Bracelets for Our Brothers
Help Us Bring Our Brothers Home
Posted on June 21st, 2017

​She sheepishly stepped into my office and handed me a white, stuffed, envelope.  It was almost time for her class to begin, but she’d run down the hallway to make it early so she could give me the envelope of cash in private.  She didn’t want it to be a public display.  It was $81, mostly in five dollar and one dollar bills.  She had tears in her eyes when she told me, “This is all of my babysitting money that I have been saving, I want you to have it.”
I was floored and simultaneously concerned that her tears were from her parting with her hard-earned money.  She nor her family had much extra to spend on anything—let alone helping my family--but this $81 was worth more than millions to me.  As I tried desperately to hand the money back to her and insist she take it back, she cried harder and said, “No, you absolutely have to have it.  I thought about it all last night—what life would be like without my sister.  I can’t stand to think about it.  I won’t feel better until you take it.”
The day before, I revealed to my classes what was happening in our family—that we were going back for Evvie and Stella’s brothers and that we were fundraising.  This student has classes with my oldest daughter, Evvie, and has the most beautiful and compassionate soul.  I will never forget this 11-year-old's offering to me, and I consider her actions absolutely Biblical—she is, metaphorically, the widow who gave only what she had, but everything she had.  As she embodied this parable, one of my favorites, right before my very eyes, my faith in humanity was restored. 
This was one of the first of thousands of actions that have demonstrated to our family that love, compassion, sympathy, empathy, faith, mercy, and grace are alive and present in our existence every day.
Where I struggle is how to express my gratitude.  Where to even begin expressing my appreciation? How do I tell this child what this gift really meant to me on a level that really has very little to do with money?  How do I let the donors I know personally who have contributed thousands but insist on remaining anonymous know the profound way they are shaping 6 lives?   How do I let the woman who donated $5000.00 do our adoption fund know that I am blown away, humbled, and forever changed by her gift?  I tried to find her on the internet, but had no success.
There are so many individuals, corporations, and groups that have helped us along.  We have received orders and donations from countries around the world.  It is truly too many to name.  A family member, a childhood friend, and one of Neil’s mentors—all writers now—dedicated huge amounts of time to help us publicize what we were doing.  Through their selfless acts, our family was able to gain thousands in donations that would have otherwise been unavailable to us.  Most of the donations come from people we’ve never met before, and probably never will.
Two school friends of Neil’s set up an amazing fundraiser for us at Mellow Mushroom, and thankfully we got to enjoy fellowship and food with them while raising money for our family.  Another friend who I’ve met in person only a handful of times put me in touch with a LuLa Roe representative who, through her sales and the company’s donations, were able to send us several hundred dollars to help pay some of our last agency fees.   This representative has never met me, she just has a heart for adoption.
Adoption.  Yes, let me not forget the amazing emotional support, monetary support, guidance, fundraising support, sharing of our story that the international adoption community has given us since they first heard our story.  The internet is a powerful tool, and these families get it and know exactly what to recommend, how to connect, and are generous where they can be.  They know what it is like to spend a year’s salary just to bring a child home, and then half a year’s salary or more on their special needs.
Right now there are over 300 individual donations on our PureCharity page.  And, so many more donations have been made in the form of cash or check anonymously.  What is so amazing to me about these donations is that they all stem from a place of faith.  Each donation reaffirms what we believe: that adoption is important, that adoption saves lives, that adoption will change the lives of these two boys in profound ways.  Putting a dollar figure on these beliefs is an act of pure faith.
Whether you bought a bracelet, helped with a fundraiser, made bracelets with me on my couch at midnight in December to help get the orders ready, hosted a fundraiser for us, donated to us, spread the word for us, wrote about our family, made others aware of our needs, bid on one of our auction items, donated clothing or other items to us, listened to our frustrations through the process, lifted us up in prayer in your Sunday School class, organized a bake sale for us (thank you to a very special class at Pelion Middle), said a prayer for us, thought about us, encouraged us,  loved us, followed our story, or stood with us in faith—every bit of it counts.  Every bit of it matters.  Every action, large or small, will be remembered by our family forever. 
After writing this, I am still at a loss of how to adequately express my gratitude as we approach our court date next week with only about $3800 left to raise to be completely funded.  There is no thank you card large enough (yes, I looked), no words that can truly express how thankful we are, no favors that could come close to returning or repaying you all.  So, this is what I can offer:
-- I will make sure that all four of my children know how loved they were before they even got here.  Your actions have already shown my girls this type of love, but I promise to keep letting them know, and to make sure that the boys know the love and support and the cheerleading that went on for them long before they were in our home.
-- I will raise them to the best of my ability.  Your donations have taken financial pressure off of our family.  This means that we have more funds available to use on the resources they need to overcome 13 and 15 years of tragedy and trauma, many that are not covered by insurance.
-- I will remember your actions forever.  I will carry them as a reminder of unconditional and faithful love.  I will write each of your names on my heart.  I will allow this to be a lesson to myself and to my family that this type of love really should be the basis of our human connections in this life.
Lastly, should your family be in the process of adoption, I will always support you.  International or domestic, foster or adoption, whatever the case.  We will buy from your fundraisers, donate to your cause, cook you a meal when you need it, provide respite if we’re able, pass down clothes and toys to other families as we are able.  You name it, we will pay it forward.  

Posted on May 29th, 2017

​The warnings started before the bus ever stopped at our destination.  Our guide, a native Russian, spoke in a stern voice: Keep your valuables close to you.  Put money in your front pocket or tuck it somewhere hidden.  Leave nothing in your back pocket or too loose around you—they will take it.  They will probably approach you as soon as you get off the bus—don’t engage.  They will distract you while their children pull bills from your pockets and snatch your belongings.  Their children will be fast and know this area—you don’t.  Don’t engage or leave yourself vulnerable.  They are Gypsies.
As I got off the bus to wander around with the rest of my study-abroad classmates, I didn’t really know what to expect.  I imagined swarms of children and chaos, but saw none of this as I nervously placed one foot and then the next onto the concrete ground.  As I wandered through the markets trying to hone my bargaining skills using the little Russian I knew, I was uneasy and always checking over my shoulder.  If I pulled rubles out to pay for something, I carefully jammed anything extra deep into my front pocket after carefully doing a sweep of my surroundings.
I made it back onto the bus that day without being pickpocketed by “gypsies”, and so did the rest of my classmates.   I, also, fourteen years after this firm warning, have managed to live in the same house as two “gypsies” without being “gypped” by them for over a year, and I am going back to bring two more into my home.
As a child, one of my favorite ways to pass a lazy afternoon was digging through my large brown wicker dress up box and creating an alter identity for a while.  I was delighted after my mother finally retired her annual “gypsy fortune teller” Halloween costume to my box.  The purple and green fabric flowed around me and gathered on the floor in large piles.  Fortune-tellers certainly cannot do their jobs without a flamboyant headpiece, and my mother had identified the perfect one with silver sequences and a large, jeweled broach that she sewed on to the front.  Mystical and mysterious, free spirited and radical, I could embody all of these stereotypes while I lived in this costume.
However, as an adult, and as a mother to two (soon to be four) Romani children, I can tell you the truth about “gypsies”, a truth that turns out to be far more esoteric.  Romani history is fascinating and complicated.  The Romani people have been exiled, persecuted, died in mass numbers during the holocaust, and continue to be a source of controversy politically in most European countries.
I am certainly not an expert in Romani history, nor can I contribute anything authentic to the debate about how best to end the rampant racism and prejudice against the Romani people in Europe.  I also am not an expert on my children’s birth family, heritage, or culture.   I do know, however, with certainty that my children remember what it was like to be Romani in Bulgaria, and want to have a better experience here in America.  My daughters tell me regularly what it was like to be female and Romani, and then, after they were removed from their home, what it was like to be a female, Romani… Orphan.
My daughters have vivid memories of being oppressed while their biological brothers, due to their gender alone, were afforded any small opportunities the family could muster. Access to education, safety, and material goods always went first to their brothers, and then to them.  The men in their household were able to sleep together in a single bed, while the girls, including their birth mother, were relegated to a small foldout couch with broken springs and a sunken mattress.  They remember the poverty, the starvation, the forced prostitution, the sneers and hurtful slurs from the public when they went out, and the dirt that was always caked on them and under their fingernails.
As orphans, they remember being turned down many times by white Bulgarian families interested in domestic adoption.  Five long years of rejection because of their skin color ticked by before they were put on the international adoption registry.  They can, in great detail, relay these experiences and the word “gypsy” being tossed around as the reason they weren’t worth a family.
This past Halloween, my family went shopping for costumes and came across this costume:
​I, in that moment, had to do some soul searching.  I immediately remembered, as a child, how enthralled I was by the gypsy costume in my dress up box, but now had to face up to my adult understanding of what this costume represented.  I personally, as a white woman, would never consider engaging in Blackface makeup or purchasing a costume on the basis that it would allow me to change and generalize my ethnicity for the evening.  Similarly, I have often wondered why fourth grade classes across America still make students dress up as “Indians” and build teepees as a class to culminate a warped historical account of Native American history.  If all of this was unacceptable to me, this costume, as well as the one from the dress up box, had to be also.
However, a funny thing happened when I posted about this costume on my social media account, asking people to simply educate themselves about this term.  I got a lot of backlash, and from some unlikely places—fellow adoptive parents of Romani children.  Most people, when they use this slur, aren’t directly trying to offend anyone.  Generally, citizens of our country tend to romanticize the mystical, free-spirited, and nomadic characterizations of the Romani people, choosing to ignore the implications of stealing, pickpocketing, and deception this slur carries with it. 
While none of these descriptors is truly accurate, I have come to determine that it is the focus on the positive illusion of what it means to be a “gypsy” that makes people more comfortable using this term than they would other racial slurs.  But, the inherent discrimination and generalization contained in phrases like “gypped out of something” forces us to examine this term in a different and uncomfortable light.  Just as older members of our white families once used the term “Jew down” and even older family members found “n*gger” to be an acceptable description without thinking twice, but would never do so today, it is time for us to put “gypsy” and “gypped” under the same microscope of unacceptable and remove it from our vocabulary.
My husband and I are both 33 years old, so we grew up on Full House and TGIF TV specials.  In college and graduate school we’d find a Full House marathon with our friends and binge-watch old episodes that allowed us to feel nostalgic and young.  Imagine my generation’s excitement when Fuller House was released!  I watched a few episodes with my husband, and we eventually made it to episode 5 wherein Stephanie is whisked away into a limo and onto a private jet by her British friend, Shannon.  As Stephanie and Shannon leave, Shannon has a look of utter disgust on her face while she remarks, “Dear God, you’re living with gypsies.” 
Click, power off.  Done.
In this moment of the show, the use of this word is undeniably negative and illustrates my point perfectly about this slur—it does have negative connotation to it, and it is socially acceptable in our society to use it regularly.
I know it probably doesn’t matter to Jeff Franklin that he lost a viewer because of this comment.  He would probably just consider me to be a hypersensitive mother on a rampage for justice for her children.  He would probably be right about that, and that’s okay.  But, until we as a society start to confront and wrestle with these uncomfortable truths, this kind of language and use of the word will always be acceptable to the general population.  So, to the adoptive moms of Romani children, please stop pretending this doesn’t exist and isn’t a real issue, to the Romani-Americans in this country, please reconsider accepting this branding, and to Jeff Franklin, please consider not using this term again on your show.
A disappointed viewer, mother of two (soon to be four) Romani children

Posted on May 25th, 2017

​I’m right here, darling. 

I’m right by your side, and always will be.  I’m not naïve; I knew this day would come.  Well, days, really, because ignorance, disrespect, jealousy, criticism, racism, sexism, prejudice, assumptions, well-meaning comments that still hurt—these things are not limited to just one day. You now know enough English to internalize these things, though, so I am reminding you today—I am real, and I am right here.  Forever.
January 24, 2015 was the date posted on your referral pictures.  You were 8 and 11 in these photos.  Your father and I saw them just a few days after they were taken.  We knew instantaneously that we were your parents, and that you were destined to be our children.  Both of you were simultaneously so beautiful and vibrant in your videos, yet so frail, malnourished, oppressed, and deprived.  Today you are many things, but no longer starving, neglected, silenced, and ignored.
I forget, sometimes, that I didn’t give birth to you, that I didn’t carry you in my womb for 9 arduous months, that we look different, and that your skin is strikingly darker than mine.  I forget, also, that I’m only barely twice your age. 
Then, someone brings that reality sharply back in focus.  Maybe it is the department store sales clerk who said “I just wanted you to be aware that some random children were putting items in your cart while you weren’t looking.” Maybe it’s the many people who, trying to be polite, carefully reassure themselves with comments like “these are your children, right?” Or, perhaps, the medical assistant who questions your relationship to me as we go over insurance and payment; she makes me show her a court decree and social security card to prove you’re mine.  I comply only because I’m caught off guard and have no time to craft a sharp response.
I often wish my skin looked like yours—olive, caramel, tan.  You wish your skin looked like mine—paper white, fair, and translucent.  I often marvel over the fact that someone could want skin like mine.  While you see my skin as something to be envious of, I look in the mirror and see my middle-school nick name, “Casper”, and wish my skin wasn’t so pasty and it didn’t have such a pink tint to it.  
You speak like I do a lot of times now; you try to imitate my tone and mannerisms.  You carry yourself proud, courageous, empowered, and brave.  I try to model these things for you every day because I know you are watching, and we have years of lost time to make up for.  You are learning to accept yourself, be proud of your life circumstances, and to advocate for yourself.  But, sometimes, you are caught off guard by innocent but powerful questions like, “where is your “real”mom?.”  You ask me if you are a “fake” child.  You don’t really understand, but are learning, that DNA doesn’t make someone a parent.  Your young mind is processing things it should never have to, but I am here, and I am real, and I will always be here to support your journey.
When people aren’t satisfied with your answers and they challenge your response to the question “where is your “real” mom”, I know it is frustrating and confusing for you.  I know it makes you question everything I’ve ever told you.  Some children in your class augment the difference in our skin tone, and use it to justify their position that I, in fact, could never be your “real” mom.  After all, I am white and you are brown, so there’s no way I could have given birth to you, case closed
I am listening when those around you talk about adoption innocently but flippantly.  It is trivialized and minimized because it is powerful, but few are brave enough to adopt or be adopted.  It's more comfortable and convenient to make big things into small things sometimes.  Adopt a dog, adopt a highway, adopt a stuffed animal.  These are easier things, and the "ownership" is rarely questioned.

I know you’ve heard my students ask if I could just adopt them so they could stay a few minutes longer in my classroom.  I know you’ve heard the same orphan jokes and racial slurs I have (because your ethnicity is such a tiny minority in our country, and is romanticized and revered to be the equivalent of a free-spirit, it is somehow acceptable to call you a “gypsy” or for people to say they were “gypped” out of something right in front of you, and not blink an eye.  It is socially acceptable.  You and I are “snowflakes” if we speak up about this glorified stereotype, while other equally offensive slurs are virtually outlawed in public, spoken often in faint and embarrassed whispers.).  You and I both know that we are trying to undo years of damage from your birth country where you were barely recognized as a human being.  Female, Romani, orphan—these three labels sealed your social status as invisible and unworthy.  Just as all of this is real, I am real.
When you told that boy in your class that I was your real mom and he told you to prove it by showing him who I was at awards day, I wasn't there for you to show off.  I was working.  I was trying to raise money to bring your brothers home.  You were expected to perform miracles to prove your place in this world, and I didn’t know it. I’m sorry I didn’t come that day; I didn’t realize you were on trial.  When I didn’t come, his comments only intensified. 
“Mom guilt” and anger are driving a special trip to your school tomorrow.  I will show up, I will make a presence, I will give you the biggest hug and kiss, I will prove them all wrong.  Instead of a lecture, I am bringing a large donation to your classroom and your classmates.  I want you to see me respond to these comments with grace and a smile.  I want you to learn the power of a kind and generous response; that it can be far more impactful than screaming a hateful retort.  I promise, my darling, I am real and I will be real and in the flesh tomorrow.  You don’t know it yet because I haven't told you, but I will try to swoop in during the final seconds of the school year and make it right.
Next school year I promise I will be more proactive.  I will be more present and visible.  I will remind you every day that you and your sister, and your brothers, and your Daddy and I are REAL.  I will make sure that you have answers to give to difficult questions, and that you have the strength not to doubt the answers you provide.  One of your answers can be, “I know you didn’t mean to be hurtful when you asked that question.  I know you were just curious, but my past is my story, and I will answer only the questions I want to.”
You owe no one an explanation, and neither do I.  You don’t have to answer any questions you don’t want to, and neither do I.  You are my “real” child and I am your “real” mom.  We are human beings with flesh and blood and emotions and life.  You can choose your responses carefully and respectfully, but it is my hope that, in your answers, you will always protect your identity—you are a child with a family, with a mommy and daddy, and a sister and two brothers who love you endlessly, unconditionally, and passionately.  Forever and ever and ever.
You are real.  I am real.  Our family is real.  It might be different, but it is no less valuable than any other family, and it is REAL.  You are beautiful.  You are courageous.  You both are my heroes.

Posted on May 18th, 2017

​When I first discovered and translated the message, I was in my office, on a small break near the end of the day between a class and a conference with a team of teachers and a parent.  I had to read it three or four times before I understood—not only because the translation wasn’t really clear, but because I was frozen in disbelief.  How could this be happening?  Then the hyperventilating started, followed by an uncontrollable stream of tears as my body became sticky and clammy from the distress. 
Maybe I misread it, I thought, as I reread the message for the 6th or 7th time—I lost count.  Maybe the translation is bad, I hoped, as I passed it on to a friend who could give me a more accurate reading than Google Translate.  I continued to put it through different translators, but all indicated the same general message.  My friend responded nearly immediately.  No, I wasn’t mistaken.  No, it wasn’t that inaccurate of a translation.  His words were clear.  His message was firm.  He thanked us for our time and generosity and for being good people, but it was made clear that this would be our final contact with one another.
After about 15 minutes of shock and denial, I looked at the clock—only ten minutes until the meeting.  How could I possibly sit in front of a parent and have a coherent, helpful conversation?  There was no way, I wasn’t strong enough.  I stumbled into my administrator’s office sweating profusely, eyes crazed and bloodshot from the tears, face red and puffy.  I probably frightened him; I usually have better control over my emotions.  This was a tragedy though, a real-life, actual tragedy that was playing out on a stage in my office with me as the protagonist.
Because I have a wonderful administrator who has seen a more honest and real side of me than probably anyone else I’ve ever worked with, I told him the truth.  I had to choke out the words while I gasped for breath and stability between each horrifying set of letters.  “The… the boys… they… aren’t coming.  They withdrew….  from the adoption.  It’s over. I just found out.  I just got the message.  I might need to take a personal moment instead of attend this conference, here is what I would say to the parent, can you say it for me?”
Just as shocked as I was, he graciously told me to take the time I needed.  I locked myself in the restroom and watched the minutes tick by on my phone.  I tried, in those minutes, to remind myself of why I work where I work and with whom I work.   Many of the children, including the one in question, have a past and/or present that is very much like the background my own children have.  I knew topics would come up in this meeting that would be difficult for me to hear and talk about. 
This child, while he struggles in so many areas, and has such a difficult life, blossoms when he makes music with me.  I see my own children when I look in his eyes, and, if we had room for one more in our home, I would help him find the permanency he lacks. 
I knew this meeting would have a lot of negativity to it.  His poor grades (to spite his natural brilliancy), behavior problems, and lack of concentration would be the bulk of the conversation, but all stem from instability.  I am blessed to see a different side of this child, as I often have the opportunity to when working with children in an artistic setting.  I am frequently a teacher who can offer some shred of hope to a meeting like this, the teacher the parents thank later on for being the first teacher who has ever had anything nice to say about their child.  I am fortunate to be able to break away from the desk, chair, paper, pencil, and written work.  It is with great honor and privilege that I get to see beauty, through art, in some of life's most hideous moments.  
I stopped crying.  I opened the stall.  I feverishly tried to make myself not look panicked and weak, but I still looked awful.  I had to go, though.  So, I walked into the conference about 7 minutes late, drawing even more negative attention to myself as I sat down at the far end of the long conference table.  I can’t even imagine what other people thought about me during that conference.  All I can tell you, though, is that I was able to listen to some really hard truths that hit very close to home, and I decided to stick it out, and I am so glad I did. 
I was fortunate enough to form a relationship with this family that day that I didn’t have before.  I stayed after school for a long period of time just talking one on one with the family member representing the child that day.  Again, I can’t imagine what she must have thought of me as I stumbled into the meeting, flung myself into a chair, hair a mess, mascara stains around my fire-red eyes.  But, I’m so glad I stuck it out.  I think we blessed each other that day.  She may never know that.
The rest of that Wednesday evening was a blur.  I honestly have blocked most of it out.  I know I re-read his message several times.  It was polite, gracious, but very final.  He also made sure he blocked us from contacting him in any way.  In the same paragraph where he thanked me for caring for his sisters so well, for being such a good person, for coming back for him, he also told me he could never view me as his “real” mother, that he understood the difference between a biological mother and an adoptive mother, and that it would be a disgrace and betrayal to his biological family to take a new family name and call another person “mother”.
Devastated.  Then, the rage: Ok, fine, don’t call me “mom”, I get it, I never asked you to, you chose to!  You asked ME on the trip if you could call me that!   You continued to call me that in messages for days after we left Bulgaria.  Don’t take a new name!  I don’t care!  I never forced that on you! You chose that, too!  And, while I understand loyalty to a biological family and differences across cultures and genders, where has the loyalty to YOU been all these years? 
All these opportunities and chances that were given, no one, not a single person has said YES to you except ME.  I made bracelets with my daughters, your sisters, until my fingers bled.  I worked days and days on no more ethan four hours of sleep so we could get those bracelets out before people opened gifts and stockings on Christmas morning.  I have had to put my pride aside and ask for money, something I never thought I’d do.  I’ve fallen asleep over lengthy adoption paperwork, my hands unable to sign another document, my eyes unable to decode another legal word.  How can this be happening?
Fine.  Don’t come.  Stay in the orphanage and rot.  Leave there and have no education, no future, and try to find your biological family.  See how that works out for you.  I tried.  I fought for you in every way I could.  I stalked you for months and waited for your file to be with a reputable agency and NGO.  I plowed through adoption paperwork, red tape, and jumped the hoops at break-neck speed.  I said YES when everyone else said NO.  I have poured my life into bringing you home, to reuniting a part of your family, to righting a wrong I didn’t create but still feel responsible for.  I listened so hard to what God was telling me to do, how could this possibly be happening?  How could I have misheard Him?
We didn’t tell the girls.  Faking it in front of them for a couple of days to see what would happen and waiting for our NGO to run emergency interference on this was hard.  Meanwhile, no contact, and no apparent change in feeling from you.  Your mind was made up, and you were probably going to make sure your younger brother stayed behind with you.  The contact with him ceased as well.  Every time my phone had a notification, I prayed it was you.  I prayed you would change your mind, or that I would just wake up and it would all just be some horrible nightmare.  But, the days dragged on and things stayed the same.
We told the girls on Friday night after a dinner out and before our trip to Carowinds the next day, strategically planned to lessen the blow.  They were furious with you.  By the time we told them, we knew why you did what you did.  We knew your birth mother found out about our visit and contacted you.  First contact she’d made in years, but she got in your head and threatened you.  She told you that you’d be a disgrace, and that you were dishonoring your family.  She told you what to tell me.  And you did.  I know this to be true not only because of information we received from abroad, but because my oldest daughter said the same thing happened when we came for her.  She almost said no to our family, too, for the same reason.
We waited anxiously for news the following Monday from our NGO.  Late Monday afternoon and email, finally.  A Skype session was proposed for Wednesday at 6am.  We would try to talk through this with mediation from our translator.  The days between Monday and Wednesday became an “if this, then that” game between Neil and myself.  What will we do if this happens or that happens, when are we done, when do we throw in the towel, when do we say we tried but failed?
I confided in a trusted friend.  She reminded me of the story of Abraham and Isaac.  Abraham is asked by God to do something utterly absurd, and contradictory to the very nature of God’s will.  The very death of Isaac would be a complete contradiction to God’s promises.  The passage in Genesis is one that is controversial for many, and I can understand why.  Not only is it controversial and difficult to stomach that God would ask someone to offer his son as a sacrifice, it is also unclear exactly how to interpret the story.
After this conversation and my vague recollection of the story, I became enthralled with it.  I read perspectives from modern Christian scholars, multiple versions of the Word, and perspectives from Old Testament and Jewish scholars.  All of the interpretations made my head swim.   I also, in the midst of this process, recalled that one of my favorite composers, Stravinsky, set this Hebrew text to music, and that, this piece along with, was he or wasn’t he an anti-Semite, became and continues to be controversial among both music theorists and musicologists.  Two of my favorite musicologists, in fact, go toe-to-toe over this piece, and whether it was “bought and paid for”.  So, the obsession extended for me.
Back to the actual text, though. What was God really doing here?  How could he ask this of Abraham?  And, God’s own promises were dependent upon Isaac’s life.  Was he testing Abraham—some say yes, some say no he was already tested.  Some say the entire story reads out of context, and that Abraham understood metaphorically what was going on the whole time, that a lamb would be provided, and the whole thing is just one big misinterpretation of the Hebrew language.  Then there is big debate on whether Abraham actually “passed the test” because he listened to a messenger who gave him permission to stop just before he was going to sacrifice his son.  All kinds of disagreements over this text—fascinating.  Who knows the truth-only God…
But we do know that Abraham and Isaac make the long journey together, and Abraham does build an alter for a sacrifice.  Ultimately a message is delivered to Abraham that he clearly “FEARS” God and does not have to sacrifice his own son. There may be disagreements about the reasoning, the faith, the testing, the interpretation—whatever.  Most Christians choose to interpret this text as a pinacle example of doing God’s Will no matter what, listening, obeying, following His command.  While some might say this is a rather romanticized interpretation of the text, it is undeniably motivational, and absolutely applicable to the situation I found myself in.
I fear God.  I have tried to do what He has asked, even when it seemed absurd, while everyone around me questioned what I was doing.  I have tried to be faithful and trust in His provision as we started this process with about $1000 in savings, but needing about $40,000.  God has reaffirmed our journey time, and time again.  I have, even during moments when I questioned my ability to take on two more children with many needs, tried with all my might to be an obedient servant.  Maybe I had proven to God that I feared him, that I listen, that I believe.  Maybe he was letting me off the hook.  Maybe our journey here was done, ended not by me, but by outside forces.  I didn’t have to continue to endure the emotional, physical, financial sacrifice anymore.  I passed the test. 
I became rather confident in this application of the Word to my life, and, as Wednesday approached, started to be rather ambivalent about the outcome of the Skype session.  If they showed and changed their minds, all right we move forward.  If not, I’m tapping out.  God said I could.  I figured I’d climbed the proverbial mountain and shown I was ready and willing, and God had given me permission to hang it up if it just got too hard—impossible, really.
My alarm disturbed me from a restless sleep at 5am on Wednesday morning.  I hurried to get dressed and do the tasks of the morning so we could all be dressed and waiting promptly at 6am for the Skype call.  6am came and went.  Our NGO was on the line and ready to help interpret, but there was no cooperation from the boys.  All right, I’m listening, God, I’m about to just let this all go.  6:11am a call comes.  While the computer processed the image from the other side of the world, my eyes raced to see who would be present on the other side.  Only one child, the younger child, was present.  I did a Grammy-award-worthy acting job pretending to be thrilled by his presence and his alone, but as Jesus taught, the sheppard goes after the lost sheep. 
Where was my other son?   After about 20 minutes into the Skype session, I started praying for God to please place it on his heart to join our session, to at least listen, to at least see that we showed up.  I asked God to soften his heart, to take down some of his hard-earned armor, and allow us a chance to see one another one final time. 
Then another image came into view on the screen—my oldest son.  He reluctantly sat down, but it was clear as soon as I saw his face and he saw mine, the tides had shifted.  The rest of the call was simultaneously horrible and beautiful, joyful and tragic, painful and therapeutic.  Unbeknownst to me, because I was so focused on the Skype session, prior to his appearance that morning, my oldest son wrote me a lengthy message asking for forgiveness, reconsideration, and stated his unwavering commitment to following through with the rest of the process.
On the way to work that morning, I heard clearly the words in my mind, “you haven’t built the alter yet.” 
When I got to work, I saw his message, time stamped 6:28am, while I was deep in prayer for him.
You see, I’d only climbed the mountain for these boys; I had not truly shown God my willingness to sacrifice for the good of another or to fulfill His command.  I had put a limit on my own suffering out of fear that God might not provide the strength necessary to continue to the journey without certainty of commitment.  I put a limit on my empathy in an effort to protect myself emotionally, not trusting that, if it is truly God’s Will, it WILL be done.
Day by day I building the alter, wondering if I will be blocked again or if birth mother will convince him through shaming that he is unworthy of another family, bound eternally to the one who did not provide for him.  She has rights to contact him whenever she wants, I do not.  I am not his mother.  I can’t be his mother until he tells a judge that he wants me to be.
I am on day 8 of building the alter, trusting that a strength greater than my own will help our whole family get through these uncertain and difficult times together.  So far, his commitment has not waivered, it has not waned, and it is stronger than ever.  Communication is initiated from him daily, and he has resumed calling me mom (a title I would never demand from him).  Tomorrow we Skype again, and, although I have nagging doubts that linger, I’m pretty sure I’ll see both of my sons tomorrow morning and that, very soon, they will legally become my sons.
Build the alter, friends. 
Then shout from the mountaintop the glory of God’s work in your life.  This was probably the hardest thing I’ve ever written.  It is laced with embarrassment, shame, guilt, and fear.  It is raw and honest.  Now you know the truth.  I am sharing this truth publicly, however, as a testament to my dedication to building this alter and to my everlasting faith that once that alter is built, a horrible sacrifice will not occur.  Instead, God’s beauty, promises, and blessings will be made clear to our family of six.  It will not be easy, but blessings often aren’t. 
I am strong enough to build this alter, because my God provides the strength, the tools, and the endurance to do it with faithful hands.
This artwork is a reproduction of a public domain work. :)

Posted on May 10th, 2017

​An Open Letter to My Children’s Birth Mother:
This weekend in America it is Mother’s Day.  It seems appropriate that I write to you near this holiday, because I know that if you had a Mother’s Day in Bulgaria (I’m not sure if you do or not), you’d probably dread the holiday as much as I do.  So, at least we have that in common.
I have never met you, I probably never will.  But, it is important for me to let you know how I truly feel.  I often wonder what you think about me—I do have some ideas based on things I’ve been told—but I want you to know who I actually am, and what my feelings about our circumstances really are.
Let me start with statements of gratitude.  Thank you for giving birth to four beautiful, amazing, intelligent, sensitive children.  Thank you for carrying them each in your womb for 9 long months.  I have no knowledge of what it feels like to be pregnant or give birth, but I am grateful that you endured childbirth, probably with a great lack of medical oversight, each time.  I respect you for the pain you endured physically through labor and childbirth.  Your children are all amazing, beautiful, funny, resilient, strong, and morally grounded. 
Thank you for the times that you protected them when they were in harms way.  I know you were in a situation in which you really felt you had no control.  Your culture is different from mine. Your experience as a minority in a country where your ethnicity makes you a target for extreme persecution and discrimination left you with few options.  You lived in extreme poverty without any resources.  You are not an equal to your husband.  You, as his inferior, were expected to sit idly by while you watched things I’m certain you wanted to put a stop to.  Thank you for shielding my daughter's tiny bodies with your flowing dresses, allowing the fabric to swirl around them and to offer at least a thin layer of protection.  Thank you for your bravery and for doing all you could to help them.  I know it could not have been easy for you.  I cannot begin to imagine your feelings during the times they were removed from your home-- ultimately forever. 
Thank you for allowing me the absolute honor and privilege of raising your children.  I promise I will do everything in my power to make sure they have a happy, successful, and prosperous life.  They are my priority, my commitment, and my world in a way I never knew as possible.  They have changed my life, my perspective, my empathy, my tolerance, my world-view, my everything.  Through recreating a new family with them, they have caused a rebirth inside of me.
Someone once told me that you said that I could never be a real mother to your children, that only you, who bore them as your flesh and blood, could hold the title of mother.  And, that for a child to change their name and live with another family would be the ultimate disgrace to you and your family name.  I want you to know that I understand why you might feel anger, resentment, and rage towards me.  I also want you to know that I understand my place in my children’s lives.  I will never be their birth mother, and I am okay with that.  I can never replace you.  It isn’t a goal of mine, never has been. It is not a competition; I do not wish to erase the very few positive memories my children have from Bulgaria—most of them are about you.  I am not jealous when they talk about how nice and beautiful you were.  I smile and laugh with them as they share memories, because my goal in life is to see my children happy.
But, I see things from all sides, too.  I see that the circumstances you found yourself in did not allow for you to provide basic needs to these children.  I don’t know all of the reasons, and I don’t need to know.  Sometimes my children describe why, but they always speak of you with deep reverence and respect.  I share that with them.  I do not speak negatively about you, your choices, your circumstances, nor do I judge the situation for anything other than it has lead us to this point where I now have a privilege to step in and help.  
I have heard many people say despicable things about you, making snap judgments about a situation they don’t really understand, but I always defend you.  I always remind people that we cannot fully understand the decisions of others because we do not know the circumstances that lead the person to those decisions.  I always speak of you with respect, and defend every choice you made—good or bad.  Without you, I wouldn’t have the family I have.  I will always defend you and respect you because of this fact alone.
Mother’s Day has always been hard for me since engaging in this adoption journey.  The year we were waiting on our daughter’s adoption to be finalized, it was agonizing.  Last year, they’d been home just a little over a month and had just been ripped away from their brothers.  I was still not to be trusted.  We didn’t do much, in fact, I’m pretty sure the day ended in an argument and slammed doors.
This year, we’ve come a long way as mother and daughters.  I know I will probably get some gifts, I know for sure I will get hand-crafted cards from my girls that I can add to the thousands they have made for me this year.   We might go out to eat or my husband might make me a special meal.  Who knows?  It doesn’t really matter.  What matters is, over the last year, my children have come under my leadership, are learning what it means to be a part of a functional family, and are now willing to share their true feelings about me and the role I play in their lives.
My daughters do call me mom, and your sons want to as well.  And, that’s all I need for right now for Mother's Day.  That is the greatest gift.  You see, I’m pretty open minded as far as people go, and I believe that a child can have respect, love, compassion and understanding for a birth mother while also participating actively in a family that is able to provide the love, resources, nurture, and support that they need.
But, I also dread and grieve this holiday because I am aware that ALL adoptions come from a point of loss.  In our case, all four of our adoptions will be a direct loss to you.  I need for you to know that I know that.  I need for you to understand that everything I have done in this journey has been to help your children prosper, not to hurt you.  I will never speak a negative word against you.  I will let them form their own thoughts about their family life before they came to America-- they are entitled to do this without influence from me.  It isn’t a competition.  It isn’t about disgracing a family name.  It isn’t about dishonoring your flesh and blood.  It’s simply about the love of a child.  
And I desperately need for you to know the love that I have for your children runs as deep as if they were my flesh and blood.  There is nothing on this earth I would not do for them.  Believe me, my commitment has been put to the test multiple times.  I will never, ever give up on them.  My devotion and commitment is endless, and will always be centered around what is in their best interests.  I did, and am doing, what I feel is right.  Every decision is to improve their quality of life.  

I hope they make you proud.  I hope one day I do get to meet you, to touch you, to see where their beautiful features came from.  I hope that they get to see you and show you the amazing men and women they will become under the right care and leadership.  A group home is not a place for a child to languish.  All children deserve a family to help them attain their potential, and the potential I see in each of your children is endless.
It is God’s greatest gift, but also the heaviest responsibility of my life to parent your children.  I need for you to know I take it seriously.  Really seriously.  And I give you my word that I always will.
I wish God’s blessings upon you, that you may find peace, comfort, and joy in this life.  It is my greatest desire that the pain of this loss may one day be lessened for you.
Lastly, I am connected to you forever.  I view you as a part of my family.  I care for you, I pray for you, and think of you often.
On my right ring finger I wear a ring, it is a triangle with a heart around it.  It is the accepted international symbol for adoption.  The three points of the triangle represent: the birth parents, the adoptive parents, and the child(ren).  The heart signifies the love that all must share for each other.  I wear this ring not just as a trendy symbol of being an adoptive parent.  I wear it because I believe it, and I try to live it every day.
With greatest love, sincerity, and respect.
The “Adoptive” Mom

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