Author Archives: Shannan Martin

What it Means to Come Home

Two years ago, Robert was living under our roof. It was six months of learning as we went, a time of angst and struggle and so many misunderstandings ohmygosh.

It didn’t go down like I’d pictured.
Even though I knew better, a tiny part of me thought he’d fold into our lives seamlessly and walk away a really tall, really loud, unexpected, brash- and-wild Jesus guy.
Whatever about the rest. It didn’t matter.
I said.

But what I meant was, “We’ll help him get strong in his faith then God will scrape out the parts of him that need scraping.”

It felt like a win/win.

Adoption Brothers
When I tell you it was hard, I’m not done talking.
There was so much more. So much good.

Like how I’d wake before dawn and hear his boots across the kitchen floor and the universe couldn’t contain my pride for my hard-working son. I’d listen to him coo at his boys and my heart would split at the seams. We watched bad 90’s movies and one time he “fried up” a bunch of potatoes with the fanciest bottle of olive oil I’ll ever own, then did a boil/bake combo-of-doom with a New York strip steak. There were laughs. And nonsense. He taught me to be a better listener. He taught me the importance of saying, “I was wrong.”

But by the time he left, we rarely even talked about God. When we did, it was complicated. Frustrating.

He taught me I can never be good enough, middle-class enough, or faithful enough to change someone’s eternity. It’s not my job. Never was.

Can I tell you how humbling it is to do (most) things “right”, and end up further away from the prize than when you started? You cannot possibly imagine the doubt this brought to my door. Or the ways I replayed moments and nitpicked my best effort. (Maybe you can imagine.)

I worried we had somehow, accidentally, squandered one of our best gifts. I knew we’d missed the mark, despite our best efforts. It wasn’t long before we watched from the sidelines as things got worse for him and eventually blew up in his face.

I cried on the phone while the jail-house line crackled in my ear like deja vu. I wanted him to be ashamed of himself. I wanted him to feel guilt for the pain he was causing me. I hoped he’d default to Jesus like he had before, but I was well past holding my breath and in the end, I decided maybe jail was the best place for him.

I decided all these things and did my best to burden a young man who was already carrying bricks.
It didn’t make my load any lighter.

I’m sorry if this story reads like a burned-out bulb.
The good news is, there’s always good news. Jesus wasn’t playing when He said I’d never outrun my chances.

Robert moved home yesterday.
He called from the factory and phrased it just like this, “Mom, I reached the highest level at work release. Can I come home for the rest of my home detention?”

Cory and I laughed, because the kid is smart. His word choice? Brilliant.
Of course he could come “home”.

We’re at it again, only this time, we all know what we’re getting ourselves into. There’s no room for anyone to feel duped or jailed. He knows we’ll keep telling him to run to God and we know he might ignore us forever.

We can’t give him back his first 18 years. We can’t unstitch old wounds or paint him a rosier future. We sure as heck can’t hand him eternity or make him want our faith.

But we can show him that faith of ours, and hope it matters.
We can prove again that he can’t outrun his chances.

He’s home. So we are, too.
We did it together.

The next six months will be full of outlandish misbehavior on all our parts. At some point, I’m sure I’ll cuss, and I know I’ll eventually cry.

God will use us to show him; he’ll use him to show us, one more time, over and over again, who He really is and how crazy He is about us.

Because we never outrun our chances to come home.

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BioShannan Martin believes the turns in life that look like failure are often holy gifts, a lesson she chooses to embrace after the bones of her comfy farmgirl life were shattered and rebuilt from the toes up.  Together, Shannan and her family sold their dream farmhouse, moved to a disadvantaged area in the city, and adopted a 19-year old felon.  Nothing could have prepared her for the joy she would discover as her family began to live the simple, messy, complicated life they were created to live. In walking beside the forgotten and broken and seeing first-hand the ways she so cleanly identified with both, Shannan’s faith was plucked from the mud.  She and her jail-chaplain husband now live on the wrong side of the tracks with their four children. She blogs often at Flower Patch Farmgirl.

Parenting and Adoption: Year 10

IMG_0977My hands were wrist-deep in suds, the two youngest were already in bed, Ruby sat at the table coloring a picture of two friends, one with brown skin and one with “tan” skin, holding hands, with twin bows in their hair.

Across the island, Cory and Calvin were mired in the angst of an almost-tweenager, and for the hundredth time this month, I was lost. What really helps in moments like these? Our words were even, but the temptation to cast guilt was ever-present, and I found myself wondering (again) about the invisible “they’s”. What would they think if they knew how he talks to us sometimes? They would never allow this. They would command more from their kids. They would know what to do. They, they, they…

(Who are they?)

I scrubbed oatmeal from our breakfast dishes while the discussion turned in circles and I thought hard about how I might have acted when I was ten. I do it all the time. I try to trip into the past and take stock on myself, my experiences, my parents, and all the air between us.

At ten, I found my first best friend and I must have been teetering on the edge of boy-crazy because when Glen – the epitome of fourth-grade cool – got hurt in a recess game of kickball, I tried to make myself cry. It seemed like the right thing to do.

I was one of two teacher’s pets that year. Everyone thought Mrs. Artz was so mean with her permed old-lady hair and the way she frowned without even trying. But I had cracked the code, and all it took was staying sweet and trying my best. Sometimes I offered to fill the mailboxes during free time. She liked me, so I liked her back.

Once, I screwed up a quiz so royally that I had to skip recess and re-do it in the hall. Stretched out stomach-down on the gray floors that smelled like old news and fresh starts, I scrubbed my eraser across my mistakes then flicked them away with the back of my hand. And I seethed. After everything was put back together, I stood up, walked to the drinking fountain, and said the F-word. Out loud. To myself. I tried it on, wiggled my skinny shoulders under its weight. It was as exhilerating as I expected, but my cheeks must have flamed like apples, because that was almost thirty years ago, and I still remember it like yesterday.

My identity was taking shape, and I had no idea.
I see myself in that little girl.

Maybe that’s why I wig out when I catch my kids at their worst.
They’re kids, yes. They’re figuring out who they are, and who they want to be.
But I know there are slivers of this reality that will be part of them forever.
It can be painful to watch.

I believe every kid has a few gold threads stitched into his fiber. They’re unique, outside the norm. They make him who he is, but they also make him stand out. (There might be nothing more terrifying to a ten-year-old than being different.)

We are dealing with so much “different” right now.
You can take the typical woes, like being cool enough, tall enough, fast enough, smart enough (i.e., not too smart, just smart “enough”,) funny enough. On top of that, we’re feeling an epic technology deficit, which appears to be monumental to a fourth-grader.

I wonder all the time if this stuff would matter so much if my child didn’t still believe he should be living half a world away.

It comes close and ebbs away, but it never, ever leaves.

A few weeks ago I found him sitting in my bed with his nose in a book, which doesn’t happen nearly as often as you might think. He read me these lines, “She felt a sudden, deep longing for her dead mother, and then wondered if it was harder to miss a mother you had loved, or, like Dallas and Florida, to miss a mother you had never known.”

There were no tears and we didn’t parse the words into a deeper meaning.

We didn’t have to.

I kissed his head and told him it was beautiful. I promised I would read the book when he was done, and I did.

I don’t know what to do from here. I have no idea where these turns will take us.

Our days are mostly just like yours. We laugh and grow and do all the things families do. We belong to each other, and it’s as real as the ground beneath us. But some nights are quiet enough to tell the other side of the truth, so we do. Morning always comes, but we can’t forget. I have never known this kind of pain, and it isn’t even mine.

I believe in adoption with my whole heart. I believe in family and forever-love, restoration and redemption. I believe there is no such thing as, “This is all he knows” or, “He doesn’t even remember that.” It’s an unfair loss, one some kids feel more deeply than others.

I probably sassed my parents when I was ten years old. But I know I was a good girl. A rule follower. I earned love and a good reputation. I was a girl who pretended to be boy crazy when all I really wanted to do was play with my Barbies. I was a child who didn’t know how to say no and only had the guts to say how I really felt when I was stone-cold alone.

Those aren’t the goals I have for my kids.

I’m still not sure what to do or say or how to fix small problems (hey, eye-rolling) or bigger ones.
But he trusts us. He still reaches out for my hand and he’s not afraid of wounding me with the truth.
Our love for each other is gladiator-fierce. (There’s so much room in one heart.) We love each other every day, and some days find us at our worst.

On this day, I want to champion all the ten-year olds. Let’s remember how weird it was for us and be open to the possibility that it’s even harder now.

Find a child who might not quite blend in (oh, how I wish my kids could see the beauty of not blending in!) and show her how the world couldn’t function without the particular glint of her gold thread.

Let’s honor everyone’s story. Let’s refuse to default to the sort of parenting that leaves no room for every voice. Let’s lead with honor and guide with love.

Because I protect my kids’ stories with gladiator fierceness, I asked Calvin for permission to share some of what he’s going through right now. Though he sometimes says no, this time he said yes. I asked him, “What would you tell people about adoption?” He answered, “I would tell people that even though adoption breaks your heart, it’s in a good way.”

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BioShannan Martin believes the turns in life that look like failure are often holy gifts, a lesson she chooses to embrace after the bones of her comfy farmgirl life were shattered and rebuilt from the toes up.  Together, Shannan and her family sold their dream farmhouse, moved to a disadvantaged area in the city, and adopted a 19-year old felon.  Nothing could have prepared her for the joy she would discover as her family began to live the simple, messy, complicated life they were created to live. In walking beside the forgotten and broken and seeing first-hand the ways she so cleanly identified with both, Shannan’s faith was plucked from the mud.  She and her jail-chaplain husband now live on the wrong side of the tracks with their four children. She blogs often at Flower Patch Farmgirl.

Labor Pains

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Two days ago, I swayed on my parents’ hammock in a stolen, quiet hour, devouring Everything You Ever Wanted by Jillian Lauren. I was sucked into her story, immersed in her pain, gulping it down like it was the only air left in the room. If she’d been within my reach, I would have sobbed into her hair. I’d have kissed her on both cheeks and the forehead. Yes. This. You wrote my story, and now there’s no other option than for you to move into the vacant room in the basement. Don’teverleaveme.

Ten hours later, I sat with my mom in the E.R. while she suffered through a few tests (she’s fine!) Because she’s a trooper and one of the nicest people I know, she joked with the nurses and tried to put them at ease. When asked about her pain level she said, “Well, I’ve had kids. So this is a 7.”

For a split second, I thought she was talking about the pain of a torn-apart heart.

I can’t talk to you about contractions, epidurals, or mastitis. Oh, but I know a thing or two about bearing children. I could pen an anthology about all the ways a heart can break. If you don’t have time for that, I could show you the flattened gaze of a toddler in his passport photo, and you’d see a glimpse of everything. Some say my kids were too young to understand, but those same people run to their infants’ cries and spend their lives making the world safe and cozy. It’s what we do. If you think my kids don’t remember, I’d ask you to imagine your own without you. Just for a second, allow yourself to go there. Does it hurt? Do they feel it?

When I speak, I can’t get two sentences into my son’s adoption day without turning my back to the audience to compose myself.

It was one of the most beautiful days of my life.
It was hands-down the most painful.

And I’m just the mom.

Back when I doodled hearts on my notebook, back when I met a boy with clear, blue eyes, back when I walked the aisle a full head taller than my dad in a too-short dress, I never pictured this sort of motherhood, constantly leveraging the miracle against the loss.

This is adoption, the bearing of a shape-shifting weight. It’s holding something precious in your hands but getting lost sometimes in the fallout. Adoption is the gas-slick rainbows of my childhood – as magical as the regular kind, but far more complex, and with an edge.

Last night was a rough one.

There are hard parenting days, and then there are hard adoption days. Those are the ones that level me. A decade into this gig, I haven’t progressed beyond curling up in bed and sobbing so hard I choke.

I was not built to be rejected so persistently by someone who loves me so much.
(Or was I?)

I was not cut out for this job.
(Or am I?)

People get uppity when someone implies that adoption is harder than garden-variety parenting. It’s all hard. It’s all the hardest job we’ll ever do. I get it. Honestly, I have no built-in control group. My kids are all over the map and one feels almost no loss at all (yet?) I don’t know what the heck I’m talking about. I’m not qualified to weigh in when it comes to comparing, and there’s really no point.

But I’ll do it anyway.

When hormones and dysregulations and sibling rivalry and boring ol’ disobedience end with someone sobbing because they miss their birth mom or they’re mad we didn’t teach them Korean or they feel unlovable at their core, “hard” veers off the cliff and we all crash and burn.

When your kid won’t stop lashing out and it’s turning your home into a war zone but for the life of you, you don’t know what else to try, you don’t know how to love everyone right, you would do anything/have tried everything/just want to make it stop, the air can rattle with the reverb of anxiety and fear.

When you’re lonely, but you’re terrified of being judged by people who haven’t walked the same ground, well, you do what it takes. You hoist yourself up and you hug those kids harder. You make new friends, because your family is so worth it. If you can’t understand us, you don’t deserve to. (That’s what you say to yourself on the worst days.)

I am tired of spit-shining my kids’ loss.
I’m sick to death of pulling my sleeves down over my contact burns.

We have so many good days. We’re working now, not nearly as broken as we used to be.
But we are entitled to these days, too. We’ve earned the right to sob our guts out until our hair clings damp against our foreheads and our eyes are rubbed raw.

I would give my right hand to erase their hurts, but I know the scars aren’t wasted. I’m not confident in my ability to say the right thing or explain it perfectly to my kids when I can’t wrap my own head around it, but I do know this: 1) I will love you every single second of your life, no matter what. 2) I will never give up on you. 3) You can say whatever you’re feeling and you won’t be in trouble. Tell me the truth. Tell me.

We were made for each other, not by a God who inflicts pain, but by a God who is famous for the way he can make a solid Plan B almost feel like it was always meant to be.

I believe childbirth is the most intense pain a woman experiences. I don’t have to have felt it myself to trust it’s true. If there’s someone in your life who has adopted, you can offer them the same. Be their safe place. Get loud about the ways you see them. Cheer them on. Root for their kids. Do they parent in strange ways? I sure hope so. Do some of their kids have massive feelings that spill out in some pretty frustrating and annoying ways? I’m sure of it. Love them anyway. Love them just the same as if they were quiet and tidy. Let them be sad with you. Celebrate success. Believe what they tell you.

Morning came, just like it always does. Today is for eating French toast with puffy eyes and forgiving each other for the thousandth time. We’ll pray for grace we can’t manufacture on our own, and we will find it somewhere in that asphalt swirl, where the light catches a hard place and makes it gleam.

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BioShannan Martin believes the turns in life that look like failure are often holy gifts, a lesson she chooses to embrace after the bones of her comfy farmgirl life were shattered and rebuilt from the toes up.  Together, Shannan and her family sold their dream farmhouse, moved to a disadvantaged area in the city, and adopted a 19-year old felon.  Nothing could have prepared her for the joy she would discover as her family began to live the simple, messy, complicated life they were created to live. In walking beside the forgotten and broken and seeing first-hand the ways she so cleanly identified with both, Shannan’s faith was plucked from the mud.  She and her jail-chaplain husband now live on the wrong side of the tracks with their four children. She blogs often at Flower Patch Farmgirl.

One Side of a Heart

Some time last week, we celebrated Silas’s “Gotcha Day”. It’s the twenty-something of March and that’s all I can tell you for sure. Oh, and we didn’t really celebrate it at all, only due in part to the fact that I was lying limp and ragged near death’s door.

Gotcha Days are a bit elusive around here. For one thing, Ruby’s Gotcha Day is also her birth day, and it seems unfair for the boys to get two days to her one. For another thing, we were in the hospital ushering Ruby into the world during Calvin’s first Gotcha Day and then Silas’s Gotcha Day falls right around Calvin’s birthday. Mostly, we’re just too busy celebrating regular life with our regular family to specifically honor that one day that they came.

I can hear all of the adoptive Mamas of the world sucking in a collective gasp of air and indignation over my confessed sacrilege of one of Adoption’s holiest days. While they’re already fainting in the aisles, I’ll go ahead and admit that I do not know Ruby’s precise birth weight (even though I was there) and we do not regularly celebrate the Korean New Year. Or Kwanza.

I have struggled, over the years, to cut my groove in this adoption thing and the reason is really simple: I don’t see myself as an “adoptive mom”. I’m just a mom. I’m a big, bad, don’t-dare-mess-with-them-or-you’ll-answer-to-me Mom. They are all I’ve known.They made me a mommy. I’m theirs and they’re mine. I tell them eight thousand times a week how much I love being their Mommy and how thankful I am that we are a family. But that might be over-simplifying a few things.

Silas’s Gotcha Day was hands-down the most traumatic day of my entire life. If I were a method actress and I had to shoot a scene where something terribly emotional was happening, I would conjure up that day in March and shut the set down. I would find myself in a tiny room full of plastic toys that sang songs I couldn’t place. I go there, and it’s hard for me to recover. I see it all again. I can’t forget a thing. I hear it all. I feel once more the fingernail drag of bone-deep pain down the front of my soul. So much happened in that little room. So much that I was not prepared for.

With each adoption, I clung to differing shreds of willful ignorance.

With Calvin, the possibility for trauma and attachment issues hung loose and ghost-like on the horizon. When I got to “those” sections of the book, I closed the cover and went to sleep. I did not want anyone muddying up my rosy future before I’d even seen his face. It seemed too hard and mostly, it seemed like a big waste of time, because he was just a tiny baby.

With Ruby, I read some of the sections, but only because I knew I wouldn’t need them, her being our precious, well-adjusted daughter, born of the most beautiful open adoption.

With Silas, I highlighted a few paragraphs here and there, but we’d be fine because he was in a foster home. He was not institutionalized. He had not experienced trauma. He was strongly attached to his caregiver. Plus, in the grand scheme of life, he was still really quite young.

Of course, half of me knew there was always the chance. I knew that Silas’s age would make it trickier. I knew it would be a different kind of ball game.

But I did not know that our precious son would spend two entire years (and counting) running toward us and away from us at the exact same time.

I did not know that the moment we took him in our arms and ran, the trauma would be inflicted.

I did not know that we would seek help from three different specialists in the span of a single year.

I did not know that a child, so wiry and beautiful, would so fully deplete my every emotional and physical resource on a daily basis.

There are other things I didn’t know.

I didn’t know that my 7 year old son would cry because he misses his birth mom.

I didn’t know that my daughter would be on the receiving end of racism that is clothed in “they mean no harm”.

I see a world opening its heart to the millions of orphans who desperately need a family and I feel immense hope. These kids, no matter where they’re from or what their background is, they need a new last name, a forever one. They need family traditions and trips to Dairy Queen. They need warriors to fight for them and mommies and daddies to kiss and tickle them.

They also need the freedom to feel the hurts that no one else can understand. They need the space to never have to choose between the life that they didn’t get to live and this one right here. They need a free pass from computing that the two could never be mutually exclusive.

With Silas we have had a front-row seat to the heart-busting-up trauma of being taken from all that you know. These are children, and children are smart and intuitive. They understand more than they can verbalize, and what’s left unsaid leaks out in tears, rage, and banged-up self-worth. I’m thankful to have seen it with my own eyes two years ago, because I might never have believed it otherwise. I might have looked past the fight to hold on to a history. I might have remained naive enough to hope that the two older kids did not suffer the exact same losses.

So we hold their fragile hearts with the tenderest hands. We try to anticipate the emotions that shift the weight from one side to another without warning, but we often get it wrong. We feel the slip of trust through the cracks so we reach out and grab it by the ankles. It’s not always practiced or ideal, but we promise to never let them hit the floor.

And maybe that’s what adoptive parenting is like. Maybe it’s a bit like a field day water balloon toss.

Maybe it’s less about memorizing the right answers and more about looking them square in the face during every question, every doubt, every sadness. Maybe it’s leaning in to a kind of pain that we do not know and will never understand just so that they aren’t there leaning alone.

Maybe it’s less about finding the exact right therapist to tell us what to do to fix the problem and more about promising to never tuck the child with the broken heart in at night without a kiss and a hearty sniff to the head.

The books are valuable. They are there to help, and I don’t suggest my path of willful ignorance. But at the end of the day, the bright-spot surprise days and the grim ones where it seems like it will never get better, they are ours and we are theirs.

Maybe our days never will get better. Maybe two years really can turn into forever. But that child knows he is fully loved, all the way to the top, in times of sunshine and weeks of drear, and that is the point of adoption.

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BioShannan Martin believes the turns in life that look like failure are often holy gifts, a lesson she chooses to embrace after the bones of her comfy farmgirl life were shattered and rebuilt from the toes up.  Together, Shannan and her family sold their dream farmhouse, moved to a disadvantaged area in the city, and adopted a 19-year old felon.  Nothing could have prepared her for the joy she would discover as her family began to live the simple, messy, complicated life they were created to live. In walking beside the forgotten and broken and seeing first-hand the ways she so cleanly identified with both, Shannan’s faith was plucked from the mud.  She and her jail-chaplain husband now live on the wrong side of the tracks with their four children. She blogs often at Flower Patch Farmgirl.

Letting Go of Expectations #top10ofalltime

No one ever promised us that adopting our children would be a simple thing. I didn’t expect to whisk Silas into the mix and then just go about my happy business.

I knew it would be really, really hard.

For like six months.

And then it would be sort of hard for another six.

Then we might have a few bad days over the next six months.

Then we’d be home free.

We’d be in “regular parenting” territory then, which is never a slice of pie. It always requires effort and attention. It can be frustrating sometimes, exhausting often. But the dark, bruisey days would be over.

We’ve had Silas with us for 19 months. My extremely generous timeline for unfavorable behavior has expired, and we’re still registering a solid Month Ten. At least this week.

It’s been one of those weeks that used to find me feeling bullied and defeated, but now, after much practice, I simply feel bone-tired. It has worried me, the way I’ve learned to compartmentalize. It has concerned me at times, the way my patience grips the very edge with its fingernails.

This adoption thing? It can be lonely business. It’s hard to find the kind of everyday support that I crave, not because people in my life are unwilling to offer, but simply because it’s different.

When these hard weeks come, I sometimes feel judged. She should be doing things differently. I feel inadequate. I’m tired of screwing up. I feel defensive. He’s had a difficult life. I feel exasperated. What will it take for him to start to understand how this stuff works? I feel rejected. My kid doesn’t love me.

I feel all of those things, at times. They are my knee socks, my jeans, my gray T. I wear them well. They fit just right, at this point and they’re surprisingly comfortable.

But then I pull on my love for my child. I zip certainty up to my chin. I ball up my hands and shove them into Promise.

I walk in the sunny-day truth that I often know the right thing and choose the wrong anyway. I do not always obey the very first time. I shove and kick when I’m scared, or when I think my idea was better.

And still, just as I love my angel-lashed boy, I am loved.

I could never have known for sure what this journey would look like or how it would feel. I might have run screaming for the hills had I understood that it would be this hard this long. That is the thought that threatens to break me. I might have turned my back on one of the blessings of my life. I might have missed the moment where he turns to me and says, “I lu yew Mommy”. I would have missed stifling a laugh when he looks up at me and says all mean and sassy, “I tickle yew”. (He finally understands that “I spanka yo bottom” wasn’t working for him, so he improvises now.)

So, I’m learning to let go a little. I’ll not take personal the days where he wakes up spitting mad at me and the world, because these days come in waves. I’ll ride it out knowing that maybe tomorrow, or next Monday, he’ll smile straight into my heart and giggle me through my day.

Every day is a step in the right direction, even when it’s hard.

Every day is a chance to remember that God honors this work. He honors it full. He cheers us on, reminds us that the dark days move faster if you dance a little.

Every day is one more opportunity for grace – for all of us.

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Shannan Martin

Shannan Martin is an ordinary girl who searches for and finds beauty in the everyday. She’s the wife of a man who thinks all of her jokes are funny and who regularly indulges her late-night, thinking-out-loud ponderings. They have three funny shorties, Calvin, Ruby, and Silas, who came to them across rivers and oceans. Together, they are embarking on a fresh adventure and are confident that God will meet them there. And though they no longer live on the farm, life remains a heaped-up pile of blessings, and Shannan will forever remain a Farmgirl at heart. She has blogged for three years; come take a look.

Family Is More Than Blood

IMG_9892Before we adopted for the first time, I had only a vague idea about “orphans”.  I knew they existed in damp countries where townspeople wearing shades of brown and gray stood in line for bread rations.  I pictured dark-skinned babies with distended tummies and Chinese orphanage rooms lined with rickety cribs.

Not in a million years did I picture faces that would one day form my family.

One of the magical things about adoption is that God always knows.  It doesn’t come as a surprise to Him.  His walls are lined with family pictures that would take our breath away if we were to get just a glimpse. We think the one hanging on our wall is it.  We think we know things, or that our family is already complete.  But we don’t even know the half of it.

Fifteen years ago, I daydreamed about knobby-kneed, fair-skinned kids with sticking-out ears and (fingers crossed!) Cory’s blue eyes.  But God had already decided something better for me.

Our family grew, and I forget sometimes that we don’t share blood.  We share time and space, a history that is whole enough to carry us home.  We share laughs and germs and rants and prayers.  We are a family.

And still, we grow.

This afternoon I rushed between dinner prep and homework when the front door opened and Robert and his best friend Fernando tumbled in, all long limbs and pierced tongues.  They sat at the island for not nearly long enough and somewhere in between their stories and nonsense, Fernando referred to Cory as “Dad”.  Oh, I saw this one coming. It made me smile.

Because family is so much more than blood.  And no one was meant to be alone.

The needle draws us together, pulls us near, and with every stitch, we’re closer to what we were always meant to be.  And with every stitch, our love grows, covering us and all the ones left standing cold around us until the shivering stops and we know that what we are together is real.

I can’t say for sure that you’re meant to adopt.  But chances are, you’re meant to be impacted by adoption. In one way or another, I believe you’re meant to see that what the world calls brokenness can be a thing of sure beauty, adorned in the best possible ways, unexpected and entirely holy.

It could be a niece, a nephew, a grandchild, a godchild. Maybe your best friend will adopt, or your neighbor.

Maybe you’re not as close to “done” as you thought.

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BioShannan Martin believes the turns in life that look like failure are often holy gifts, a lesson she chooses to embrace after the bones of her comfy farmgirl life were shattered and rebuilt from the toes up.  Together, Shannan and her family sold their dream farmhouse, moved to a disadvantaged area in the city, and adopted a 19-year old felon.  Nothing could have prepared her for the joy she would discover as her family began to live the simple, messy, complicated life they were created to live. In walking beside the forgotten and broken and seeing first-hand the ways she so cleanly identified with both, Shannan’s faith was plucked from the mud.  She and her jail-chaplain husband now live on the wrong side of the tracks with their four children. She blogs often at Flower Patch Farmgirl.

When Going Almost Breaks Us

Silas likes to pretend to be a baby sometimes. His brother always liked it, too. I know this is normal toddler behavior, but I’ve always suspected that for the two of them, it’s more than that.

You couldn’t have convinced me, before all of these brown babies came into my life, that a tiny baby could really know what he missed. But there was the time Calvin was 9 months old and the cartoon cut to kids in Korea, a whole schoolyard of them laughing and playing. He froze. Then he bawled his eyes out. He knew. I swept him up and our hearts broke together, for two different reasons. That’s when my mind changed. That’s when I knew for sure that the heart knows what it wants. That’s when adoption became more than my path to a family.

Then there’s his little brother, the one who changed everything we knew all over again, the one who pushes back at life, all wiry limbs and almond eyes bigger than forever.

He’s four now, and he’s got some things to say. He tells us he loves us all the time. He calls everyone “Mrs. Doohiggy” and laughs like he invented four-year old humor. He talks trash. He gives me permission to do stuff all dang day because he has a monstrous Boss complex. “Oh sure, you can put those dishes away.” “Yes, you may check your email.” “Okay, you can make some lunch!”

A few weeks ago he curled up on my lap like a monkey baby and lapsed into that really safe baby world, his wide eyes wider, the weight of his body a gift in my hands. I’ll play baby with him anytime.

This time, the baby started talking.

S: I was born in my Kria (Korea).
Me: Yes, you were.
S: You get me there wis Daddy. We go up in the airplane.
Me: Yep. Did you like the airplane?
S: No. I cried.
Me: Why did you cry?
S: Because I was sad.
Me: Why were you sad? (super curious at this point)
S: Because I didn’t want that mommy.
Me: You didn’t want what mommy?
S: (points to me) That one.
Me: What mommy did you want?
S: Foster mommy.

He wasn’t sad when he said it. He was just telling the truth. I kissed his neck and sniffed his head and the baby was gone. He smiled and raced off to the toyroom, Charles wedged under one arm.

We have talked to him about Korea. We’ve talked about foster mommy. We’ve talked about the airplane and that he cried on it. We have never, ever, talked about why he cried on the plane. We’ve never come close to talking about how desperate he was for the life he knew, or how his world ended for a while when we showed up.

We knew his heart was broken. We know it’s mapped with scars. We did not know his little-kid brain was capable of remembering a feeling that showed up 3 years back.

This might be one more way that healing comes down, to him and to us. God never wastes pain.

But I talk about Going and all the ways it can weigh us down, make us jittery or sad, and none of it will ever come close to the kind of Going that buttons your coat, ties your shoes, and sends you across an ocean, or a river.

The amount of collective faith required in adoption sends me staggering, and most of it isn’t even mine.

They would never have chosen this. But there was so much more to the story than what they could see. So they came and let us love them and sooner or later, they loved us back. They chose us back.

Maybe it’s in the brown eyes looking up at me every day that I find this urge to reach up and grab onto something Brave. Because despite all the ways they have lost, my babies will understand how God redeems. Their worldview and the scope of their belief will leave mine in the dust. They’ll never think for a second that the neighbors they should love share their language, their skin-tone, the same hunk of dirt.

For them, it will be rooted in their soul: a good thing isn’t always an easy thing. Sometimes, just what we need, that one thing that will define us, hold us, carry us into the all the rest, is born from a heart wide-split and questions that won’t be answered.

If they and all the others like them can Go, so can we.

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Shannan Martin

Shannan Martin is an ordinary girl who searches for and finds beauty in the everyday. She’s the wife of a man who thinks all of her jokes are funny and who regularly indulges her late-night, thinking-out-loud ponderings. They have three funny shorties, Calvin, Ruby, and Silas, who came to them across rivers and oceans. Together, they are embarking on a fresh adventure and are confident that God will meet them there. And though they no longer live on the farm, life remains a heaped-up pile of blessings, and Shannan will forever remain a Farmgirl at heart. She has blogged for three years; come take a look.

Letting Go of Expectations

No one ever promised us that adopting our children would be a simple thing. I didn’t expect to whisk Silas into the mix and then just go about my happy business.

I knew it would be really, really hard.

For like six months.

And then it would be sort of hard for another six.

Then we might have a few bad days over the next six months.

Then we’d be home free.

We’d be in “regular parenting” territory then, which is never a slice of pie. It always requires effort and attention. It can be frustrating sometimes, exhausting often. But the dark, bruisey days would be over.

We’ve had Silas with us for 19 months. My extremely generous timeline for unfavorable behavior has expired, and we’re still registering a solid Month Ten. At least this week.

It’s been one of those weeks that used to find me feeling bullied and defeated, but now, after much practice, I simply feel bone-tired. It has worried me, the way I’ve learned to compartmentalize. It has concerned me at times, the way my patience grips the very edge with its fingernails.

This adoption thing? It can be lonely business. It’s hard to find the kind of everyday support that I crave, not because people in my life are unwilling to offer, but simply because it’s different.

When these hard weeks come, I sometimes feel judged. She should be doing things differently. I feel inadequate. I’m tired of screwing up. I feel defensive. He’s had a difficult life. I feel exasperated. What will it take for him to start to understand how this stuff works? I feel rejected. My kid doesn’t love me.

I feel all of those things, at times. They are my knee socks, my jeans, my gray T. I wear them well. They fit just right, at this point and they’re surprisingly comfortable.

But then I pull on my love for my child. I zip certainty up to my chin. I ball up my hands and shove them into Promise.

I walk in the sunny-day truth that I often know the right thing and choose the wrong anyway. I do not always obey the very first time. I shove and kick when I’m scared, or when I think my idea was better.

And still, just as I love my angel-lashed boy, I am loved.

I could never have known for sure what this journey would look like or how it would feel. I might have run screaming for the hills had I understood that it would be this hard this long. That is the thought that threatens to break me. I might have turned my back on one of the blessings of my life. I might have missed the moment where he turns to me and says, “I lu yew Mommy”. I would have missed stifling a laugh when he looks up at me and says all mean and sassy, “I tickle yew”. (He finally understands that “I spanka yo bottom” wasn’t working for him, so he improvises now.)

So, I’m learning to let go a little. I’ll not take personal the days where he wakes up spitting mad at me and the world, because these days come in waves. I’ll ride it out knowing that maybe tomorrow, or next Monday, he’ll smile straight into my heart and giggle me through my day.

Every day is a step in the right direction, even when it’s hard.

Every day is a chance to remember that God honors this work. He honors it full. He cheers us on, reminds us that the dark days move faster if you dance a little.

Every day is one more opportunity for grace – for all of us.

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Shannan Martin

Shannan Martin is an ordinary girl who searches for and finds beauty in the everyday. She’s the wife of a man who thinks all of her jokes are funny and who regularly indulges her late-night, thinking-out-loud ponderings. They have three funny shorties, Calvin, Ruby, and Silas, who came to them across rivers and oceans. Together, they are embarking on a fresh adventure and are confident that God will meet them there. And though they no longer live on the farm, life remains a heaped-up pile of blessings, and Shannan will forever remain a Farmgirl at heart. She has blogged for three years; come take a look.