Goodbye George

Curious George has been lost.  Many of you feel the weight of that statement.  You have seen Samuel carry his precious Georgie...everywhere.  You have observed that most snapshots have Samuel holding, flinging, playing with George.  He has accompanied us most everywhere.  He has slept with Samuel every night.  He couldn't be a more loved stuffed animal.

The best we can figure out is that George is on James Island South Carolina.  He was last seen at Mamu and Papa's house...then there was a big outing to the Festival of Lights.  We know George didn't get out of the car there...and are not positive he was even in the car.  But after carefully searching houses and cars, we can only imagine that George was in the van and as people got in and out, he must have been knocked out.  And in the dark, we wouldn't have known.

I have been a bit caught off guard with my own reaction.  The first night after Samuel went to bed without George.  I cried and cried.  Maybe I've watched Toy Story too many times.  I kept picturing George laying in the dusty parking lot, wondering why we left him there.  I wonder did someone come along and think, this is an old stuffed animal and toss him.  Or did they look at him and recognize this is a well loved monkey.  I miss him.  I miss seeing Samuel with him.

Maybe I should tell you the story of George, lest you think I am a bit crazy.  When Samuel was four months old, Rob, my mom and I traveled to Guatemala.  We spent a wonderful week with Samuel.  My mom brought him a Curious George stuffed animal and left the monkey with Samuel's foster family.  We said our hard goodbyes, not knowing how long it would be before we traveled there again.  Four months later, Rob, his mom, dad and I traveled back to Guatemala- this time to bring  our son home. 

Once we were settled in Seattle, we ventured out to a bookstore.  Our friend Kathleen stopped by the store to meet Samuel.  I'll never forget holding him when suddenly he reached to the shelf over my shoulder, grabbed a Curious George stuffed animal and stuffed it in his mouth!  We had to buy it then.  He must have recognized George...and was so excited.  He hasn't let go of George since then.  He has been his comfort when he was sad, the one he makes silly jokes with, his constant companion.

In the last year, Samuel had gotten where he didn't carry George around as much- and then came our move to Pennsylvania.  The need for Georgie to be close by increased.  George has aided Samuel in the many transitions in his short life.  People have come to expect when they see Samuel, they see George.  A month or so ago we made the jump to not carrying George into church with us.  The first Sunday we had at least 10 people ask, or silently mouth- in case there was a tragedy, "Where's George?"  Samuel's response was that he was having a monkey party in the car.  And after church made lots of stories of mischief that George and his monkey friends had been doing while we were away.

Back to my tears.  The sadness I felt for Samuel got me thinking, this will be the first of many times my son faces loss and disappointment.  As a parent that is hard, so hard.  I think I cried tears for all of those future times too, all the times I can't "make it better".  Up to now, most misadventures can be comforted by a kiss and a hug.  A couple of posts ago, I wrote about who I want to be in moments like this.  And now I have a chance to practice it with my son.  How do I model this?  How can I help him navigate the loss of George?  I want him to express his sadness- to acknowledge that not having his "best friend" is tough.  And to keep it in perspective, for him to know he has the character, the resolve to make it through.  To help him grow into one who "does not grieve as one without hope".

For today he has a few tears and is imagining lots of monkey parties on James Island.  I have a lot to learn from him.


Turning 45

I turned 45 yesterday. I'm not sure I'm liking the sound of it.  I've never minded birthdays, I liked turning 30 and even 40.  But this, well It sounds so…"mid forties".  I don't think mid 40s is old, it's just that I don't think I should be there yet.  When my parents were in their mid forties, I had been out of college a few years.  And I, well I have an almost five year old.

Here are some of my observations about turning 45.



Several people have asked me when I was going to write again.  Well, actually now that I think about it, that was several months ago.  I was hesitant to open up this blog to see just how long it had been.  Gulp!  Which is strange given that when I started I had hundreds of posts in me.  As I've reflected on the "why is that?", one word keeps surfacing.


There has been something about this adoption process that has felt like I'm pretending.  Pretending there is really a child (or children) out there for us to parent.  Pretending that the faceless paperwork we fill out is leading to a face.

Some of the 'un-realness'  stems from the 'realness' of our previous adoption.  We received  Samuel's referral when he was just 10 days old.  And on that day, stared at a picture of him taken when he was only two days old.  Every month we received new pictures.  Every month we were given a report from his doctors visit.  Every month we learned his weight and length.  We saw a video of him at a doctors appointment where he sneezed about six times in a row.  We rewound it enough times that I heard that sneeze thousands of times.  We saw pictures of him wearing clothes and playing with toys that we had sent to him.  He was real- a very active, growing, changing baby.  And although we did not know if it would be months or years before we would bring him home...he was our son and I was connected to him.

This time there are no pictures, no name, no markers to record.  We will someday receive a phone call and learn we have a referral.  But this time it will come at the end of the process.  With Guatemala the referral comes early in the process and then you wait.  Now we wait, the referral comes and we travel to bring them home soon afterwards.

Recently I had reason to remember the spring of 2003.  A little girl Rose who was almost ours.  There's a lot I remember about that time...but what I've been thinking about lately were some words her mom said to us.  "Thank you for being parents to my daughter when I couldn't be.  I will always tell her about you."

For three months, while she was in her mothers womb we prayed for her, dreamed about her and prepared a room for her.  For three months, her mother didn't have the capacity to be her mom the way she desired.  For those three months, together the three of us made a plan of how Rob and I would raise her.  For those months, in ways I'll never fully comprehend, we were her parents.  We offered hope.

I have been thinking about that.  And thinking about our children in the Philippines.  (In case you want to know, we have said we are open to 1 or 2 children, either boy or girl….and I'm dreaming of both- a boy and a younger girl:)  I've been letting myself feel the reality that they are most likely born...probably about three and one right now.  And even though I can't see their faces, it is my responsibility and my calling to offer hope.  To be praying for them, dreaming for them, waiting expectantly.

Sitting in a waiting room is familiar.  And one realm I want my life to be marked by is waiting well.  Not passively.  Not aggressively.  But waiting with hope and perseverance.

When we are thrown into the trials of life, into times of loss, into places of waiting for something we yearn for….we react.  The stories of our lives- both things done to us and choices we have made- impact how we react.  Some of us will numb ourselves, pretend we aren't grieving, denying there is something we are longing for.  We shut down, say chin up.  We make statements like "God is in control", and while that is true, we say it more out of fear because we aren't sure if we let our hurts show that he will really show up to heal them.  But the truth is that God doesn't need us to try to make him look good. He is good.  And our human comprehension of that can result in boxing  him in. When we are honest, when we wrestle with him, his full glory is revealed.  He is the one who is a pro at making beauty from ashes.  But others around us won't see that miracle if we never admit there are ashes.

The other route some of us will take is to make the trial our identity.   We stay in the alleyway we have been thrown into.  There we deny things too.  We believe lies about who we are, about what we deserve.  We betray the beauty inside us and trade it for a faded image of who we are made to be.  All we see are the ashes- denying they could ever be made beautiful.

I know I have chosen both.  And I'm familiar with when, instead, I have chosen life.  The moments when I wait for God to lift me up.  When I wait with hope.  Not some 'pie in the sky" hope that's fluffy.  Real hope.  Hope that has substance and guts.  Hope that will withstand the darkness of the world.  Hope that every single time will break through the darkness.  Hope, that when it shows up, sorrow and sighing will flee.  Hope that takes pain and turns it into the deepest joy you could imagine.  Hope that won't settle for cheap imitations of grief.

That's the mom I want to be.  I want to wait with HOPE for my children in the Philippines.  I want fight for them, pray for them to be nurtured and protected and to have strong attachment.  I want to parent them in the ways I can from thousands of miles away.  I want to prepare Samuel to be the best big brother he can be.  I want to wait with strength and tenderness.

And here I sit, just a few days before Christmas.  And I can't help but think of what it was like for Israel.  For 400 years God had been silent.  The God who always spoke with them and led them- nothing.  Generation after generation wondering when, wondering if, they would hear again.  Then the birth of Christ!  We have glimpses in our own lives of what that was like… to wait for something that was so anticipated.  Although I'm guessing none of us has waited 400 years, although it may feel like it.  And this birth fulfilled all they had been waiting for.  And this birth is what now offers us hope that can change our waiting, change our pain, change the world.

I suppose I have written this mostly for myself.  As a charge, a reminder of who I want to be and how I want to wait.  May I this advent season wait with anticipation and with hope.  "May it be to me as you have said."


Redeeming April Showers

Historically, April has been a rough month in my life.  1991, 92, 95, 99,....all marked significant loss.  But the April that is always at the forefront of my mind is April 2001.  Ten years ago this week, I was admitted to the hospital to deliver a baby who was no longer alive.  I can remember every moment of the previous Friday, beginning my 5th month of pregnancy, what should have been a routine ultrasound, revealed this precious life no longer had a heartbeat.  Numbness.  Followed by a horrific week in the hospital where every complication possible arose.  Instead of an overnight stay, I was there for six days.  It poured rain outside.  Funny the things your mind can remember so exactly, as we were discharged the nurse who brought me to our car said "Of course today is sunny.  I had vacation this past week and the forecast was for sunny skies and I had plans to garden.  But it rained all week,"  It comforted me in some odd way.  That the heavens shared my tears.  Unplanned grey skies conveyed our darkened hearts and grief.

Oh, I could write so much about those weeks.  And of the months that slowly unfolded.  The days where I would say to Rob, "I don't know what to do today".  He would reply, "make it through this morning, you don't need to do anything more".  A triumph was calling a friend or making dinner.  I type right now through tears.  Because writing this can bring me right back to then, to the fullness or rather emptiness of emotions.  And yet, my purpose in writing this is not only to remember that season, but to also mark how much our son's short life has shaped who I am today.  The loss of each of our six children has been heartbreaking- each one a life we fell head over heels in love with.  But this loss ten years ago, or rather the wrestling process that came from it, cleared space in my soul where future grief and joy could reside.

Of course there is the paradox, I would give anything to be celebrating the upcoming 10th bday of our son.  And yet, I am me because his life was exactly what it was.  Our marriage is richer, deeper- I can't imagine a safer more life giving place.  I am known.  Only a few weeks after our miscarriage, we celebrated our 1st anniversary.  This could be an awful lot for a young marriage to endure, I will always be thankful that it cemented a strong bond between us, a commitment that we could get through anything, rather than a wedge to drive us apart.  We grieve differently and have learned how to support and love each other.  We emerged on the other side of suffering with a greater strength and tenderness for each other.  We have experienced love to be patient and kind.  We have fought for each other to a love that does not dishonor and that is not self seeking.  Love that is not easily angered.  Love that protects, trusts, hopes and perserveres.  Love that hopes....that is an amazing thing, to arise from loss and hope again.

I look into the beautiful brown eyes of Samuel, listen to his belly laugh and his passionate, dramatic personality...and I know he was always to have been our son.  And to quote the song Rob always says of Samuel "I would wander weary miles, would welcome ridicule, my child. To simply see the sunrise of your smile."  And we have.  We have wandered many weary miles to meet him.  I began to learn how to love Samuel ten years ago.  Their lives so intertwined.  I think of the child who will be joining our family, and it is another redemption of April showers to begin their adoption this month.

And God.  Oh how much my relationship with God was shaped by this time.  I had times of not talking to him.  Silence.  I had times of anger and rage.  I pleaded and asked questions.  I demanded answers.  He did not go away.  And oh how there were times that is what I wanted him to do.  I have pages of journals of laments.  He responded by offering more comfort, peace that surpasses understanding.  Tenderness and intimacy.  He became bigger.  I was not too much for Him.  The only place that could handle all I was needing to express.  Over time, I began to sing in the shadow of his wing.  That verse became so meaningful.  Protected under his wing was safety for me.  The only thing big enough to cover.  And it was freedom.  I didn't have to explain or pretend.  I could be free enough to sing, no matter how out of tune or if I forgot the words.  I discovered how much more beautiful and rich it was to meet God in the wilderness than in some box I attempt to put him in.  The trajectory that experience had on my faith is amazing.  Full of redemption and grace.

So I sit here.  Remembering 10 years ago.  Remembering our child.  Remembering the heartbreak.  Remembering the darkness.  Remembering hope responding.  Remembering a short life that changed my life and that has had a ripple effect to many lives. 

There is much I do not understand.  There are still many questions I have.  But I am grateful.  Grateful for April 2001, grateful for today and knowing that each could not exist without the other.


Barefoot Books

My dad was in sales the majority of his career.  People would say he is a natural sales person.  But he would have disagreed.  He always told me it wasn't that he could "sell anything", but that when he loved and believed in something, he passionately wanted others to experience it as well.  And so for all of my growing up years he helped schools, libraries and individuals have access to educational products.  (yes, he really began selling encylcopedias door to door, during his summer months as  high school teacher)

I can not tell you the number of nights at our dinner table when questions came up on any number of subjects, the response was always "we don't guess, we look it up!"  Our conversations marked by the number of World Books stacked up at the dinner table.
Of course, now the internet has rapidly replaced having a set of encylcopedias.  I will always have affinity for the printed word, for holding information and transformation in my hands.  My heart warmed the other day when I saw the P volume at the kitchen table.  Rob said, "Samuel had a question about pandas and I know 'we don't guess, we look it up'."  There is much I want to instill in our children (!), and a love of reading is at the top of the list.

So what does this have at all to do with my title, Barefoot Books.  It is a long preamble (for I evidently know no other way), to speak of my own sales career.  Typing those words, I laugh.  For it is not a sales career...but an intersection.  Becoming a mom for the first time at age 40, has meant that I had many years working outside the home.  With my MBA in hand, for quite a while I enjoyed the financial world.  And even now, am always working spreadsheets and analysis into our lives.  Since leaving that world, I have often thought of having a home based business.  But nothing has ever gotten me excited.  Hmm, if I sell that, I'd have to start wearing make up....or if this one, my cooking would have to step up a notch.  I love going to parties where such products are sold, but it was not where my own passion existed.  It would be "selling" not sharing something I'm excited about.

Then a few weeks ago, I was flipping through a magazine while waiting at a doctors office.  It was a list of 'top' home based businesses.  My eyes stopped when I saw Barefoot Books.  I thought we have some of those at home and Samuel loves them.  When I got home I took a look at them, yep they were Barefoot.  I've always loved the art work and illustrations in them.  And have loved their global perspective.  For when we read them Samuel sees children who look like him.  I was so thrilled that they are sold by individuals.  Then I decided, I can do this to raise funds for our adoption (and who knows, may love it that I keep going).  What a wonderful intersection.  I've been looking for something to do from home, we will need extra funds for our adoption expenses and I love books and reading!

And so without further ado, I announce that I am a Barefoot Books Ambassador.  20-40% of sales will go towards helping bring our son or daughter home from the Philippines.  If you would like to purchase a book or cd, click on the link to the right and it will direct you to my page on the Barefoot Books website.  Take a look, they have some beautiful stories and products.
I have also set up a facebook business page, Gillgrist Barefoot Adoption.  I will be posting book reviews and promotions there.  Whew...I don't have to remember that a clove of garlic is different than a bulb- but that's a story for another time.


Letting Go of Guatemala

I fell in love with Guatemala- the colorful culture, the warmth of people, our son.  When Guatemala 'closed' to adoption at the end of 2007, just a few months after we brought Samuel home, I was heartbroken.  I was sure his younger brother was there...and I still think of all the children there without homes.  As Rob and I discussed bringing another child into our family through adoption, I couldn't get past in not being Guatemala.  And so I felt for those first couple of years.  At the beginning of 2009 we filled out our preliminary adoption application.  But when it came time to move beyond the first steps that you would do for any type adoption, I froze.  I would 'try on' different scenarios: foster care, domestic, various countries.  My mind could get there.  My heart could not. 

Friends have asked, how did you decide on the Philippines?  The only way I know to respond is to say my heart moved.  This past February, we met with a social worker.  She went over different options with us.  When she mentioned the Philippines, we both said tell us more.  In all of our research it was not a place we had considered.  We left that meeting with Rob completely in.  I knew he was the moment we got in the car.  I was warming up to the idea.  Those who know me will easily guess that I spent that evening on my computer and by midnight was an expert on Filipino adoptions.  There were so many advantages to the program and my spreadsheets confirmed it.  I had been asking for wisdom and discernment and everything seemed to be checking out as a green light.  And so we began to move forward, but I was leaving wiggle room for another possibility, not ready to commit to a country.

Until this past Tuesday night.

We went to an info meeting on adopting from the Philippines.  A family who had brought their two boys home two years ago were there to share.  I looked into those smiling, mischievious faces and they captured my heart.  I had unexplainable tears.  For a moment I thought I might need to leave the room.  I have come to listen to my tears, to certain type of tears.  The ones that catch me off guard and signal to me, your soul is hearing and responding, on a level you don't fully understand.  The One who made me, brings me to a still place to say this is important, pay attention.

Similiar to moms who have told me they wondered if they could love their second child as much as the first...and then the baby comes and their hearts expand to hold and give even more love.  My heart expanded.  Rob looked at my glistening eyes and smiled.  It was actually a smile that kind of bugs me.  It is a smile that reveals to me 'I'm exposed, he knows all that is going on in my heart'.

When we left the meeting, he grabbed my hand and squeezed it tight.  I looked up and said "You know what's going on don't you?"  He responded, "Yes, you are all in"  And that night I fell in love with the Philippines and I knew there was room in my heart for another country.


We are paper pregnant!
Yes it's true.  I'm sure you haven't noticed us showing yet, as right now there are only a few pages, all the initial forms.  But soon it will grow and expand with home studies and dossiers.  Affadavits and medical exams.  Notaries and biographies.  And before you know it, it will be obvious to anyone who sees my adoption binder- we are paper pregnant!
I had all intentions of not telling people until our dossier was submitted.  Well, maybe not that far along, maybe once our home study was competed.  But ahh, nope I couldn't contain it.
I suppose it's fitting.  With each of our pregnancies, we would think, we will wait until we are 12 weeks to let the world know.  But then something would happen each time I saw that line or the doctors office would call with positive results of blood work.  My heart would explode- life!  I am carrying a life...phone calls to family and friends.  And surely the lady checking me out at the grocery store and the postman....they must all want to know.  I suppose in some ways it was me needing them to know.  Because I didn't know how long it would be true.
And although experts may say it's better to protect your heart, my inability to keep quiet was exactly what my heart longed for.  For each of those precious lives had people loving them and cheering for them.  If it was 9 weeks or 5 months, each baby was loved and prayed for and wanted and delighted in.
And from each loss flowed torrents of tears, not from our eyes alone, but from all that had hoped and journeyed with us.  This is not a journey to be made alone.  Our companions have upheld us, comforted us, encouraged us and celebrated with us.
Now, as we begin another long and winding road, my heart jumps at the chance to say, come along with us.  There will be clouds and there will be bright sun.  There will be opportunities to develop patience and a chance to dive into another culture.  It will be closer to two years than to nine months and the journey will birth a 3-5 year old instead of a newborn.  But it will be one of the sweetest journeys, one full of redemption and twists and turns, one of surprise and anticipation....until one day when Samuel will say I am a big brother.