Our story is not unique, and I’m tempted to say that it’s not special either, but saying that would mean stripping what we’ve come to recognize as God’s goodness away from what seemed unredeemable heartache. In minimizing the significance of our journey, I would also make small the vastness of God’s plan. So I say (not very loudly, though) that our story is special!
We started attending Mountainside around eight years ago when you could count the number of attendees on all fingers and toes, and there were only a few babies/toddlers coming with parents. At the time, the church was meeting at the Monrovia Community Center in an open space with round tables and folding chairs. Brett was partway through his seven-year stint to earn his PsyD at Fuller while I taught full-time at an elementary school in Monrovia.
The first time we visited Mountainside we were invited to Ben and Ivy’s house for a potluck game night after church. Despite the fact that we only knew Josh (with whom Brett went to kindergarten), we sheepishly joined the crowd. From that day on, we were completely drawn into this small and tight-knit community that shared food and stories and life so freely together.
In those early years of attending Mountainside, life seemed to go somewhat according to plan (aside from being diagnosed with cancer and undergoing surgery and treatment). After being married for six years, we were more than ready to have a baby, and after loss and years of determination came Sydney! Having gone through a full-term pregnancy and birthing experience just one time, I now recognize the miracle it is to bring a child into the world and I am eternally thankful for having had that opportunity. Not to mention the fact that our eldest daughter brings such light into our lives—it’s hard to imagine the world without her!
After Sydney’s birth came many grey hairs for Brett as he grew his private practice and we decided to move to Colorado. Many more grey hairs came as he traveled back to California every week, and we experienced more miscarriages and long seasons of isolation and barrenness. In the midst of all of these seasons, we prayed and mourned; we read and searched for answers, but for so very long it seemed that God was absent. It seemed that simply asking for peace and guidance as we walked through the desert was asking too much from God—the years spent in turmoil and loss felt like an eternity.
This is what I’ve come to know of our mysterious faith: when you think you know the answers, think again . . . then think again . . . then think again . . . I still have decades of life to live (Lord willing), but I have learned that there are oceans of things we will never understand—so many assumptions we have of how life is for others without having worn their shoes and walked in their footsteps. Truly, compared to many around the world, most of us aren’t forced to live without food, water, parents, a home, etc., but if we scratch just below the surface, we will encounter significant pain for most of the people immediately around us—even in our small, quaint little community! For a long time it wasn’t unusual to find me in tears each Sunday at Mountainside; it’s a wonderful place, but can also be a painful place for people struggling with infertility (as I imagine it is for those who are single and wishing otherwise, those who feel marginalized due to divorce, etc.).
If you had asked me of God’s goodness as we walked through that deep, dark valley, I would have laughed aloud, for my understanding of goodness could only have fit into this little box right there in front of me. My blinders kept me from seeing that the ugly, unpleasant, and downright distasteful individual strands needed to be sewn into specific places to create a priceless tapestry that I am starting to be able to step away from and see. Further, goodness shouldn’t be measured by the number of children we produce, or the job we have, or the number of degrees we earn, or the conditions we choose or do not choose to live in. I am convinced that goodness usually comes out of great amounts of ungoodness (I might’ve made that word up)!
But I digress . . .
It took way too long for us to decide to start the adoption process. I regret having been impacted by questions asking why we didn’t do fertility treatments, and comments like, “Only special people can love a non-biological child as much as a biological one,” and, “Having an open adoption isn’t wise,” and blah, blah, blah—all of that is rubbish! But I suppose working through those questions was all part of the process.
Once we finished the paperwork and our home study, it took almost a year to receive the call one day that Shannon (Isla’s birth mom) had chosen us to adopt her baby. Soon after the call, we drove out to Colorado, met Shannon and her kids, and started preparing to bring a baby into our small family of three. The idea that a woman would house a baby for nine months in her belly then decide to place (notice, I did not say “give up”) that child into another families’ arms still astounds me! But bringing Isla into our family wasn’t about pulling her away from another family; instead we found ourselves embracing Shannon and her two kids and expanding our family even more.
As we see Isla’s personality being formed and experience her strong will, laughter, mischievous smile, and inquisitive questions daily, we wonder how her life and our lives would have been different if Shannon had not made that sacrificial decision three years ago. Our family is far from perfect, and in retrospect there are always things we would’ve done differently had we a time travelling machine. But only the Lord knew that Sydney would one day be an amazing big sister who (for the most part) lavishes love and affection upon her much younger sister. Only the Lord knew that Isla would one day confidently strut around with one arm swinging like she owns the place, as if there had never been another reality for her except for our family. Only the Lord knew that we had the capacity to wait years for both of our girls and that we certainly have the hearts to nurture, go without sleep for, add more lines to our face over, and love these kids to the fullest extent possible!
If you asked me of God’s goodness today, I would laugh aloud—for very different reasons.