. I can so clearly picture her rolling cars back and forth with our oldest son Wyatt, and I can hear him laugh when he would look at her and she would make funny faces.  

To be enjoyed. What a gift. To be the one who enjoyed others, what a legacy. And if I can be remembered that way I will know I did something right.

Memaw, you were loved dearly and will be greatly missed. Party hard in Heaven. 💜


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.

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.

To The Ones Who Should Have Been

Mother’s Day is Sunday. And while I will be celebrating this holiday for the first time with a kiddo in my home, I can’t stop thinking about this time last year. I’ve had several people ask me what I’m doing for my first Mother’s Day. It’s a fine and valid question. Makes sense to ask it. I’ve been so caught off guard though at how much it all still stings a tiny bit. A whole year later. We still talk about him. We still wonder how he is and what he’s doing and if he’s okay. We still pray for him. His pictures are still all throughout our house. I remember so fully this week a year ago. How so physically sad I was. How mad I was that I wasn’t getting to celebrate a holiday that I was supposed to be celebrating. How unfair it all felt. How I chose to not go to church that Sunday and it was the best decision ever. (Sometimes church is just simply not the place to go when you’re hurting.) How accidentally excluded I felt, because not only was I not a mom when I should have been but my loss didn’t fit into a box and that sucked.

And so I wanted to share this again, because I think it matters. Whether you’ve lost babies through adoption or foster care. Whether you’ve lost babies at birth or had miscarriages. Whether you’ve lost babies at 6 months or 16 years. Whether you’ve lost the idea of babies because infertility is a very real thing…. Hugs to you this week, friend.

I should be a mom right now. I should be like, a real physical mom to an African toddler. I should be called mom by that said African toddler. I should be tucking him in bed every night and reading bed time stories. I should be taking him to the park and the zoo. I should be teaching him how to swim. I should be so tired because I’m chasing an insane 3 year old around all the live long day. I should be watching Curious George, singing the ABC’s, and teaching Bible stories.

I should have hilarious stories of life with a toddler. I should also have really hard stories of life with a toddler. I should be able to laugh with other moms as we share stories of raising little human beings. I should also be able to cry with them over the insanity that is being a mom. I should be able to share an alcoholic beverage with other moms because solidarity, sister. I should be coordinating play dates and outings to the park.

I should be having conversations with my husband about parenting and discipline. I should be laughing with him over funny things our kid did and said. I should be having to get babysitters so we can have what parents call “date night.” I should be forming family traditions and having family dinners. I should be sending my husband and son off on boys only outings.

I should be celebrating a holiday this weekend for the first time. I should be getting a cute homemade card and going to lunch with my family. I should be getting recognized in whichever way the church sees fit this year- standing up, flowers at the door, a mom speaker, pictures with your family, or something else.

I should be a mom right now. I should be like, a real physical mom to an African toddler. But I’m not.

And you know what? It stings. I’m a mom but I’m not a mom. I can feel the tension so thick in my heart. I feel sick to my stomach just thinking about walking through the doors of a church this weekend. I am already fighting back tears just thinking about watching all the other moms stand up as the congregation applauds them. I can feel my heart drop at the thought of a whole day of scrolling through social media and seeing cute pictures of moms and kids. I can feel the anger and sadness at the comments that have already been made and will be made all over again. The comments that make me feel like I’m the mom I know on the surface I’m not.

So this one is for the ones who should have been. If no one else sees you this weekend, I do. I see you. I see you because I’m one of you.

I’ll be the one sitting while all the other moms stand up. I’ll be the one trying not to audibly sob during whichever mom tribute is chosen this year. I’ll be the one at lunch without my child, the one not getting homemade cards, and the one not posting pictures of me and tiny tot. I’ll be the one smiling and nodding but probably just walking away from all the people who say all the wrong things.

I’ll be the one sitting because I was a mom for a minute, but I don’t have anything to show for it now. I’ll be the one trying not to sob because in my heart I am a mom to a little boy, I’m Mommy JT, but to the masses that doesn’t make sense so it can’t be, right? I’ll be the one not getting cards because they don’t make should have been cards. I’ll be the one not posting pictures because you can’t post pictures of things that should have been. I’ll be the one walking away from the people because walking away is just better at this point.

I should be a mom. You should be a mom. And if no one else tells you this weekend, I will. You are a mom. You’re a mom even if no one sees it. You’re a mom even if no one recognizes it. You’re a mom even if no one gets it. You are a mom. And to that I say, Happy Mother’s Day, friend.


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.

When Your Story Is Already Beautiful

I remember when the question started popping up in my heart. It caught me off guard at first. Like, surely I don’t have to answer that one, right? And so I didn’t. I didn’t answer. I just let the question keep asking itself until I was ready to go there. And it did, it kept asking itself over and over and over again. I would think about it while I was driving. I would talk it out while I was running. It would hit me while I was cooking or watching TV or standing in the shower. The question was everywhere, demanding to be answered.

“Will you still love me if the same thing happens again? Will you still believe in me if you never adopt a child?”

I didn’t have an answer at first, I was too sad. I could barely make myself eat and shower and change my clothes. I couldn’t even grasp the idea of having to do what I had just done all over again. I couldn’t fathom having to shut this door my heart has longed for. It was too much. So I just let the question sit there unanswered for a good long while. Then I did have an answer and it was a very genuine no. I was so angry and so hurt. I felt fooled and tricked by the very same person asking me this ridiculous question. I will not believe in you if you let this happen again. I will not love you if we never adopt a child. I just will not. I can’t. So I told him no, for a very long time. And then I told him yes, but it was with my middle finger up, while I was drinking glasses of wine, and only because I didn’t want to go to hell. So it didn’t count, is what I’m really saying to you.

A lot of people tell me that one day our story will be beautiful. I know exactly what they mean and I agree. If we ever successfully adopt a child our story will be beautiful in a way I can’t fully fathom yet. That sentence is hard though because I think our story is already beautiful in a weird and broken way. It’s not beautiful in a way that makes sense or beautiful like a J Crew model. It’s beautiful in a, I shattered this plate because I was so angry and then I decided to put it back together and I’m missing a piece of it but this plate has got a really great story, way. And so I’ve arrived at this place of pure and genuine acceptance. Our story is beautiful. It’s beautiful just as it is. Whether we add a hundred adopted children to our family or none; our story is beautiful. Whether one day we are parents or we never are; our story is beautiful. Our story is enough. Nothing needs to be added to it to make it more enough or more beautiful. It is beautiful and it is enough and it is worth telling just as it is.

As I sit here and type this I find myself sitting in the midst of so much holy peace. I know it’s holy because it doesn’t make sense; it passes every bit of my understanding. I know it’s holy because I know how physically sick I have been at the thought of the same thing happening again, at the thought of never getting to adopt, and at the thought of doing this all over again. [Physically sick like, I took a gazillion pregnancy tests because I thought there was no way anxiety and fear could make one so ill. It very much can, by the way.] I have this holy peace that this is right. Regardless of the outcome, whether I ever have a Ugandan to introduce to you or not, this is right. It just feels so right. And so I find myself back at that question again, but this time with a different answer.

I can’t answer the question that’s popping up in your heart for you. I think we all have a question, though. Will you still believe in me if you never get married? Will you still love me if I never give you children? Will you still believe in me if you never see that dream I gave you to completion? But here’s the thing: Married or single or divorced or widowed; your story is beautiful. Biological babies, adopted babies, or no babies; your story is beautiful. Dreams fulfilled, dreams never fulfilled or dreams that blew up in your face; your story is beautiful. I just don’t think we tell each other those things enough: Your story is beautiful. Your story is enough. Your story is worth telling. It already is.

On Courage

I’m a counselor by profession. At least once every time I see my people I tell them how brave they are for showing up and sharing and doing really hard work. I tell them that it takes a whole lot of courage to do what they are doing. I tell them that they are doing work that a ton of people on this earth will never ever do. I tell them that it takes a lot of guts to talk about hard things; it takes a lot of guts to do the work of thinking back and remembering and talking about things that hurt. I tell them that when a lot of people would say that talking about our feelings is lame and unnecessary and sometimes stupid, I think it’s one of the bravest things anyone can do. It takes courage to be real and open and honest, and then to sit in the midst of all that and do work.

Why do we not do the things we tell other people? Someone please help me understand this.

A few weeks ago I was telling some friends how fearful I am to go back to Uganda. How afraid I am to willingly get on a plane and fly myself back to the place where all of the really hard things went down. How I’m so scared that I will get there and be paralyzed, paralyzed with sadness and fear and grief and anxiety. How genuinely terrified I am to do this again.

One of them looked at me and said, “Courtney, do you remember how hard it was for you to come home? Going back is going to be really hard, but to me you’ve already done the hardest thing.” Another one said something to the tune of, “Yeah I wish we had video footage of you when you first came home so you could see yourself. You were in a really dark place.” And then we had a good laugh because, YES.

I don’t ever think about hard it was to come home from Uganda. How physically sick I got when I received that phone call. How it seemed impossible to put on a smiling face and go play with a little boy for the very last time. How so very hard those plane rides home were. How sad it was to send that email telling everyone what happened. How I sobbed so audibly it almost hurts to think about now. How there were days I thought leaving my house might physically kill me. How showering and changing clothes was a really big deal for weeks. How terrible and hard it was to face people for the first time. How hard it was to realize that life keeps moving forward, it doesn’t stop just because sad things happen. How horrible going back to work was. How hard I cried driving away on the last day of school because I didn’t have to go back to a place that constantly (but not on purpose) reminded me of how I wasn’t supposed to be there. How hard it was to pack up a room meant for a kid who would never see it. How sad and angry and hurt I was. How genuinely hard it was to do the work of grieving, and then how genuinely hard it was to do the work of healing and moving forward.

I get why we do it. I think part of it is really protective. We don’t look back because it hurts and it’s hard and it isn’t fun. We don’t think back because we’re surviving and then when we aren’t surviving we’re figuring out a new normal. Moving forward makes it hard to remember sometimes. I think when hard things happen it’s easy to forget where we started. When we’re living in the aftermath of the hard we aren’t thinking about where we came from. But I’m learning that if we never look back it’s impossible to see how far we’ve come. Just like I tell my people, it takes a lot of courage to remember. It’s really brave to do the work of looking back.

I’m really into the definition of courage these days, strength in the face of pain or grief. I think courage is a lot of things. Courage is grieving; grieving the kid you lost, the relationship you were hurt in, or the dream that died. Courage is surviving; getting up and making yourself eat and shower and get dressed. Courage is moving forward; finding new happiness in the midst of pain. Courage is looking back and remembering; remembering how hard it was and how okay you are now. Courage is doing really hard things; packing up a room, going back to the place you were hurt, or talking about what happened. Courage: strength in the face of pain or grief. Yes, a thousand times yes.

I recently bought myself a necklace with the word courage on it. I wear it almost daily simply as a reminder. It’s not so much a reminder to have courage, but a reminder that I already do have it. I really wanted it to say something like, “Girl you can do hard sh*t” but apparently that’s too long to get engraved on a necklace, and Dustin said something about that being inappropriate. To that I say whatever, sometimes courage is inappropriate.

I think I’m learning that sometimes we just need a reminder. We just need someone to ask us, “Do you remember how hard it was for you to come home?” We need someone to tell us that you can do hard things. You’ve already done them.

On Broken Hallelujahs

I heard someone once define the word “hallelujah” as, commanding your soul to rejoice. Hallelujah is defined as: God be praised, an expression of worship or rejoicing. Rejoice is defined as: to feel or show great joy or delight. Command is defined as: to give an order, to tell someone to do something in a forceful way, with authority. Command is a strong word. Especially in the same sentence as rejoice and hallelujah.

Commanding your soul to rejoice. That thought, though. I can’t shake it. It’s real and it’s raw and it’s the exact opposite of the fluffy Christian mess I can’t stand. Because sometimes life throws you a serious curve ball. A curve ball that literally knocks the breath out of you and kicks you to your knees. A curve ball that makes you question everything about this God you proclaim to believe in. A curve ball that makes you feel alone and hurt and tricked and fooled by that very same God. A curve ball that makes you not even sure you want to believe in a God if this is how life is going to go down. Faith curve balls royally suck. The last thing on planet Earth you want to do is rejoice and praise and say “hallelujah.” The very last thing.

So I had to command myself to do it. I made myself praise God out loud for who He is. But I found that in the middle of the grief and the pain and the fog, I had forgotten. I had  forgotten who He says He is. It started as an assignment. Like, serious homework for the heart.  I made myself sit down and go through the ABC’s. The ABC’s of God and Jesus. Who are they? Why are they worthy of praise? For what reasons am I rejoicing in them? Why am I saying hallelujah? And then around the letter F I couldn’t stop. I took my Bible and my journal all the places and would sit and find new words and new scriptures. I read them with new eyes and a heart that was craving the truth.

And this is what I found: If I believe the Bible to be true, then I believe who it says God and Jesus are. And if I believe that to be true then at some point I have to stop questioning who they say they are and just accept it. Accept that Jesus is awesome and powerful and just and faithful and everlasting and sovereign and perfect. He was those things the day we said Yes to JT. He was those things the day I stood in Uganda listening to the words, “You can’t adopt him anymore.” He is those things today, seven months later. He will be those things the day we stand with our next child. He will be those things if we never stand with a child. He is all those things yesterday and today and forever. He is all those things in the broken and the beautiful and the messy. He is those things when we believe it easily and more importantly, he is those things when we forget.

So here’s my list. The ABC’s of God and Jesus. It’s somewhat overwhelming, in the best way possible.

Alive (Matthew 16:21, Matthew 28:5-6), Anchor (Hebrews 6:19), Awesome (Psalm 42: 2, Deuteronomy 7:21), All Knowing (Jeremiah 16:17, Proverbs 15:3, Matthew 10:30, Daniel 2:22), Almighty (Isaiah 6:3, Psalm 91:1, Psalm 93:4), Alpha (Revelation 1:8), Author (Hebrews 12:2, Acts 3:15), Advocate (1 John 2:1-2)

Bread of Life (John 6:35, Deuteronomy 8:3), Breath of Life (Genesis 2:7)

Creator (Genesis 1:1, Genesis 1:27, Isaiah 42:5), Counselor (Isaiah 9:6, Psalm 73: 23-24), Compassionate (Psalm 103:8, Isaiah 49:13, James 5:11), Cornerstone (Ephesians 2:19-22, Psalms 118: 22-23, Mark 12:10, Acts 4:8-11)

Deliverer (Psalm 72:12, Psalm 18:2), Divine (Romans 1:20, 2 Peter 1:3-4), Delights (Zephaniah 3:17, Jeremiah 9:23-24)

Everlasting (Psalm 90:2, Isaiah 9:6), Eternal (Deuteronomy 33:27, 1 Timothy 1:17, Revelation 1:8), Exalted (2 Samuel 22:47, 1 Chronicles 29:11, Isaiah 33:5)

Father (Isaiah 9:6, Psalm 68 4-5), Faithful ( Deuteronomy 7:9, Psalm 33:4, Psalm 146:6, 1 Thessalonians 5:24, Hebrews 10:23, 1 Peter 4:19), Forgiving (Psalm 86:5, Nehemiah 9:17, Colossians 3:13, Psalm 130:4)

Generous (Matthew 7:11, Malachi 3:10, 1 Timothy 6:17), Glorious (Isaiah 12:5, Acts 2:20, Titus 2:13), Great (Deuteronomy 10:17, Psalm 108:4, Psalm 145:3, 1 John 3:1), Good (Psalm 34:8, Psalm 86:5), Good Shepherd (John 10:11)

Holy (1 Peter 1:15-16, Isaiah 6:3, Psalm 30:4, Psalm 96:9), Healer (Isaiah 53:5, Luke 6:19, Psalm 30:2, Psalm 147:3), Helper (Psalm 46:1, Psalm 121: 1-2, Hebrews 13:6), Hope (Psalm 62:5, Job 13:15, Isaiah 40:31)

I AM (John 6:35, John 8:12, John 10:9, John 10:11, John 11:24-25, John 14:6, John 15:5)

Jealous (Exodus 20:5, Exodus 34:14, Deuteronomy 4:24), Just (Deuteronomy 32:4, Psalm 111:7, 1 John 1:9, Psalm 11:7), Judge (Psalm 9:8, Acts 17:31)

King of Kings (Revelation 19:16, 1 Timothy 6:15), Knows Us (2 Timothy 2:19, Psalm 139:1)

Lamp (2 Samuel 22:29, Psalm 119:105, Revelation 21:23), Light (Psalm 27:1, John 8:12, 1 John 1:5), Lord of Lords (Revelation 19:16, Revelation 17:14), Love (Jeremiah 33:11, Zephaniah 3:17, 1 John 4:8)

Merciful (Luke 6:36, John 3:16, Ephesians 2:4-6), Mighty (Psalm 50:1, Psalm 147:5, Zephaniah 3:17), Magnificent (Psalm 145:3, Psalm 96:4), Maker (Psalm 146:6, Genesis 1:1, Psalm 139: 13, Isaiah 42:5)

Never Failing (Psalm 136, Psalm 130:7), None Like You (Jeremiah 10:6, Psalm 86:8-10)

Omnipresent (Colossians 1:17, Jeremiah 23:24, Proverbs 15:3, Psalm 139:7-10), Omega (Revelation 22:13, Isaiah 44:6), Overcomer (John 16:33, 1 John 5:4)

Perfect (Matthew 5:48, Psalm 19:7, Deuteronomy 32:4), Praiseworthy (Exodus 15:2, Psalm 150:6, Deuteronomy 10:21, Psalm 34:1, Psalm 96:4, Psalm 118:28), Potter (Isaiah 64:8, Deuteronomy 18:6), Powerful (Psalm 147:5, Matthew 20:34, Luke 7:14-15, John 11:43-44, Exodus 14:21-22, Exodus 4, 17-11, 17, Daniel 6), Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6)

Quiets My Soul (Psalm 32:2, Zephaniah 3:17, Psalm 61:2, Psalm 119:32)

Refuge (Psalm 61:4, Psalm 27:5, Psalm 46:1), Righteous (Psalm 119:137, Psalm 48:10, Psalm 97:1, Psalm 145:17, Isaiah 41:10), Ruler (Deuteronomy 10:14, 1 Timothy 6:15), Rock (Psalm 78:35, Psalm 19:14, Psalm 61:2, Isaiah 26:4, Psalm 62:2), Restorer (2 Corinthians 5:17, Isaiah 66:9, Revelation 21:5), Redeemer (Job 19:25, Isaiah 43:1, Isaiah 62:12)

Savior (Isaiah 43:11-12, Psalm 118:14, Like 2:11, 1 John 4:14), Sovereign (Psalm 135:6, Luke 1:37, Job 42:2, Lamentations 5:19, Zechariah 14:9), Stronghold (Nahum 1:7, Psalm 9:9), Strength (Habakkuk 3:19, Psalm 46:1)

Truth (John 14:6, John 17:17, Psalm 119: 160), Teacher (John 13: 13-15, Psalm 25:4-5, Psalm 32:8)

Unchanging (Hebrews 13:8, Ecclesiastes 3:14, James 1:17)

Victorious (Psalm 20:7-8, 1 Samuel 17:45-46, Genesis 50:20, Revelation 12:9, John 12:31, Romans 14:11)

Worthy of Praise (Exodus 15:2, Deuteronomy 32:3, Revelation 5:12, 1 Peter 4:11, Psalm 5:11, Psalm 47: 6, Psalm 48:1, Philippians 4:4)

Someone tell me why X is a letter.

Yahweh (Revelation 1:8, Isaiah 41:4, Genesis 1:1, 1 Corinthians 8:6)

Zealous (Exodus 34:14, Deuteronomy 4:24, Isaiah 42:8, Proverbs 23:17)


On Making Sense Of Pain

I’m certainly not willing to drag other hurting mothers into my brain games as I try one idea or another on for size. I’m not going to tell a mother whose first grader was gunned down in a classroom that it was part of God’s plan. I may be there with Jack’s death on more days than I’m not, but I refuse to come to these conclusions for anyone else.

And it’s tricky. Because hurting people want to understand; we want to know why. But we don’t want people coming to conclusions for us, feeding us neat little answers of what God’s will is and how His mind and heart work. No thank you.

Anna Whiston- Donaldson, Rare Bird A Memoir Of Loss And Love

I spent a lot of time really angry at a lot of people. I was really angry at the words and the sentences people chose to say out loud to us. I could list them off to you, part of me really wants to. The sentences that stung and the sentences that made me burst into tears. The sentences that still to this day make my stomach hurt a little. Grief is so awkward, I so get it. No one knows what to say. We don’t like to see our people hurting.  We want our people to feel better and we want them to be happy. We don’t like messy things and grief is really messy.

But what I’m learning is that hurting people don’t need you to make sense of their pain. Hurting people don’t want you to do that. When you try and make sense of our pain, it hurts even more. It really does. We don’t need you to fix our grief. We don’t need you to find closure for us. And that’s what those sentences feel like, at least they did to me. They felt like other people were trying to fix it for me. Like other people were trying to make sense of what happened for me. The sentences about God’s will and God’s plan and how one day we will look back and know the purpose of all of this. The sentences that give reasons as to why this may have happened. The ones that try to make sense of it all. Those ones.

I’m learning that making sense of pain is an extremely personal process. So personal that even Dustin and I have done this part separately. We talk about it together, sure. But we don’t push our beliefs and reasons about the whole thing onto each other. We have this unspoken agreement that I won’t try and make sense of his pain if he won’t try and make sense of mine. However I’ve chosen to make sense of what happened is exactly what it is for that day. However he has chosen to make sense of what happened is exactly what it is for that day. Some days they are the same, other days they aren’t.

Ask me today and I will tell you that I think this was all a part of God’s marvelous plan. I believe God knew from the beginning this was how it was all going to go down. I’d tell you that I believe he caused this and made it happen. That God orchestrated all of this, down to the last detail. I’d tell you that I believe this needed to happen and that this served a mighty purpose for God’s kingdom.

Ask me on another day and I will tell you this was all Satan. That this was pure evil, every last part of it. I can hear God asking, “Where have you come from?” and Satan replying, “From roaming throughout the earth, going back and forth in it.” I’d tell you that this resembled Job’s story is some capacity, that God allowed Satan to enter this story. That there was a battle waged in heaven over this tiny life and God simply chose to not intervene.

Ask me on another day and I will tell you there is no way God caused this. He may have allowed it to happen, but he did not plan it, cause it, or see it to completion. Some days my heart simply cannot believe that He did this. He did not. This is just a by product of living in a sinful and fallen world. Evil is real. Crap happens to good people. But our God doesn’t do stuff like this.

Ask me on another day and I will tell you I don’t know and I don’t really care. It doesn’t make sense and it never will. Even if God came down in the flesh, sat at my kitchen table and told us the purpose of all of this over dinner it still wouldn’t make sense. I’d tell you that God and I will most certainly be having a very serious discussion at the gates of heaven one day. But until then, I don’t care and I don’t want to talk about it.

I’m learning that there is no way to be awesome at grief. You just do it and you figure it out along the way. I’m learning that when people are hurting they will come to their own conclusions about what happened. They will make sense of it. They really will. It make take a really long time and it may be different every other day, but they will make sense of it and they will do it themselves. I’m learning that your people don’t need you to make sense of their pain. If you need to make sense of it yourself, by all means do that, but we don’t really want to hear about it (at least I didn’t). They just need you to be there with them while they figure it out. And when they do make sense of it? They will tell you. And if they haven’t told you? Ask them. Ask them how they’re making sense of everything and then do the thing that’s really hard… Don’t talk. Just listen.

We took a trip to Austin shortly after I got back from Uganda. We needed to go somewhere and Austin holds two people my heart really needed to see. I could write a whole chapter in a book about how important that trip was for my heart. For a hundred reasons we needed to specifically go there and we needed to specifically see them. The last morning we were there, my friend Jamie and I went for a walk. We talked about a lot of things from marriage to church to friends to family to what happened. She asked me a question that lead to one of my favorite conversations to date about it all. She simply asked me, “How are you making sense of all of this?” No one had asked me that question yet and it opened up a space I will forever be grateful for. And then she did something so beautiful, she just listened. She listened as I talked it out. She listened as I told her how I think this was God’s plan but how I also don’t know if I believe in a God who would plan something like this. She listened as I told her how I also think this was all Satan and how I think God let Satan do this. She listened as I told her how I also don’t know how to make sense of any of it and how there are days I really don’t care why or how it happened it just sucks.

I don’t think she said more than seven words during that part of the conversation. She never told me what she thought about what happened. She didn’t try to make my views on God pretty. She didn’t try to make sense of what happened or find closure in my pain. She just asked the question and then let the conversation be messy. It was one of those moments I will carry with me for a really really long time, if not forever.