Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Say What?: Adoption and Pregnancy

If you haven't read my previous post, please take a moment to do so HERE before you read this.

Everyone has heard the stories about couples who try for years to have biological children and then get pregnant once they adopt. The Lord has decided to make that our story. But I want to tell you that this is not the case for the VAST MAJORITY of couples who walk this road. This path is one that is full of hurt, fear, shame and anger. I know because I walked it for four and a half years. I know how much it hurts to see person after person in your life have children while you remain childless. I know how hollow words can sound, even when they come with the best of intentions.

So I wanted to take a moment today to share some things that come from deep within my heart. I wish so much that there was a way for me to clarify my tone in this post. I'm fear that I may come across as angry or self-righteous. Please know that is not how I feel at all. I feel very humbled by our current reality, and I feel a profound need to speak for those who are on a difficult journey. Imagine me sitting on your couch with a cup of coffee, speaking quietly and sincerely. That's where I am today.

If you know someone, myself included, whose story includes adoption and then pregnancy soon after, I want to humbly ask you to be slow to say some of the following things:

-"I just knew this would happen."

No one knew this would happen. Especially not me. There were years of hurt, deep hurt, about not being able to have a biological child. We walked the path of adoption believing wholeheartedly that it was the only one we would know, and we were honored to be called to such a life. Hearing that someone knew it would happen makes the suffering feel small, makes me feel like I should have known this all along, makes me feel like my faith was not enough and if it had been then the last four years would not have been so hard. And it makes me feel like people believe we adopted in order to also have a biological child. Not one of these things is true.

-"This always happens."

I think this is the hardest one to hear. Mainly because it doesn't always happen. It almost never happens. I think the perception is that it happens a lot because these are the stories people tell, so we feel like we hear it all the time. I have met hundreds of women on this adoption journey, hundreds, and two of them have had this happen. I know so many beautiful women with faithful hearts who long for both adopted children and biological children and their reality is that it might not ever happen. That is the same reality I lived with for years, too. Hearing that "it always happens" hurts so much because those of us walking this road know it might not happen. And for those of us who did get pregnant soon after, it cheapens what we have experienced.

-"You must have finally been relaxed."

I cannot speak for everyone who has experienced what Adam and I are currently walking through, but I can say this. Sweet Baby #2 came our way sometime between our trips to Ethiopia. It was the most stressful month of my entire life. We had just left our son in an orphanage, and we did not know how long it would be until we could go back and get him. The week after we got home, my sweet, sweet grandfather went to be with Jesus. It was such a deep loss for me, especially coupled with the fact that we were away from our son. That month might be the hardest month I will ever live through, and it was in the midst of that that the Lord brought us this very unexpected gift. I can say for certain that I was not relaxed, and I know that, ultimately, my state of mind has very little to do with what God is up to in our lives. This is God's story; we are just the instruments.

If you you know someone who is in the adoption process and struggling to have biological children, too, I want to ask you from the bottom of my hear to be cautious in using these next few phrases.

-"Don't worry. As soon as you adopt, you'll get pregnant."

Oh, I had so many people say this to me. I would nod and smile along, but in reality I wanted to hide in a closet and cry. It is so hard to hear this, and it is hard for a few different reasons. The first is that there is absolutely no guarantee that this will actually happen for anyone. We reached a place where I fully and completely believed that I would never carry a child into this world. It was a hard reality, but I was doing my best to trust God with my life. When people would say this to me, it would just remind me of what I was not going to experience. The second thing that is so hard about hearing this is that it sounds like the only reason I am adopting is to get pregnant. Nothing could be further from the truth, and I feel confident saying that about every single adoptive mom I know. We adopt because we believe it is God's calling on our life, because we have a deep love for a child brought into the world by another woman, because want to. We do not adopt to trick God or the universe into letting us have a biological child, too.

-"I'm praying so hard that you'll get pregnant after you get this baby home."

I heard this a lot, too. And I appreciate the prayers and the sentiment, but I was not praying for that to happen. I was praying for God to protect Bradley and bring him home and prepare my heart and his to be united as a family. Hearing this, along with the previous statement, really makes it seem like adoption is second tier parenting or second best. Like once I have a biological child, then I am legitimate. Those feelings hurt, and they simply are not true. I cannot imagine loving a child more than I love Bradley, and there is nothing in my biology that ties me to him. I even jokingly told my mom on the plane ride over to bring him home that if the Lord ever chose to bless us with a biological child I hoped I would love him as much as I love Bradley. Please be careful with statements like these, as they can hurt an already wounded heart.

-"I have this friend who tried for years to get pregnant, and then she adopted and BOOM...twins."

I know that we love to share stories to encourage people we love. I do it all the time. But for a woman struggling through infertility, these stories are not encouraging. At least they were not for me. She may nod and smile and thank you when you say it, but chances are she is dying inside because she believes with her whole heart that that will never be her. Because the truth is that there are people in this world who walk through all of life and never get the thing they want most. Maybe it's a spouse. Maybe it's a child. And hearing story after story of it happening for seemingly everyone else is so hard because you know that it might not ever be you. So if you find yourself about to share a story about someone you know who became pregnant right after an adoption, please ask yourself if sharing it will truly help the person you love or if it runs the risk of hurting them even more. And I would urge you to err on the side of caution. Please be slow to share and quick to listen. That is what those on this road need the most.

With deep love,

And Then God Did This

It is with such a humbled, cautious and even conflicted heart that I approach this post. My stomach is in knots for so many reasons. One of which is that I am about to share a piece of my life that has remained somewhat in the shadows until now. I'm sure you've caught the hints and implications here and there, but I have never shared the entire story outright. This is also a post that changes things. Big things. So I am going to ask you to read all the way through to the end of (what I have a feeling will be) a very long post. I am also publishing two posts today, and I would humbly ask that you read them both.

In April of 2012, Adam and I started the long, long process to bring Bradley home. We were so excited to be adopting, and we could not wait to see what the Lord would do in our lives. For about 15 months prior, we had been trying to have a biological child. Clearly, we were unsuccessful. We had always known that we wanted both biological and adopted children. We saw our family as this beautiful blend of what we imagined the family of God to look like. Our initial thought was that we would have biological children first and then adopt when we were a little older (and more mature, you know). As the months and eventually more than a year passed, we began to sense that God was telling us to adopt first. So we began our adoption from Ethiopia. And I'll be honest, it was hard to know that we would have to wait so much longer to become parents, but the more we got into the adoption process, the more I fell in LOVE with the idea of adopting first. That we would be made parents first through the adoption of our son, that I will always be able to look at Bradley and tell him that he is the one who walked me into motherhood...what a gift.

A few months after we started the process, it dawned on us that it might be a good idea to go to the doctor and make sure there was not something medically wrong (cancer, cysts, etc.) that was keeping us from being able to have biological children. I'll keep the details for Adam and myself, but after a few rounds of testing by a specialist, we were told that without serious medical intervention we would not be able to have biological children.

It was June 6, 2012. A day that is forever etched into my memory. I can tell you what I was wearing, exactly where my car was parked, exactly what the doctor said.

We were heartbroken. We wanted both. Were we asking too much?

I felt so lost and completely adrift. What happened? What did we do wrong? Where was God?

That same year, almost every single one of my friends was pregnant.

And then adoptions in Ethiopia began to slow down dramatically. It seemed like we would never be able to be parents.

Again, I began to sense the Lord asking me something. He was asking me to let go of biological children. To let go of the privilege of being able to carry a child into the world. To let go of what I thought my life would and should look like. He was asking me to trust His sovereignty over my desires.

I refused for a long time. I couldn't let go. The tighter I gripped, the more it hurt. Until God finally did the impossible. He changed my heart. He broke me down and rebuilt me into a woman who would follow Him to the ends of the earth. It was a long journey. Years in the making, but God did it.

The rest of 2012 went by. And we inched up the waiting list in 2013 until everything stopped for six months. You know the story from here.

November 29, 2014. One of the happiest days of my life so far. We saw Bradley's precious face for the very first time. Our lives changed. We had a son. A beautiful boy.

It took us eight more months to get him home, and it was a fight. A brutal battle.

He came home the day before his first birthday. We celebrated with friends and family. Kissed him a million times and hunkered down in our home to bond with our son. It was overwhelming in every single way. The jet lag. The new tiny person in our house. Not being able to leave our house. Bradley working through the loss of everything he knew. Him having to attach to Adam, the first man he had ever been around. For the first week, he pretty much only wanted to be held by me while I was standing up. Then he stopped napping during the day. I was beyond my limits. Jesus was carrying me.

Parenthood was looking soooooo much different than what I had envisioned. And I felt like I just COULD NOT get back on the right time zone. I began to grow a new appreciation of the battle the Lord fights for our hearts. He has to make us love Him. And we were having to do the same with Bradley. We had to make him love us and see us as his parents. It is (and I think always will be) the hardest thing I have ever done. And I am so deeply honored to get to do it. To have the chance to fight for this boy's heart. I would do it a thousand times.

And I finally understood why the Lord had said no to biological children for all these years. So much heartache had ultimately led to one of the greatest journeys I could imagine. In those moments of clarity, I was able to see why God ordered my life the way He did, and I was so thankful to be a mom who had the privilege of adopting, so thankful that we were able to give this beautiful boy our complete and undivided attention, so thankful that the Lord had not given up on me when I so adamantly refused His path for my life.

And now it makes even more sense. Because, unbeknownst to me, God was working something beautiful that I just couldn't see.

Ten days after walking off the plane with my boy, I found myself standing in our bathroom holding a positive pregnancy test.

I called my doctor the next day and was told that they would not see me until eight weeks. Quickly, I explained our situation (told we could not have children + one year old home from Ethiopia for 11 days now) and they said they could pencil me in. Four days later, fifteen days after Bradley got home, I was listening to the heartbeat of my second child.

Shock is an inadequate word. But it is the only one I can think of right now. I was stunned into silence. It couldn't be right. We had been told by multiple doctors that this would not happen for us. This wasn't even on our radar. It wasn't even something I prayed for anymore. God had helped me surrender this to Him. My husband was in the other bathroom bathing our one year old who had been home less than two weeks. We weren't ready.

This is where my heart twists. Having a biological child is undoubtedly something I want. Even though I gave this piece of me back to the Lord, I still thought about how amazing it would be to carry a child. I am so thankful that the Lord has gifted our family in this way.

But I know that this is something that doesn't happen often. And for years I have been on the receiving end of this news from people I know in real life and people I follow online. So I know the sting that accompanies seeing another person's prayers answered while yours seem to hang above your head. For that reason, it is with the sincerest heart that I tell you I'm sorry. I don't doubt that this is God's will for my life, and so I know I can trust that it is good. But I am deeply sorry if I have added to your hurt in any way. Please know that my heart beats for you in this, that I know what you are feeling and I honor it. Please know that I have struggled with guilt over sharing this because I hate knowing that it could add to your pain. And please know that this happening in our lives is not an indication of extraordinary faithfulness that has earned me anything. I have struggled deeply, been shaken to the core of who I am.

All I can say is that the only thing that has gotten me through the last 4.5 years on the road to parenthood is Jesus. I had to decide that the Lord was wholly and completely trustworthy, no matter the circumstance. I remember meeting with our pastor's wife in late summer 2012. I was despondent. Their story started out so similarly to ours. They could not have biological children, and after years of trying, they adopted a little boy. Soon after they got home, she found out she was pregnant. I remember sitting across from her knowing that this would not be the case for us. And she told me, "My story is not your story. I don't know how your story will end, but I know you can trust God with it." She was right. I had to believe that whatever God had for me, biological and adopted children, only adopted children or no children, whatever it was, I had to believe that it was for my good and God's glory. I know that is a really easy thing to say, and I need you know it took me literal years to get there. But I also need you to know that God can do this kind of work in your heart.

So we are celebrating this new life the Lord has entrusted to us (and still recovering from the shock). And we are trying to walk forward in faith, trusting again that the Lord is sovereign and good. Baby Knott #2 will join our family at the end of March, and we are so excited (and a bit nervous) about what the future holds for our family. I hope and pray that we can live to the calling God has for us.

I want to ask you one more thing. I mentioned at the beginning of this post that I am publishing two pieces today. Please read the next one right away. It's about pregnancy and adoption, and this is something that is so dear to my heart. Please take a moment to click HERE and read it before you do anything else.

With deep love,

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Almost Two Months Home Photo Dump

So, I have been a major slacker in posting pictures of my sweet boy. I'm about to make up for it today. These go in chronological order from the week we came home till now. It's amazing to me to see how much Bradley has changed so quickly. 

 First week home. 
Look how tiny he is! 
 Loves his kiddie pool. 
 First time in the stander. 
It lasted about 45 seconds. 
 Getting bigger every day! 
 Starting to crawl everywhere. 
 Building up those arm muscles. 
 Figuring out all these new toys. 
 And wondering why I'm taking so many pictures. 
 Smiling more.
 Getting chubby legs 
 And more teeth! 
 Not so happy when mom is slow with the spoon. 
 One month home and off on our first trip! 
 He's a pro at flying. 
 Family fun at the beach
 Hanging with dad.
 Out to dinner 
 Beach nap.
 Silly boy. 
 Loving the pool. 
 He has a good daddy. 
 And a crazy family. 
 Back home with Daisy girl. 
 I don't even know. 
 Seriously. I don't know. 
And with his bestie, Millie! 
You can follow them on IG: #bradandmillie
 He looks so big! 
 Standing up
 Trying to figure out his carrier. 
 Cheesy grins. 
 Getting better with Daisy. 
 First trip to the Y splash pad! 
Epic success. 

 And his first Auburn game. 
With Millie, of course. 
 And then he was done with pictures. 
 Suited up! 
 War Eagle! 
 And then he learned to do this. 

So that's our life in photos! 


Thursday, August 27, 2015

Cocooning and Attachment: What I'm Learning

Bradley has been home almost six weeks now. {PRAISE HANDS!} For almost all of that time we have been in serious cocooning mode. In the adoption world, cocooning is the time period right after a child comes homes and the family really hunkers down in the house and focuses on bonding with their newest addition. Just this week, we have starting making some outings beyond the walls of our home. {MORE PRAISE HANDS!} Today, for example, B and I went on a walk with my friend Rachel and her son. The boys were in strollers, and I am fairly certain I totally dominated the conversation because I was JUST SO HAPPY to be talking to a grown up. Sorry, Rachel.

Still, most of our day is spent in the house, really sticking to a routine while Bradley adjusts to his family. This time of bonding and attachment is so critical to the healthy development of the child, and I wanted to take a moment to talk a little bit about what our experience has been like and what I am learning.

1. It will be harder than you think. You know how when you get sick and are stuck at home for three days, you start to go a little stir crazy? Stretch that out to a month, add a little jet lag and a child who has no clue what just happened. Boom. Seriously though. Give yourself grace to be wholly and completely overwhelmed by what is happening. Our first week home... I mostly felt like I was drowning. The jet lag is insane, and your sweet baby has it, too. Not to mention all of the loss that accompanies him leaving his home country. I felt so over-prepared walking into this. Our agency does a FANTASTIC job educating its families, and I truly felt like I had all of the information. But having the information and putting into practice are two COMPLETELY different things. Cocooning is HARD. You are on all the time, and you are on in a very confined space. So much of attachment rests on immediately responding to your child's needs. It's like being a firefighter. The alarm goes off and you better move fast.

2. Hang in there because it is SO worth it. Yes, you will be exhausted beyond reason. Yes, you will likely feel like you are so far out of your depth. Yes, you will be tempted to give up and say that surely this attachment thing can't be that important. DON'T DO IT. Hang in there. When we we first met Bradley, he would go to anyone who would hold him. He showed no preference whatsoever. But now, after seven weeks (six here + one in Ethiopia) of intense attachment parenting and us meeting all his needs, he turns away from anyone who is not Adam or me. He knows that we are his safe people. Maybe it sounds awful, but the surge of satisfaction I got the first time someone reached for him and he pulled away?? Well, that made everything worth it. Because I know that he knows I am his mom. I am the safest person on the planet. I am the one who feeds him and rocks him to sleep. He did not come to us knowing that. We had to show him. And it took TIME and a lot of hard, hard work. Believe me, I cried a LOT during those first weeks, but I am so glad we stuck with it.

3. Food is a big deal. HUGE. We are now at the point where we are allowing family to interact with Bradley if he initiates it, but we are still the only ones to feed him. Our plan is to keep it this way for a long time. As in months. It will be the very last thing we let go of, and that is a long way off. My advice would be to not let anyone else feed your child anything at all. Food is a huge source of comfort, and that needs to come from mom and dad.

4. Ask for help from your spouse. If you are like me, then perhaps you sauntered into motherhood believing that you could do it all. I was in for a rude awakening. I have visions of myself being instantly awesome. Suffice it to say, that was not the case. Ha! Motherhood has kicked my behind! And I have been working on allowing myself to really lean on Adam. When B is awake all night, we take hour long shifts till he's back down. If Adam comes home from work and it has been a really rough day, I say, "Tag!" I am lucky enough to be married to a fellow who loves being a dad and all that accompanies it, and I do not know what I would do without him. Scratch that. I do know. I would hide in the shower and cry. So allow yourself to share the weight of it all.

5. Let your friends help. Our precious, precious friends set up a meal schedule for us when we got home with Bradley. I don't think I cooked dinner for a month. Seriously. It was one of the most wonderful things anyone could have done for us. I could throw myself at their feet for all of the deliciousness that paraded through this house for WEEKS after we got home. It was such an enormous relief to not have to think about juggling a very needy baby with cooking. And along these lines, please eat off of paper plates for a while so you don't have to fool with dishes. It took us about a week o make the change. It was revolutionary.

6. Celebrate the victories. There will be many. Some big and some teeny tiny. Acknowledge them all. Baby took a nap? Hooray! Baby ate lunch? Hooray! Baby only cried for two hours last night instead of three? Hooray! Baby is all of a sudden pulling to stand? HOORAY! Baby reaches for you when he's upset? Hooray! You get what I'm saying. Those first weeks home are tough, but you will watch your child change so fast right in front of you. He will put on weight, smile more, reach for you, start playing, catch up on milestones. All so quickly. Soak it up and know that he is making these strides because he is in a loving family. Your family.

7. Parent through Christ. This is by FAR the most important piece. All the trainings. All the books. All the online courses and seminars. All the conferences. Without the grace of Jesus Christ on a day by day and minute by minute basis, all of it would be for naught. There have been many days and countless moments when Jesus was the only thing that kept me on my feet. Trust that He called you to this, that He has a beautiful story for you and your precious babe. Press in and press on, and always lean (or if you're like me, throw yourself) on Him.

There is a lot more I could say on this, and I hope to have time soon for a Part II. But for now, the babe is asleep, so I am going to head that way, too.

With love,

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Peaks and Valleys

Peaks and valleys.

That has been my answer to all of the wonderful people in my life asking how things are going with Bradley. And it is so true. There are days when I feel on top of the world, like I can totally do this mom thing. Then there are days when I feel like I just cannot get anything right, like I have NO business being a mom.

After LOTS of education and research over three years, Adam and I decided that we were committed to one month of really intense attachment parenting with our little man. Here's what that looked like: we were the only ones to hold him, feed him, touch him, change him, bathe him, comfort him. We were holding him all the time, lots of intense eye contact, almost always at least one hand on him, responding to cries immediately. In doing this, we had a very specific goal. We wanted Bradley to understand what it means to have parents, and we wanted him to fully recognize that WE are his parents, the safest and most loving people in his world.

This led to a lot of peaks and a lot of valleys.

As the days went by, we were getting more smiles and even some laughs. We were watching him start to reach for us and REALLY prefer to be held at all times (my arms muscles are getting ripped). We also got to watch him make HUGE strides in his development.

But there were a LOT of moments in that first month home that left me feeling like I would never, could never be the mom I wanted to be. Moms tell you that they know their children's different cries. I didn't. Some days, he was inconsolable, only wanting to be held while he cried. It was so hard.

So much of this is related to grief. Yes, Bradley joined our family forever when we walked out of the orphanage gates, but he also lost his home and the women who had loved him and cared for him. I cannot imagine how confused and hurt he must have been, wondering what happened to all of the familiar faces he had come to know. And to now have this woman who clearly doesn't know what she is doing.

Adoption is a beautiful, redemptive and impossibly hard thing.

Week four was particularly tough. It was Adam's first week back at work, and I was finally on my own. I was doing the very thing I had begged God to let me do, AND IT WAS SO MUCH HARDER THAN I EVER THOUGHT POSSIBLE.

But there is God's grace again. Carrying me through and reminding me that I cannot be the mom I want to be without Him right at the center.

So whatever it is you're doing, know that God can be right there with you if you let him. I am learning each day what a weak vessel I am. A true jar of clay. But all of this points me right back to Jesus, reminding me of my deep and desperate need for Him.


Tuesday, August 11, 2015

But Then You Get Home

For the last 3+ years, our life has been full of paperwork and classes and reading and forms and fingerprints and WAITING. And then it was full of travel and court and embassy and the longest day ever to get from Ethiopia to Birmingham. And it was all so hard...

But then you get home.

And there is a tiny person in your house. THE PERSON you have prayed over and begged God to bring to you. The one you have dreamed of for years. He lives in your house.

And in that moment, you realize that you have NO IDEA what you are doing! Ha!

Oh, the last three weeks have been wonderful. We have watched our son (you know, the one who lives in our house now) absolutely blossom. He is growing in all directions. He is making up his losses in leaps and bounds. In three weeks, he has gone from slow crawling to speed racing to pulling to stand to taking very shaky steps with our help. IN THREE WEEKS. He is laughing and smiling. He is playing. He loves his swimming pool and bath time. He is not too sure about his dog (although she really wants to be his best friend). He is gaining confidence. He is not scared anymore.

This brings me back to the whole I have no idea what I'm doing part.

I don't. I have never been a mom before. Everything I know about being a mother I am learning from my one year old completely on the fly. I haven't successfully raised a herd of children. I am just working on the one who's been with me since mid-July.

And that is my point. Bradley has made all of these gains with a mom who is a total novice. It does not take any expertise to love a child. And that is what adoption is. It is choosing to love the beautiful child God has placed into your family.

So you might feel like you don't have what it takes to adopt, like you wouldn't know what to do. Let me set your mind at ease. You don't and you won't. But Christ does, and maybe He is nudging you, asking you to step out in faith and say yes to adopting a child. It is an awesome and radical thing. And I still cannot believe that God asked us to do this. Surely we are among the least qualified, but He is greater.

Yes, there have been moments that have seemed impossibly difficult. Moments when I felt sure that Bradley deserved a better mom than I could ever be. But God brought us together. He brought this child into our family in the most incredible way, and I love him. So I can and will, through God's strength, fight through those moments. And if the Lord is tugging at your life and asking you to adopt, then He will do the same for you.

With love,

Friday, July 31, 2015

Ethiopia Trip Two: One BIG Post About Bringing Bradley Home

Remember that time I told you I was going to Ethiopia to pick up my son and disappeared for three weeks? Yeah, sorry about that. Turns out life with a one year old does not lend itself to long periods of thoughtful silence during which I can record and share all of the beauty God has written and is writing in my life. In fact, the only reason I am getting this post out is that my SAINT of a husband is putting our sweet love down for the night, giving me roughly thirty minutes of quiet. Yay for marriage!

There is so much I want and need to say about my time in Ethiopia this month. And I am still working on processing through it all, but I do want to share that week with you.

Before I do that, though, I have to give and enormous shout of recognition to someone who was with me in Ethiopia, though you will not see her in any of the pictures; she was behind the lens. My mother. I have always known that she is an incredible, loving and selfless woman. But our week together in Ethiopia absolutely blew my mind. She flew half way around the world to SERVE. She did not come with any expectations, and she was there for me and for Bradley in the beautiful moments and in the difficult and often messy moments. She did things that I did not know existed (ummm....washing footie pajamas full of poop in the toilet??), and she did them without ever complaining or hesitating. Mom, you are the single most incredible woman I have ever and will ever know. You are a SHINING example of the selfless, servant leadership Christ calls us to. How blessed by God am I to have been raised by such a woman. I pray that the Lord will allow me to become such a mother one day. And if He does, my journey began with you. I love you.

We walked back in to the place that has been on my mind since the day we left last month. 
It's wash day. 
Once we arrived, we had to wait a few minutes (felt like forever) for his nannies to get him ready to leave his home for good. I cannot even begin to imagine what these sweet women were thinking as they held this boy they have loved and cared for for the last time. 

 And then they brought him down, and I knew I would never have to be without him again. 
 He was most unsure about what was going on. 
 But we did manage to get a quick smile out of him. 
 With the head nanny who took the time to answer all of my questions.
 The beautiful woman who carried him out of his room and down to his mom. 
 And sweet, sweet Tizita, our translator and all things wonderful, who helped our family on both trips and so obviously loves what she does. 
 We took one last look around his room upstairs to say good bye, and then he walked down those stairs for the very last time. 

 The nannies were so sad to see him go and so happy that he was finally with his family. 
 Walking out of the building.
 I think he must have been kissed a thousand times that day. 
 It made me so grateful to see how deeply these women love the children they help raise. 
 One last kiss good bye...
 And it was finally time. Time to do the thing we set out to do three years, three months and three days prior to this moment. Time to walk out of the orphanage with our son. Because he doesn't belong there any more. He belongs with us. 
 And here we go. 
 Out in the great big world. 
 Time to leave. 
 Our first night at the hotel together was so sweet. He held this pose, with the spoon in his mouth, unsure of what to do. But when he tasted that food for the first time, his sweet little eyes lit up and he had no trouble gobbling down the rest of it. 
 Getting better with the spoon. 
 Playing on the floor with mom. 
 It is incredible to watch and see what a difference one-on-one attention makes for a child. 
 And our first bottle. 
 First meal in the hotel restaurant. 
 Our days looked a lot like this. 
 Lots of face time with mom. 
 And about 23 million hugs. 
 We were not allowed to leave our hotel once we had Bradley in our custody, so we became VERY fond of our balcony. 

 Lots of time out here. 
 And playing and eating and playing and eating. 
 Precious boy. 
 Our Embassy interview was on Tuesday morning, and we got his visa the very next day! 
 Already looking healthier. 
 And we are getting lots more smiles. 
 Finally it was time to head home. I'll be honest. I was so nervous about the flight. Sixteen hours on one plane with a  one year old. Gulp. 
The airline we used has bassinet attachments for families traveling with babies. We were told by everyone to get to the airport early because they are first come, first served. So we got to the airport in Addis FIVE hours before our flight took off and were told that there were no bassinet seats available. How could that be? We were literally the first people in line. My heart sank and then started galloping. Sixteen hours of holding this boy who has never been on a plane and has only known me for five days. Oh my. 
Praise be to God because the Lord intervened on our behalf. When the flight attendant in our cabin saw our situation, she informed the man in the bulkhead seat (where the bassinet attaches) that he needed to move because I had a baby. He said he wanted the leg room of an aisle seat, and then a TOTAL STRANGER, who I think might have been an angel of the Lord, offered up his aisle seat and took my window seat so that I could have the bassinet. I could not believe it. So my mom and I did not get to sit together, but I did not have to keep Bradley in my lap for the whole flight. Thank you Hable, sweet flight attendant and thank you man I don't know for offering to move seats on a sixteen hour overnight flight. I love you both. Really and truly. 
 And this is how we spent the second leg of that flight. Dublin to D.C. The boy loves to be held. 
And about 14 hours in. 
I agree. 
After sixteen hours, we finally made our descent into Washington D.C. And as soon as those wheels touched down, my boy was a citizen. I was sobbing in my seat. 
I could not believe that the Lord had carried us here to the finish line that is more like a starting line. He did it. 
 We made it through customs, and it was on to Charlotte. 
 Quick stop for dinner. 
And then we hit the wall. Our LAST flight was canceled. We were a one hour hop from home and completely stuck. When they made the announcement, I looked at my mom and told her that I did not have the capacity to handle this. I had been awake for almost forty hours and traveling for over thirty. With a baby. I will spare you the HORRIBLE dealings we had with US Air because this is a happy post, but we ended up running (literally) onto a flight to Montgomery. And my CHAMPION family, who had been waiting to meet us at the Birmingham airport to celebrate Bradley's homecoming, hopped in their cars and flew down the interstate to Montgomery. 

 And there he was. The man who fought side by side with me to get our boy home. 
 I don't have a caption for this one. 
 Or this one. 
But we were finally all three together. 
 Looking at his dad. Buddy, you don't even know how this man loves you. 
 So relieved to be home. 
 I wish I could tell you exactly what I was thinking here, but I don't know that I can. 
 I am just so humbled that Lord has seen fit to make this my story. 
 The road has been long and full of pitfalls and obstacles. It has not been the easy path I likely would have chosen for myself. But I am who I am because of what the Lord has done. 
 And He gave me to most wonderful support system. 
 Meeting his crazy Aunt BB. 
 Oh, how I love my family. 
 Nana and Big Mike
 This woman prayed hard to get our boy home. 
 Uncle Dave and Aunt Farren. 
 And Bradley's namesake. 
 One of the best men I know. 
 And meeting his cousin Sydney. 
 Back with his dad. 
 My heart. 
 And the woman behind the airport pictures, Jennifer, and her sweet Abigail. 
 This little man already has so many people who love him. 
People who love him well. 

I hope to get more out soon. But I make no guarantees. At least not for another few weeks! 

With deep love, 

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