An Advent Quiet day reflection
(from last January)
It is December 21 and one year ago on the 29th, we boarded the first of four planes that would take us to this sweet and fiesty little girl! I absolutely can.not.believe it's been nearly a year. We will celebrate our family day on December 31...that's the day she was placed in our arms and we became forever a family. We are super excited to celebrate Christmas this year, well, I almost wasn't...let me tell you about it.
Remembering is a strange thing. I've been pretty emotional this Christmas season so far, just thinking a lot about where we were this time last year and how sad we were that we would not have our girl home for Christmas. It was all I could think about. Literally. I had even concocted a plan that I would fly to Taiwan and stay there until all the court stuff was worked out so I could be with her. I just could not wait to get my hands on her. We had known about Amber Joy and seen photos and even videos of her for eight months, but she was four plane rides out of reach. When we did finally get notice of our final decree having been signed in Taiwan on December 16, we still didn't know if we could travel before February because of Chinese New Year. The whole country literally shuts down for a week. So on what should have been a happy day when we found out she was legally ours, I cried my eyes out thinking I still wouldn't get to have her home for her birthday at the end of January. I've read some posts and blogs by other adoptive parents who say that once you have your child in your arms, you forget all about how hard the wait was. Well, I disagree. I haven't forgotten, and I still get sad when I think about last year. But one thing was true: God was near us. We knew that. We had so many people praying for us because they knew we were having a difficult time and I could feel that. We were in the deepest sadness, but we knew that God was holding us up and that his plans and promises would be fulfilled. Funny how God has a way of filling the voids in our lives, huh? God was close. Very close.
Skip ahead to January 6 when we landed back in Nashville with our precious cargo in tow. Taiwan had been a whirlwind and a tough, tough trip for this new mama. We didn't do much sightseeing (which we now regret), but all we wanted was to get home with this baby and back to the house and surroundings that at least felt normal and comfortable. Little did we know that "normal" and "comfortable" were words that were far, far gone away from our vocabulary. Those first few months were rough. When I say rough, I mean post-partum, crying all the time (me, not Amber Joy), wondering if we had made the right decision, asking where was God, lucky if I got a shower every few days kind of ROUGH. We didn't go much of anywhere because I was anxious about Amber Joy's sleep patterns. She didn't nap well, which stressed me out since I was home with her all day. She fell asleep at night in our arms, but would wake up soon after she went down. And honestly, there's a lot about those first couple of months that are a blur now. Like when your brain wipes away bad, tough things from your memory for you to keep you from remembering how hard it was. Those are the post-adoption stories that no one likes to tell and no one likes to hear. It's supposed to be all hearts and flowers and everyone riding off into the blogger sunset. I think that's what I thought it was supposed to be. After all, we had spent two years waiting for our child to come home through adoption and now that she was here, I sort of forgot that now I had to be a parent.
Life is like that...it's sort of like going to Disney World. And y'all know I LOVE Disney World. But a lot of the fun for me is the preparation. I love making the dining reservations and calling every day to talk to a Disney cast member on the phone about their ideas of what would make our trip fun and if there's a vacancy now at the 'Ohana character breakfast at 8:30 instead of 7:30 on the morning we want to be there and planning if we're going to the left to do Pirates of the Caribbean first or going to the right into Tomorrowland....I could go on and on. But when the day finally comes and you head to Orlando, there's a bittersweetness to the end of the planning, and especially when you get home. I have the "post-Disney blues" for about a week. At least until I start planning the next trip. Or maybe like a wedding. So many people put so much time, work, and MONEY into the wedding and they don't spend any time planning for the MARRIAGE.
Adoption has been that way for me. There was so much time and energy and thought that went into our adoption: the paperwork, the fees, the waiting and wondering, getting new pictures and making new photo collages, buying stuff at Babies-R-Us, weeping at the sight of a quiet, empty baby's room, fundraisers... After she got home, all that was behind us and it was time to start this parenting thing.
Now skip ahead to, well, now. My favorite, favorite time of year has always been Christmas. Since my sister died in March 1999, and my maternal grandmother passed in 2002, we have tried to come up with new family traditions just to change things up a bit so the sadness would not find us as easily (that's my take on it). This year, my dad's family is heading to Gatlinburg for the weekend leading up to Christmas. Although they were all here at our house for Thanksgiving, Justin, me, and Amber Joy are not going, and I'm having a hard time with it. I love seeing my cousins and spending holidays in the Smokies. We mainly decided not to travel this year because, as you who are parents know, packing up one kid under the age of 2 is nothing to sneeze at, and especially if you have more than one. We are choosing to save that money to hopefully put a down payment on a new house very soon. But because it doesn't feel like we're doing anything 'special' for Christmas this year, I had begun to feel pretty sad. Doesn't feel like I'm looking forward to anything. Christmas was shaping up to be just another day, taking care of Amber Joy, feeding Amber Joy, bathing Amber Joy, and having to be in early to put Amber Joy to bed. WOW.
A couple of years ago, I went up to St. Mary's Sewanee for a personal spiritual retreat. It's a gorgeous Episcopal retreat center at Monteagle Mountain. I don't know what I was thinking. I went alone and stayed in a little tiny house there with no TV, no phone, no internet for three nights all by myself. I had meals in their dining room and met with a priest a couple of times, but other than that, I was alone. After the first night, I decided I could either stay and try to gain something from this time, or I could go home early and forget it. I stayed. I am so glad I did. It was one of the most wonderful spiritual experiences of my life. I went back another time for a silent retreat and so when I received their e-mail a few weeks ago describing an "Advent Quiet Day," I jumped at the chance. It was from 9 am-3 pm. I got a babysitter for the first part of the day for Amber Joy and tried hard not to worry. I knew I needed to be there.
The retreat was quiet, not totally silent, but there was lots of time for personal reflection, prayer, reading, journaling...all the things I wish I had more time to do at home, but somehow never take it. Walking back into the common meeting room at St. Mary's was like a drug for me. I hadn't been there in quite awhile and just the act of remembering my previous two retreats there was intoxicating. At first, it can be uncomfortable to be in quiet or silence with strangers, but then, miraculously, you begin to feel as if these are your brothers and sisters in the faith...you form a community. We never knew anything but each other's names, but it didn't matter. The priest at St. Mary's led us in a series of meditations about Advent. My mind raced, even as I tried to calm it.
Here were some of my thoughts (many of them random):
Mary's response to the Angel: "Let it be to me according to your Word."
What are God's promises to me? Which have been fulfilled? What am I still waiting for?
What kinds of promises have I made to others? Do I live as if they have already been fulfilled?
I have made promises to God just as he has made them to me. Does God wait for the "Advent of Stephanie" for me to fulfill my oaths to him as in times past? Is God looking in anticipation to my 'return' to him?
We wait with hope and expectation, not passivity.
The same God is near to me this Advent as last.
We must live in expectation of the promises of God to be fulfilled...living as if they already have been fulfilled.
Jesus went away to a lonely place to pray.
What should we do as we wait? Give, pray, share, be satisifed and compassionate.
We know what it is like to have one promise fulfilled and then to wait again to see what the next fulfillment will be.
Holy waiting is also remembering...remembering what God has done for us in the past and believing that he will act again.
Amber Joy is home. That is the fulfillment of a promise. But now, as she grows, we watch and wait for God to work and move in her life. That will fulfill even more of his promises.
God says to me: Remember, Stephanie, that you have indeed experienced me before, here and in other places. I have not left you. But I am doing a NEW thing. Taste and see that I am good.
The tasks of motherhood that can sometimes seem superficial to me have a hidden thread lying just beneath: the thread of God's story, weaving a tapestry we will have to wait to see. God is at work in these daily seemingly mundane things, accomplishing more than anyone can see right now.
How will Advent be different for us since we are no longer waiting for Amber Joy to come home?
Perhaps Christmas as an ordinary day is my lesson this year: that those are the days where Christ is at work.
Give us new eyes to see that which is not yet revealed, hidden, promised.
Obviously, I had a full day yesterday. Not a lot of activity, but a lot of thinking, praying, and brain work. I even fell asleep with the lights still on last night ;)
Thanks for reading my ramblings...one of these days, I'll expand on some of it, but for now, the every now and then blog post will have to do.
Merry Christmas...may it be a regular, everyday kind of day for you. And may you see the EXTRAordinary in that.
(not the best pic, but shows a bit of the silliness that occurs during our days together ;)