The Giving Tree

Every six weeks our school has a writing contest. We read a book about the assigned theme and then whoever wants to participate writes a story. This time our theme was love/sacrifice and we read The Giving Tree. Oh my word. That book hits you right in the feels. It’s pretty heavy for first graders and I usually get questioned about my watery eyes when I read it.

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Student #1: Mrs. G, are you crying?
Student #2: No, she’s not crying. I think she just has allergies.
Student #3: She is too crying. She always cries in books like this.
Student #4: Yeah, remember when she read us Love You Forever? She really cried a lot in that one.

And so it goes.

But really. That poor tree. Sacrificing everything just to make her boy happy. Giving of her branches, her apples, and herself, until she’s just a tiny stump.

So, as I went to write my story for the contest, I contemplated the ideas of love and sacrifice. Love is easy. I could write about Chris or loving my girls or the love of my parents. Chris makes sacrifices for me. I know my parents have sacrificed for me their whole lives, just like I try to do for Claire and Lucy. But true living sacrifice? Someone who gives themselves completely for the joy of someone else? Someone who embodies the selfless love of Jesus?

And then I thought of her. Lucy’s first momma. Of course. Her path crosses our family’s story at the intersection of Love and Sacrifice. That one decision she made – to give life – and to share life with us, have changed all of us forever.

And so I wrote. I wrote about our giving tree.

As she enters the room, that precious bundle in her arms, I see it in her eyes. Above the tear-stained cheeks, intermingled with the grief, it’s there. This is the day that will change all of our lives forever, and I can see it so clearly. I can see the love.

At home, we unpack the carton she sent with us, touching each item gently as we pull them out. The soft fur of a pink teddy bear, a snow globe with delicate yellow roses painted at the base, a plaque with the words, “When I count my blessings, I count you twice” scrolling across it. Tears fill my eyes as I place them on the new one’s shelf. So tiny and fresh, she doesn’t know yet how much these things mean. She doesn’t fully understand this love.

When the pictures arrive in the mail I see the courage on her face. And always I see the love in her eyes. When the e-mails arrive exclaiming over the pictures I’ve sent and the new one’s beauty, I hear the love in every word. I feel the pride she’s beaming, even when far away.

I don’t see the tears she cries. But I get to brush tiny tears off baby cheeks and hold a little one close. I don’t know the painful thoughts that must fill her mind some nights as she lies down to sleep. But I get to watch deep breaths enter and exit a little chest as my girl sleeps peacefully. I will never know the full weight of her sacrifice, but I am thankful every second of every day.

Love is not always easy. Love is sacrifice and giving beyond the place that it hurts. Love is painful and difficult and heart wrenching. And love is beautiful.

Life Happens Here

I sigh as I look at the ever-growing laundry pile on the living room chair. This is how it goes every week. Wash and dry on Saturday. Plan to fold on Sunday. Plan to fold on Monday. Plan to fold on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday. Back to Saturday – wash and dry and then add the clothes to the laundry pile. Will the laundry ever stop?

Then I hear Him whisper, “LIFE happens here.”

And I see those tiny socks in a new light. Tiny socks that cover my tiny girls’ tiny feet. Sunny spring rompers that my first girl wore, passed down to my second. Chris’ shorts that were worn in one of our after-the-girls’-bedtime basketball games that I have come to love. And I am thankful for the LIFE that happens here.

I look out the window at the backyard. There’s no designer fire pit. No fancy patio with sandstone pavers. No magical wooden tree house. Definitely nothing worth pinning. All I see is leftover mess. Baseballs littering the grass, the grill cover flung haphazardly over the table, and a blanket wadded over a tree branch.

Then I hear Him whisper, “LIFE happens here.”

And I remember yesterday evening. Chris manning the grill while turned around watching his girls. Claire hitting balls off her T, saying, “Watch this one, Mommy! I’m going to hit it to the moon.” Lucy by my side on a blanket, sitting up strong and tall, all smiles. And I am thankful for the LIFE that happens here.

I see the trail down the hallway. One cowgirl boot, then another. Sock #1, sock #2. Jean shorts. Yellow striped top. Another mess to pick up. Another mess that I didn’t make. I sigh and remember the days of cleaning up only my own messes.

Then I hear Him whisper, “LIFE happens here.”

And I imagine the thrill in my girl’s little heart when she heard Daddy ask the question, “Who wants to put on their swimsuit and run through the sprinklers?” I imagine and then I remember that same thrill in me when my heart was little. I remember small, simple moments like that and how they weren’t small at all to me. I put down the boots in my hand, kick off my own shoes, and walk to the door. The mess can wait. In an instant, it’s all so clear.   And I am thankful for the LIFE that happens here.

I mutter to myself as I grab the mop and bucket from the laundry room. That dog. Sometimes he makes me crazy. Muddy footprints trailing through the kitchen – around the table, over to his water bowl, and then back the way he came. I fill the bucket with water and begin to mop, muttering all the while, “That dog!”.

Then I hear Him whisper, “LIFE happens here.”

And I think about that dog with little Lucy crawling on his head, look of wonder on her face, as she explores his eyes, nose, and whiskers. He just wags along, offering a lick on her cheek every now and then, which causes her to erupt in giggles. I think about that dog chasing Claire round and round the living room, while she shrieks and laughs, begging him to go faster. And I am thankful for the life that happens here.

Dirty dishes fill the sink, crumbs cover the floor, and an assortment of leftovers await their tupperwares. I do not feel like cleaning up this mess after my long day. I begin a small pity party in honor of myself, likening me to Cinderella in my mind. I start humming…Cinderelly, Cinderelly, Night and day it’s Cinderelly, Make the fire, fix the breakfast, Wash the dishes, do the mopping. My pity party is really picking up steam.

Then I hear Him whisper, “LIFE happens here.”

I see Chris at the sink, scrubbing away at the dishes, as he does every night. And I remember he’s my partner – always faithful in every type of mess life brings our way.  I see the leftovers and remember the refrigerator full of food that I pulled ingredients from just hours earlier.  I clean up crumbs and put away a sippy cup, and think about my family sitting around the dinner table together, talking, laughing, sharing our days, and I am thankful for the life that happens here.

When the carpet needs vacuuming and the toilets need scrubbing, pause. When the kids need baths and the sheets need washing, pause. When the furniture needs dusting and the weeds need pulling, pause.

When you are exhausted, when you are discouraged, when you are 100% certain that you will never be enough, pause.

When you don’t have an ounce of grace left to offer yourself, pause.

Pause and listen to His voice, His voice which is full of grace. Pause and let Him remind you, “LIFE happens here.”

Pause and see those little everyday messes for what they truly are – signs of life.

signsoflifeAnd be thankful for the life that happens here.

 

 

Top Ten Signs That You Are Suffering From Sleep Deprivation

Claire began sleeping through the night when she was 6 weeks old. So, by the time Lucy came along, Chris and I had been sleeping like regular people for 4 years, 1 month, and 3 days. The sleepless nights and harrowing devastation of sleep deprivation were a distant memory. We had been through counseling. We had served our time in support groups. We had moved on.

And then, in one fateful night, everything changed. And magically, when our sweet, sleepless baby came into our lives, our four year-old forgot how to sleep too. Like a skeleton in the closet, that monster of sleep deprivation reared his ugly head. Only this time, he had doubled in size.

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Doesn’t she look peaceful?  I’m pretty sure she’s about to drift off.

Now that we’ve come through that dark valley and are once again residing in the land of the living, I’d like to reach out and offer a life line to others who are suffering.

I’ve compiled a list of the top ten signs that you are suffering from sleep deprivation – most likely due to those little people living in your house that you refer to as your children. If one or more of these symptoms applies to you, please reach out and seek support. Help is available!

Top 10 Signs That You Are Suffering From Sleep Deprivation

10. You fight to put the baby to bed instead of the four year-old so you can maybe catch a cat nap in the rocker.

9. You are sleeping on sheets that may contain spots of <insert: poop, spit up, urine, etc.>

8. You buy Visine and under-eye concealer by the case.

7. For your birthday, you asked your parents for a nap.

6. When you hear a noise down the hall in the middle of the night, you hope it’s an intruder and not your child coming to ask for a glass of water.

5. You wonder daily about the mathematics of sleep and why your two hour stretches that total up to six hours don’t feel the same as six hours used to feel.

4. You pray the most fervent prayers of your life – begging God, bargaining with God, hoping for just a few peaceful moments of rest.

3. You wonder if this is Ever. Going. To. End.

2. You light candles for POWs who are held in prison camps which utilize sleep deprivation as a method of torture.

1. You have an IV hooked up directly to your coffee pot.

Dear friend, please know, it will end.   The stars will align, the monitor will stay quiet, and the pull-up will stay dry. And on that glorious night, when you sleep that glorious sleep, the memories of your torture will start to fade. Finally, the healing can begin.

To my daughters…

To my daughters…

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I had fallen asleep at school that day. When I told Daddy, he was convinced that our dream was coming true.  I agreed to take a test, and 3 minutes later, we saw those 2 little lines appear. Those lines that meant you were on the way.  Those lines that meant finally, after all the waiting and wondering, we would be parents. I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face. Even though it was 11 at night, we called Mamaw and Papa and Gammy and Granpa right away.  We even jumped in the car and drove to tell our friends. They were excited too after they woke up and got out of bed.  You, our baby, were all Daddy and I could think about.

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DSC_0174We had wanted another baby for so long. My heart was longing to hold a precious little one close, to feel a baby’s soft cheeks brush mine, to cradle a tiny one in my arms.  Daddy and I had talked. We had prayed. We knew God would bring a baby at his time and in his way.  And He put adoption in our hearts.  The day we decided we would adopt, you became real to me.  I knew we would get our baby, and I am so thankful that baby is you. I began to dream of you. I imagined what you would look like and when you would come.  Joy had filled my heart.

 

DSC_0003We went to the doctor for my sonogram and my heart felt like it would burst.  Sitting in the waiting room, I felt like time had stopped.  All I could do was watch the hand ticking slowly around the face of the clock. I couldn’t wait for the official word that you, my child, were real.  When I saw that little morsel on the black and white screen, tears filled my eyes. You were real, and you were coming!

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DSC_0174We went to Gladney to begin our journey which would lead us to you.  I was so nervous. I couldn’t decide what to wear. I wanted to look perfect, to act perfect, for everything to be perfect.  It had to be – because this was the first step toward our baby. We learned so much at orientation – what the process would look like, what we needed to complete. And we learned that we would have to wait.  I had no idea then how hard the waiting would be.

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DSC_0003When we heard your heartbeat for the first time I couldn’t believe how beautiful it sounded.  A tiny little heart beating inside a tiny little body.  Beating so fast – pumping blood to all your tiny parts. The doctor said your heart sounded perfect – of course I already knew you were.  My days were spent dreaming of you, wondering if you would be Claire or Connor,  planning every little detail of your nursery. I didn’t have a clue how much you would change our lives – how you would fill it up with joy and laughter, and how much I would learn from being your mommy.

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DSC_0174As soon as we got home from Gladney, we started the paperwork.  The huge binder full of papers.  As we answered questions about our jobs, our family, our marriage, our health, our house, all I could think about was you.  Each doctor visit, each fingerprinting session, each interview, was just a stepping stone to our destination.  Spending late evening hours at the kitchen table, with papers spread out in front of us, was a joy – because it meant you were on the way.

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DSC_0003I couldn’t wait for my stomach to grow. I started wearing maternity clothes out of desire, not need.  With each week that passed, I could see little changes, and they thrilled my heart. As time passed and I felt you move, my love for you grew even more.  I loved the connection that we already had, you living in me. I loved my big stomach, and the promise that it held.

 

DSC_0174I didn’t think our house would ever be clean enough for our home study visit.  I wanted the caseworker to see how much we wanted you.  To see how our hearts already loved you and were planning for you. As we made our profile books, we imagined your birthmom.  We wondered what she would be like, what her story would be.  We wondered what she would think of us as she looked through our book and read our story.  Would she think we were good enough?  We didn’t know then what a beautiful, amazing, strong woman she would be and how much we would connect with her, right from the start.

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DSC_0003In the final month with me as your home, I got huge. I was achy and swollen and just so ready to see your face.  Every morning in the shower I would pray that today would be the day. Every evening Daddy and I would sit on the couch, poking my swollen calves, and trying to set records for how long it would take for the poking marks to raise back up. I was tired of waiting. I wanted to hold you in my arms and stroke your cheek and kiss your head.  I wanted you.

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DSC_0174The 10 months we waited for you felt like an eternity. Every single day I thought this could be the day.  Every single day for 10 months, it wasn’t.  Every single day we prayed for you.  Every single day we dreamed of you. Every single day we checked our phones over and over, hoping for a call.  There were a few days when the phone did ring, but the calls weren’t about you. It wasn’t time yet. Toward the end I got really anxious. I cried.  I prayed harder.  I wished for you and my heart ached, missing you.  And then, the call came.  Our baby girl had been born, and she was waiting for us.  Finally, it was time.

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DSC_0003I woke up at 3:45 with heavy contractions that Tuesday morning.  I was sure it was a false alarm and decided to take my time on a shower, doing my hair, and putting on my makeup.  At 5 o’clock we decided it was time to go to the hospital.  After waiting awhile, I got admitted and the journey of labor began. Through the process, through the pain, I knew you were waiting.  You were the reward.  At 1:21 that afternoon, as I held you in my arms for the first time, with tears filling my eyes and joy filling my heart, the journey of the last 9 months came to a close. And a brand new journey began.

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DSC_0174We walked down the hall at Gladney, where we had walked two times before.  This time, though, it was different.  You were waiting at the end of that hallway.  Not just the dream of you, or the hope of you.  You – flesh and bones – were waiting for us.  In just a few minutes, I knew you would be in my arms.  And then, you were.  You were in my arms, with my lips brushing your hair.  You were in my arms, with tears streaming down my face. You were in my arms, and you were perfect.  You were meant to be. You were wanted. You were chosen. You were ours. The long, hard, journey to bring you home had come to a close.  And a brand new journey began.

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Pearl

Last night I lingered in the rocking chair with Lucy held tightly in my arms.  As I gazed at her face I was breath taken with her perfect, tiny features.  The gentle curve of her ears, her dainty pursed lips, her smooth round nose, and her delicate eyelashes.  As my lips brushed against the soft baby skin of her cheeks, my heart was filled to the brim.  This child, this precious child, is mine.  A child that was unknown to me just three months ago is my daughter.  She is so precious, so valued.

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As I sat there, I was reminded of the story Jesus tells in Matthew.

‘“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls.  When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.”‘

Chris and I were like the merchant.  We were looking.  We were longing.  We were searching for something of great value.  We completed mounds of paperwork.  We wore out the road between here and Fort Worth.  We didn’t sell everything, but we did make huge financial sacrifices.  We endured lengthy interviews and people perusing our home.    Our world was turned upside down in this search, this journey, to bring our Lucy home.

Lucy is our pearl.

And God has a pearl too.  In fact, he has lots of them.  He didn’t complete mounds of paperwork.  But he did travel the path from heaven to earth.  He gave up everything, the very thing he held most dear, his son.  He endured ridicule, beating, and eventually death.  He turned this world upside down in his journey to bring his pearls home.

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ.  For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will—  to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves.’ Ephesians 1:3-6

Adoption is our father’s heart.  He longs for his children to be in his arms.  He journeys and searches for each person.  Each person is wanted, desired, valued.  You are wanted.  You are desired.  You are valued.  You’re worth everything to him.

You are his pearl.

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She’s here!

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The baby we’ve been waiting for all these months has arrived.  She’s beautiful and precious and perfect.  Lucy Grace has come to our family at last.

My last post, about a new kind of waiting, detailed the week before we met our Lucy Girl.  That was quite a week – busy, so many emotions, and not much sleep.  We went to Dallas on Friday and on Friday evening met our birth mom in person.  As soon as we walked in the door of the restaurant I spotted her.  I don’t think I stopped staring all night.  She is captivatingly beautiful, with such a sweet spirit.  She’s a delight.  Dinner went beautifully – so comfortable and natural.  We are beyond blessed to be matched with an amazing woman who truly loves our baby.

That night I really couldn’t sleep. Everything felt so official.  Next step : Meet our baby girl!  All night long I lay tossing and turning, sleeping for brief intervals, and thinking, imagining, dreaming of our girl.  What would she look like?  What would tomorrow be like?  What would her name be?  So many emotions, thoughts, and questions, and mostly, so much excitement.  Like Christmas Eve when you’re 7.  Times 900.

At some point in all the tossing and turning, what we needed to name our daughter became clear to me.  We had two name choices going into the weekend, and wanted to wait and see her face before we decided.  The choices were Ava Mae and Lucy Grace.  I had been leaning strongly toward Lucy, and during the night it was decided in my heart that Lucy would be her name (of course, I hoped Chris would agree with me!).  As I lay there thinking, the meaning of the names swirled round and round in my head.  Lucy means light.  A light in dark places.  Someone who shines brightly and boldly.  And then there’s Grace.  Grace which we did not deserve, in being blessed with a child when a child was impossible.  It was perfect.  In the morning I told Chris and he smiled – I knew he agreed – but he still said we had to wait to look at her to decide.

The drive to Gladney took 7 years.  Seriously, every time I am in DFW I am reminded of how much I love Amarillo “traffic”.  The drive really did take about an hour, and it felt like an eternity.  When we got there, we met with our transitional care mom, who had taken amazing care of our sweet girl and gave us all of her information and medical records, hand and foot prints, pictures of her first week, and a beautiful blanket she made.  Then we signed papers to make everything official (Eek!).  Finally it was time to meet our daughter.  Placement was a very emotional time for all of us – Chris and I, as well as our birth mom and her family.  In order to preserve our birth mom’s privacy and Lucy’s story as her own to tell, I am going to gloss over the details of this part.

We met our beautiful daughter and I cried and cried, saying, “She’s perfect”, over and over again.  Thinking back now, those are the exact words I spoke when I saw Claire for the first time.  I know for every adoptive mom it’s different – feeling close and bonded right away, or it being a process.  There is no right or wrong in this, just different ways of loving.  For me though, it was instant.  When I saw her, she was mine.  No questions, no doubts.  She was my girl.  Chris was smitten too, and of course Claire was so excited.

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During Placement we decided on our little girl’s name.  Lucy Grace – a light into the darkness and a picture of God’s grace to us.  Also, in my research of the name Lucy, I learned that the first African American woman to win a major sports title was named Lucy Slowe.  Since we are a sports family and our birth mom is an athlete, this made the name seem even more perfect.

Being at Gladney and leaving with OUR DAUGHTER seemed surreal.  It was almost exactly a year ago that we first went to Gladney for our orientation.  Walking through the building last October our hearts were lit with excitement thinking of the baby that would someday be ours.  And now she really was.

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We took Lucy back to Chris’ sister’s apartment and loved her up.  The whole drive home I just stared at her sweet face.  Some friends of ours who live in DFW came by to meet our girl and it was so nice sharing our excitement with Chris’ sister, Chelsea, and our friends.

We drove back to Amarillo that night, and can I just say that doing things with two children does not take twice as long.  It takes six times as long.  We stopped to pick up food at Burger King on the road and it took 45 minutes.  45 minutes, people.  We finally made it home and came in the house to a beautiful welcome from our dear friends.  I’m pretty sure we have the best friends on the planet.

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The next day was spent admiring Lucy and showing her off.  Claire is absolutely in awe of her little sister.  I was so worried about how she would respond and she has blown us out of the water with her caring, nurturing spirit and willingness to help.  I am so thankful for her and her tender heart.

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And sweet Lucy.  She is a joy and she is already a light.  She is an answer to so many prayers.  Not just ours, but a whole army who prayed for us along this journey.  And now she is home.

Waiting – Part 2

Waiting is hard to do.

Waiting on a reply to an important e-mail.  Waiting in line to use the restroom.  Waiting for Christmas morning (even though I’m 30).

Know what’s really hard to do?  Wait for a baby.  I’d venture to say it’s the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do.

To say that we had become impatient in waiting for our baby would be accurate.  To say that we had entered the begging/bargaining stage in our prayers wouldn’t be a stretch.

Last Monday evening at bedtime, Claire was close to tears saying she missed our baby and wondering when the little one would be coming along.  Chris suggested that we pray about it, and he asked God to give us dreams about our baby and speak to us as we slept.

The next morning – Tuesday – Claire reminded us of our bedtime conversation.  “Well, do you guys want to hear my dream?”  We were a little surprised that she remembered, and of course, curious.  “I had a dream that our baby is now.”  Chris and I exchanged a glance, silently asking, What does that mean?  We asked for more information and heard matter of factly, “Oh, and our baby is a girl.”  I felt a thrill run through me and a fresh burst of excitement fill my heart.  But Tuesday passed without a word.

Wednesday and Thursday came and went.  Thursday evening I posted something on facebook saying how very anxious we were feeling to get our baby.

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Then on Saturday my phone rang.  I was doing my hair (after finally changing out of my pjs and showering at 4 pm), so I let it go to voicemail.  It was Melissa.  After all these months of waiting, all these moments awaiting this phone call, all the days checking my phone 10, 20, 30 times a day, THE CALL went to voicemail.  I quickly called back and Melissa filled us in.  A birth mom had chosen us and her baby had been born on TUESDAY .  Yes, on Tuesday.  The morning of the “Our Baby is Now” dream.

This was going to – most likely – be our baby.  A baby girl, weighing 5 lbs 15 oz, and 19 inches long.  Healthy and staying in transitional care – with a volunteer family – working for our agency.  But, it wasn’t a done deal yet.  The birth mom, “D”, wanted to talk with us on the phone Sunday evening.

So many questions, thoughts, and emotions were swirling through me.  What does she look like?  When can we see her?  What if…D doesn’t like us?  Something goes wrong?  What if, what if, what if?  And also, Wahoo!!!  Our baby girl is here at last!

Sunday night finally rolled around.  To say we were a huge ball of nerves would be entirely true.  I pressed three wrong buttons before being able to properly answer the phone.  Within the first minute of our conversation, we – Chris, me, D, and her mom – all confessed how nervous we were and shared a good, jittery laugh.  From there, our conversation went beautifully.  All I can say is that D is a delight.  We share so many things in common – from playing basketball, to being homebodies, to our dogs being similar.  After fearing this phone call for so long, we were unbelievably relieved with how it went.  We talked for 45 minutes and soon afterward heard from Melissa that D loved us as much as we loved her.  On Monday D met with her caseworker and at 11:44 we go the official word – this baby girl will be ours!

We will travel to Dallas to have dinner with D and her mom on Friday evening.  Then on Saturday we will meet OUR DAUGHTER for the first time  and get to bring her home.

One of my friends said to me, “Shannon, it’s like you guys have all the emotions of finding out you’re pregnant and having your baby jammed into the same week.”  That pretty much hits the nail on the head.

Life right now is a whirlwind – buying a car seat, bottles, and diapers.  Taking care of paperwork.  Celebrating with friends – and our friends have been over the top amazing – offering meals, making plans to care for Logan while we’re gone, setting up a fundraiser for us.  Calling the doctor.  Planning family visits.  And trying to remember how to take care of a baby.

To say that we are excited would be correct.  To say that we are happy would be perfectly true.  But to say that we are thankful – that just won’t do.  “Thankful” does not do justice to what we feel in our hearts.

I just don’t think there are words strong enough.

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