Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Remembering J {A Special Birthday Request}

Last week I celebrated my birthday. It was a beautiful day of being with my loved ones. Today I am cherishing the life I have been given. The older I get the more I realize how precious each day is.

Which brings me to why I am writing this post. On December 16, J will celebrate her 33rd birthday. Her first birthday in heaven. I have spent the last month praying, and talking to God about how I can honor her for her birthday.

One of my biggest fears is that people will forget J. So as a birthday present to me, or just out of the goodness of your heart, I'm wondering if you could all help me honor J on December 16th.

J's favorite color was purple, and so if you own something purple, can you please wear that? Wearing purple is a great way to remember her, but I also want to honor her and spread love to others. I can think of no better way to honor J's memory than by spending the day gifting those around me. J gave me the best gift ever: my daughter. That little girl has brought more joy and love into our life than any of you could possibly imagine.

If you would like to honor the memory of J, all I ask is that you present a gift to someone. Sometimes a gift can come as buying someone's coffee. Sometimes, it can be giving money in support of someone's adoption. Perhaps money is just too tight and you can't gift someone with money, but you can with your words. When is the last time you told someone they were beautiful, or encouraged a young mom, or listened to someone going through a hard time? Your words have the power to be a gift. I cannot even begin to tell you how many times words spoken over my life have been the sweetest gift to me. Also, let me just remind you that no gift, either in money or words, is too small. What you may view as little, the person you gift it to may see it as the biggest and best gift they ever received.

My goal would be to have at least one person from every state participate in this day of honoring J. If you want, I'd love for you to mark the day on social media using the hashtag #rememberingj. You don't have to tell me what gift you gave, but you can show me your purple and at least tell me what state you are from.

At my age it seems taboo to ask for a gift, and I so fear that people will read this and do nothing, but all it takes is one person doing something nice for someone, that can bring about change in the world. Xiomara is living proof of that. If December 16th comes and only one person wore purple and did something kind for someone else, then I know I don't have to be disappointed. I know that God can use that one to impact many.

J has a mama and two other children who love and miss her so much, and I would love nothing more than to brighten their day with this. Would you please share this post with your friends? I know not one of you knew J personally, but I know each of you reading this has lost someone you loved, and can relate to the pain that follows death. Lastly, would you please uplift in prayer everyone who loved J? Between her birthday, Christmas, and the anniversary of her death quickly approaching, this is a time in which I would appreciate all love and prayers going to her family.

Each of you reading this is a blessing to me, and I thank you! I can't wait to see lots of purple on the 16th and one day, either here on earth or in heaven, to see the beautiful gifts you gave in honor of J.

Monday, November 9, 2015

World Adoption Day

I spent most of last night looking through old Facebook posts from when Xiomara was first born. I cried and laughed looking through those posts of how tiny she was. I read old blog posts, and watched videos of her cute little laugh. I cried thinking about how fast it has all gone. I also smiled thinking of how life changing adopting her was.

No one, and I mean no one, prepares you for how life changing adoption is. Adding a child to your family is always life changing. As a mama to two biological girls before we adopted Xiomara, I knew that my life would change when we adopted Xiomara. What I didn't realize was that it would not only be Xiomara who changed me, but adoption itself.

Today is World Adoption Day. A day to celebrate and advocate for adoption worldwide.

You don't have to ask me twice to do that. :)

If you are considering adoption, but you've been waiting or unsure, let me give you some reasons that you should adopt.

1. Your heart will expand with LOVE

I love this little girl more than any of you could possibly imagine. She is mine as if I gave birth to her. She brings a smile to my face daily, she makes me laugh, she exasperates me when she looks at me and doesn't listen, she melts me in a puddle of tears when I look into those big, brown eyes. If any of you who are thinking of adopting, or interested in adoption, but are worried if you would love that child, please let me tell you now: there is NO difference in my love for my biological daughters or adopted daughter.

Adoption has given me a different view of love that I would not have had if we hadn't adopted Xiomara. Her birthmama was really who first showed that selfless love in choosing to selflessly place Xiomara into our arms. I learned so much from her that hot, July day. Not a day goes by that I haven't thought of that love and more times than I can count, I have changed how I love others because of that selfless love.

2. It strengthens your faith

I have never gone through a more difficult faith journey than that of adoption. We had a two year adoption wait. There is nothing worse than waiting on God, but there is also nothing better because your faith in God is strengthened. We had a failed adoption. In my pain, I had no one to turn to but God, who wrapped me in His arms and assured me that our little one was coming.

Almost daily I have someone tell me that they would adopt if they could afford it. I get it, I do. We adopted Xiomara with next to no finances available to us, yet I have said it again and again, if you are meant to adopt, God will provide. I can promise you that! We struggled trying to figure out where our finances were going to come from. Here is the one thing I tell everyone who is wanting to adopt: If money is holding you back from adopting, please don't let it do so. If we had let money hold us back, the biggest joy in our life would not be here today. There are grants, there are interest free loans, there are options of raising money. Please, don't let money rule in this area. Instead, let God strengthen your faith and guide you in this journey.

3. You will gain a heart of compassion

Adoption does not come without loss. Loss for the birth family, loss for the child. Grief unspeakable at times. However, in that grief comes God's great redemption, and you gain a heart of compassion as you watch God work His story of healing through the brokenness.

There are 154 million orphans worldwide! An absolutely staggering number! Every year, I wish that number would go down just a little.

If God has adoption in His plans for your life, He will make a way. In the meantime, look for ways you can help those around you who have adopted. Support them in prayers and/or finances (the smallest amount may be exactly what they need).

I realize adoption is not for everyone, but if you can't adopt please consider fostering, praying, sponsoring an orphan, helping out financially, coming along side a family and supporting them in whatever way you can. Lastly, advocate for adoption. The more we talk about it, the more change can happen.

Happy World Adoption Day!

Saturday, July 18, 2015

5 Years Ago Today {A Letter & A Look Back}

I wrote the following post to publish on July 8th (the day we met Xiomara & J), but it didn't feel right to post that day. It was all too painful, and I just couldn't post it then. Today I feel stronger. Today is also 6 months since J passed away. 6 months ago today, I lost one of the most precious and important people in my life. I didn't think I'd ever write publicly to her again, but I have all these thoughts and feelings and nowhere for them to go without my words. So here I sit tonight and blog these thoughts to her even though I know she won't really hear them. Somehow I pray God will give her a small glimpse of my heart from heaven.


"I don't think I can do this."

Those were the words that I barely choked out to my husband one night not too long ago when the girls were all asleep and he was drifting off himself.

"Do what?", he asked.

"Live without her for the rest of our lives. Never seeing her, never talking to her, never knowing she is ok. I just can't. I honestly have no idea how I am going to survive without her."

Yet I've somehow survived since then. Some days it was barely surviving, others it was thriving.

5 years ago today I met J face to face. Our tears mingled together as she gently handed her sweet daughter to me. In that moment I became mama to this amazing little girl we all love.

1 year ago today was the last time I ever heard from J. I remember exactly where I was when the phone call came in. We were camping & Xiomara was napping in the camper while the girls were swimming with Chris, and I was reading a book while waiting for Xiomara to wake up. My phone rang and I saw it was a call from Georgia, I knew I had to answer. It was her agency letting me know that they had received a call from J and that she wanted an update on Xiomara.

I sent that update as soon as I got home. Filled with pictures, a letter, and I believe a scribbled drawing from Xiomara.

It would be the last time I ever heard from her. I have since found out she did get that update and that she loved seeing the pictures of how much Xiomara has grown, and she loved hearing all about her.

1 year later and I would give anything to be able to send an update today.

My heart always breaks a little on this day. It has since the second I watched J walk down a long church hallway sobbing and barely able to stand as she left a piece of her heart in my arms. But this year, this year is just hard. My baby girl is 5 and the one woman who I want to celebrate with is not here to see it.

It seems so unfair. It seems wrong.

Life will continue to move on with out her, and we will grieve differently than we are today. One day I know the hurt won't be so strong and I'll be able to tell Chris, "I think I can do this".

To J,

I used to look at the moon and stars and think of you. I knew we were under the same moon and stars and somehow that kept us connected no matter how many miles apart we were. The lyrics to Ecosmith's song, Bright, reflect so well how I often felt looking up into the sky.

"Did you see that shooting star tonight? Were you dazzled by the same constellation?"

I remember when during one of our phone calls you asked us if we ever saw the Aurora Borealis as that was something you always wanted to see. When I told you yes, but it was rare, you prayed one day Xiomara would have the chance. Oddly enough a few weeks ago, I came across this amazing artist who was having a sale on her pictures. I fell in love with this one as she somehow captured those Northern Lights in a picture over Georgia.

Print Found Here
Once I get it framed it will hang proudly in our little girl's room. It was literally days after I received this picture in the mail that for the first time in 7 years, I saw the Northern Lights. I'm kicking myself for not waking up Xiomara when I saw them, but I have a feeling she will get her chance when the timing is just right. And I'll tell her about her firstmom and her love of a God who would grace the skies just to show off the beauty that is around us.

Blowing kisses and love to heaven today. Thank you so much for your brave love 5 years ago today.

"You sprinkle star dust on my pillow case. It's like a moonbeam brushed across my face. Nights are good and that's the way it should be."

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Saying Goodbye To J

I wrote the following letter on the night I found out J had passed away. Writing is therapeutic to me and at the time, it was the only way I could process my grief. I wrote from my hurting heart and I haven't touched it since that night. Today we celebrated Birth Mother's Day and it became so clear to me that it was time to share this last letter with the world.

She wore purple for her birthmama since it was her favorite color.
We wanted to honor J by allowing Xiomara to do something for her on this day. A few months ago, it occurred to me that an apple tree would be the perfect thing to plant in her memory. An apple seed lives on forever. Even when we are all gone from this earth, that tree will still stand and bear fruit; I couldn't think of a better way to honor J. Each spring it will bloom declaring that all things become new once again. Come fall, it's branches will be laden with fruit that show the life it gives. He really does make all things new.

The tree is planted right outside her bedroom window, so she can look at it whenever she wants.

It was a beautiful day filled with only a few tears & praise to God for the beauty in what is.

Happy {Birth} Mother's Day, J! We love you and love always wins.


Dear J,

This will likely be the last letter I will ever publicly write to you. I'm sure in the future, I will write many more to you, but I'm guessing they will all be private just for my therapy, and eventually for Xiomara.

I found out tonight that you passed away this week.

And my heart is absolutely broken. For you. For Xiomara. For your family that is grieving just as deeply as I am tonight.

I found out through someone you and I both loved, and I'm so thankful I found out that way rather than any other way. I think you would have wanted it that way as well.

In the end, it doesn't really matter how you died, but rather how you lived. I know, with all my heart that there was not a day that went by that you didn't live loving those around you. It may not have looked like either you or I would have imagined, but you definitely loved.

When I got the call, I just knew. I can't explain how, other than to say that you have been on my mind this past month more than I ever can possibly explain. In a way it makes sense, as you truly were a part of our family. It comforts me a bit knowing that I prayed for you more in this last month than I have in a very long time.

I got off the phone and Chris sat in silence with tears running down his cheeks while I sobbed. Every single dream I had of Xiomara one day having a relationship with you, being able to talk with you, and ask you questions; that dream shattered with one phone call. It's a bit ironic thinking that one phone call is all it took to change our lives in the first place, with that initial phone call saying you chose us, and yet here I sit tonight absolutely hating that phone.

I feel devastated. For you and her. I wonder if I let you know enough how much your gift meant to us? I know it pained you so much to make that decision and I felt that pain deeply, and I loved you all the more for it. I wonder if you realized how much a part of us you really were? It kills me knowing I will never see you again on this side of heaven. That Xiomara will never get to meet you if you two both desired one day.

My only comfort is knowing that you live on through our little girl who looks and acts so much like her first mama.

I'm not sure how to tell her. I mean how does one tell your daughter that her first mama is in heaven with Jesus?  After the phone call, Chris and I sat and prayed and asked God to guide us when it is the right time to tell her and how to tell her. By the time others read this, we will have told her as I refuse to tell the world before I tell our daughter.

I took a shower tonight and let my salty tears mix in with the hot water from the shower. I'm not so sure the sound of the shower completely drowned out my sobs though, and tonight Chris will hold me tight as I grieve in a way I never thought I would have to do.

We are sending flowers to your precious mama and G & G. I never thought I would have to pick out flowers to send to your funeral! It seems completely surreal. But I remember you telling me you loved purple, and so in honor of you I made sure to send purple flowers. They are called Healing Tears and I really hope they do just that, because right now I know I'm not the only one who needs healing. I only wish we would have known sooner, so we could have been there.

I'll be saving every little thing I have from you or about you for Xiomara. If anything, this is a good reminder to print things out that have been sitting in files or e-mails for years now.

No matter what, we will keep on doing what we always said we would do; love Xiomara and make sure she knows how loved she was by you. That is one thing that I know will never change.

I love you, J! It seemed only fitting to say goodbye in the same way I began, by writing one last letter to you. I look forward to one day meeting face to face with Jesus and praising Him together for bringing a sweet little girl named Xiomara into both of our lives. May you forever know the gift you gave us is the most precious one I have ever received.

May you rest in peace.

With much love,


Thursday, May 7, 2015

Going Through Grief {Our First Mother's Day Without J}

It seems unbelievable that it has already been almost 4 months since Xiomara's birthmom unexpectedly passed away. Sometimes it feels as if time has passed so quickly, and then other times it feels like it crawls by.

I've been getting through my grief rather slowly. I think if there is one thing I have realized through this is that everyone grieves differently. Sometimes I do really well and then Xiomara does something and it hits me that J is really gone and that she won't get to see Xiomara grow up. Those days are the worst.

I'm continually thankful for my husband who guides me through this journey. Also, my friends have held me up more times than I can count. If you are a friend of someone who is going through a grief journey, I know it can be hard, but please don't be afraid to reach out to them and love them through that time. Sometimes I felt as if I could breathe a little easier on the tough days just because I had a friend supporting me through prayer.

A sweet friend sent me this in a text on one of my consumed by grief days. It was exactly what I needed to see for Xiomara's life at that exact moment.

This week, grief has washed over me more than any other week except maybe that first week I found out. You see Mother's Day is coming up on Sunday. Furthermore, Birthmother's Day is on Saturday. We have always sent a gift, a card, flowers, a letter etc. to J on this day. This is our first time we won't. I know the firsts are always the hardest, but I wasn't quite prepared for it to be this hard. I just wish I could send her one last letter filled with pictures of our sweet girl. Two nights this week I lay awake past 2 a.m. in tears as my brain would not shut off the grief, memories, and thoughts. I've gone through many of my days tearing up over the littlest things. 

The only comfort has been music. Music has always been a mainstay in my life and I turn to it often. This week more so than before, I've found myself constantly going to my piano and just playing, crying out to God, and throwing all my emotion into song as I sing and play. Often as I play, I look up to the words above my piano and realize it was no mistake that just 6 days before J passed away I shared my phrase for 2015.

"He will quiet you with His love."

If there is anything God has been doing through this, it has been loving me. I may not understand it all, I may cry out a why, but I do feel His love surround, and yes, even quiet me.

In case anyone else is going through a hard time in their life, I thought I would share with you a few of the songs that have helped me in the past few months. They are not all worship songs, but rather just songs that have a special meaning in these hard moments.

Everlasting God: "Through all the troubles that surround, you are the rock that never fails, you never fail."

Oceans (Where Feet May Fail): "Where feet may fail & fear surrounds me, you've never failed and you won't start now."

Lost Stars: I promise I did not pick this because of my love for Adam Levine. Rather, I love the general thought that we need to cherish each day. In particular, I love, "Who are we? Just a speck of dust within the galaxy?" and "Turn the page, maybe we'll find a brand new ending. Where we're dancing in our tears." I've worked so hard on dancing through my tears that this has just really touched my heart.

I Am Not Alone: This song has given me so much peace and honestly I could quote every single lyric as it washes over my grief, but in particular, "In the midst of deep sorrow, I see your light is breaking through. The dark of night will not overtake me, I am pressing into you."

Lastly, if you wouldn't mind committing to praying me through this weekend, I would be forever grateful. Specifically, I ask for prayers for J's family. They are no doubt hurting more than I am this weekend without their daughter and mother with them. Also, please pray for our precious Xiomara. At 4 years old, she knows a lot more about what is going on than most think. She has a lot of questions, sometimes tears, and sometimes she just needs to be loved extra hard.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

When My Heart Is Breaking

There are moments in your life you know are life changing. The moments that embed in your memory forever, refusing to fade away even when old and gray. When your then boyfriend gets down on one knee and says he can't imagine life without you by his side. When you pee on a stick and a little pink line appears letting you know you are pregnant. When you get a phone call telling you someone has willing chosen you, yes you, to be the mama to her daughter. When you get to hold that tiny little girl for the first time in your arms.

Late on January 22, Chris & I received one of those life changing moments through a phone call. At first, I thought and hoped that perhaps the call was about another baby to adopt. However in the back of my mind, I knew.

"I'm so sorry to be calling you with this news Vanessa, but J, Xiomara's birthmom passed away."

Every part of me wanted to scream, "NO" but I knew that I had to pull myself together and ask the questions I needed answered for Xiomara's sake one day. The screaming and tears would come later, and still be here two months later.

Two months ago, our precious and amazing birthmom passed away. When I found out, it felt like the world had dropped out from under my feet. With adoption comes loss, but this loss is not one I was ever expecting. Our sweet Xiomara is only four, but she loves her birthmom a lot and has spent the past year daily talking about her. One day she will likely have questions about her adoption and want answers. She may never get a chance to get those answers now.

"When my world is shaking, heaven stands. When my heart is breaking, I never leave your hands."

For two months I have done nothing but cry, dream, and cry some more. The whole first week after I found out, I hardly slept. I would spend most of my nights crying and the little sleep I did get was spent dreaming of the amazing woman who chose me to be mama to Xiomara. Eating has been difficult. There were times that Chris literally had to force me to eat.

Grief is a strange thing. It comes and goes. It shows itself while making snow angels in the snow and talking with your daughter about her first mama who is somewhere up in those clouds in the big blue sky. Sometimes it shows up as anger towards God for taking away the one person who would one day have answers for someone you love very much. At times it is hard to plaster a smile on your face and talk to someone like nothing in your life has changed, when really, everything has. Everything. Other times, grief is ignored as if facing the reality of it is just too damn hard. Sometimes it comes when you realize you have been smiling and then you feel guilty for being happy when your heart is still hurting. Or it comes when you hear your daughter explain to her cousin that her birthmom is in heaven maybe even riding on a carousel with Jesus. It comes as denial that she can't possibly gone, right? Only to Google her name for the thousandth time and see her name staring back at you in an obituary. Still other times, grief pours out like a gushing river.

I know for some people, they will read this and have a hard time understanding why I would take this loss so hard. I mean I hardly knew our birthmom. We only met once and haven't talked a lot since that day. But here is the thing, I felt connected to her in a way I haven't to anyone else. Maybe because we are both mama to a little girl we both love. She truly was family to us. A woman who loved her daughter, our daughter, so much, she chose the most difficult decision she could have and chose life. My daughter is a part of her, and I grieved and will continue to grieve because of that.

"I know you hate to see me cry. One day you will set all things right. Yeah, one day you will set all things right."

Printing and laminating obituaries, ordering flowers, and receiving her funeral program in the mail are all things that have been terribly difficult to do. Telling your daughter that her first mama has gone to heaven to be with Jesus....you can't even imagine....that is excruciating and one thing that I hope no one else has to ever experience.

"You've kept track of my every toss and turn through the sleepless nights, each tear entered in your ledger, each ache written in your book." ~Psalm 56:8

We chose to only tell a few close friends and family who would uplift us in prayer during these pasts months. To those people, I say THANK YOU. You were friends for such a time as this, and will continue to be our friends beyond this. Your prayers often sustained me through some of my darkest moments.

To Clarissa, I cannot thank you enough for the love and respect you have shown both J and her family, while also thinking of us. We love you!
To my sister, Genevieve, who sobbed with me and for Xiomara. It told me that even if no one else cared, you did and that mattered to me. I love you!
To Megan and Leann who were the perfect friends to meet up with for a girls weekend right after I found out. Thank you for letting me talk through my feelings, and for hugging me when it was hard.
To Jill, the first person I called in an absolute panic. Your calm presence and texts since, helped reassure me that I could get through this.
To Mandy, who has faithfully texted me, even on my darkest days. I'm not sure what I would have done without you.
To Sharon, who told me not to apologize for being sad and instead covered us in prayers.
To Rachael, who sat in a crowded restaurant with tears in her eyes and told me she understood my pain. That meant the world to me.
To my amazing husband, Christer. You have held me almost every night as I have either sobbed or silently cried out to God. Your strong arms have come up along side me and wrapped me in love and comfort as I could barely hold myself up some days. That is true love! Thank you for never telling me or pushing me to get over it and stop crying. Thank you for allowing me to grieve and for being there with me through it all. I love you more for it!

Even before we adopted, or even knew about J, I wrote letters to our amazing birthmom. They continued all throughout our adoption process and after we met our amazing J, they became more personal and real. This blog has been my way of connecting with J even when she wasn't, to my knowledge, reading it. The night we found out about her passing away, I wrote her a final letter. I originally intended to post that only, but then felt compelled to write this & it didn't feel right adding that letter to this post, she deserved her own post. So that letter will come sometime in the days to come when I feel ready.

Writing that final letter is the hardest thing I have ever done. Somehow pushing publish makes it real that she is gone. And I hate that. Friends, I am struggling. Struggling to find God in this. Struggling for J's family who is left without her. Struggling for our precious daughter. I wasn't sure I could ever open up and share our grief and then somehow now felt like the time I should share.

Last month I got to experience the IF Gathering conference in my community. While listening to one of the women speak, she said this and it will forever stick with me:

"I can dance here because I have Jesus."

So I will continue dancing, although sometimes my dance may be slow or stumbled, or even tear-laden. I will dance because I still have Jesus.