Saturday, January 19, 2019

Top 10 of 2018

As I sat down to gather pictures for my annual "Top 10ish" post, I intended to grab about 10 pictures. Ten-ish. I ended up with 48. This is what usually happens, but this year I just couldn't narrow it down any more. I couldn't get rid of over 30 pictures to just give you 10.

With that in mind, we're doing something a little different this year. We're changing it up. Instead of giving you the Top 10ish PHOTOS of 2018, I present to you:

The Top 10ish ADVENTURES of 2018. 

1. EXPANDING OUR COMMUNITY
This year, we did so much with others and alongside others. As our kids grow and mature, this becomes not easier, but more doable. 



SO many of our favorite adventures of 2018 include people that don't live within our four walls. But EVERY adventure includes all five of us. 

This has been the year of understanding our well-oiled machine is constantly changing and growing, and how do we adapt ourselves to all those moving parts? How do we set ourselves up for success, so we (and our kids) can kill it every single time?


Adventuring with friends and family might look like 5 sun kissed kids on a boat, or it might look like homemade pizza night with popcorn and a movie, or maybe a campfire out back after the kids go to bed.

Whatever it looks like, I want to continue growing together with those around me.

2. SIBLING LOVE

Watching our three kids learn how to uniquely love each other has been the most unexpected adventure of the year. I've been taking notes and learning from the little redheaded one. The blondie has a lot to teach me, too. Oh, and the Ukrainian. His love for others usually stops me dead in my tracks.


It's not all sunshine and rainbows. We'll forever be working out the kinks as we understand more about ourselves and others. But seeing these three show love in the hardest moments makes my mommy heart so proud.




3. SEASONS ENDING

At this very moment, our baby is just a few months shy of his second birthday. We've officially left the baby stage behind. All the baby gear has been sold or given away.


One part of babyhood that I really enjoyed was wrapping/carrying my babies. I've got one ring sling still hanging in the closet, maybe for a rainy day when I have a sick kid that needs snuggling. Soon that will be gone, too. 

Oh...and that other thing. That thing that has rails and is white and has teethmarks etched on the wood...you know that thing. That thing that all three of my babies have slept in for the past 7 years. What's that called? 

Oh, right. The crib. Soon, very soon, that will be gone too. I'm already preparing myself for that goodbye.



I might sound sad, and maybe I am a little bit. I'm a sentimental person. But really, I'm happy to be done with the 'having babies' stage and I'm really excited to be in the 'raising kids' stage. 

There are so many good things ahead. 

4. NEW THINGS

See? There are good things ahead. I'm seeing them already. This little lady was doodling away in her notebook as I prepped dinner one day. "Mom! COME HERE!!! I think I just drawed my name!!".

Sure enough.


It's a funny thing, having an oldest child with special needs. Everything we've ever tried to teach Carter (consciously) has been taught, taught, tested, planned, taught, drilled, taught, tested, re-planned, drilled, drilled, and drilled some more. Then, maybe - just maybe, he's been able to develop that specific skill. But this is a whole new world - because Macy just grabs on to new things and absorbs ideas and concepts and skills so quickly.

But then I stumble upon this picture from the spring and it reminds me of that one time, with very little prep or planning, we went on our first family bike ride. We fully expected Carter to HATE every second.

Looks like he enjoyed himself! What do we know?!


Yes, even Carter can learn new things and try something different without falling apart.

(Read more about our first bike ride HERE)

Macy is also willing to try new things with very little hesitation, as we learned at the Milwaukee Zoo this year. She made a new friend (Coach, the pony) and surprised us all as she saddled up with very little fear in her eyes.


Confident, bold kids - they just go all in.

5. DISCOVERING NEW, ENJOYING OLD

Twenty-eighteen may only have 4 months of warmth, but it was definitely the year of the beach. All three kids love the sand in their toes and the sun on their backs. We've got our old favorite beaches that we went back to week after week, but we also had fun trying new places.


I'd say we mastered our process for loading up the van (toys! towels! dry clothes/diaper!) and prepping dinner (burgers! chicken! jalapeƱo poppers! popsicles! chips & salsa or guac! plenty of drinks and napkins!) and sending out an all-call to whoever was available to join us. We'd beach it up until bedtime, and pull into the driveway just as eyes were getting heavy.

Summer perfection.





6. CARTER'S 2018 ADVENTURES

Life with Carter is one giant adventure that begins the moment he opens his eyes each morning until the moment he drifts off to sleep. Carter does not have an off button - he is always on, every second of the day. I'm learning that this is good for me - because I have no room to drift. I need to be on top of my game every moment.


I've heard special needs moms say that they are always on 'high alert', and that special needs moms have the same amount of stress as those in active combat.

Sometimes it feels that way, but I'm learning it shouldn't. It doesn't have to. When I'm my best, Carter follows suit. I don't need to be on high alert when I'm engaged and feeling him.


The theme of Carter's year was probably growth. Physically, he is growing stronger and taller. 

But he's also grown in his ability to verbalize his thoughts and feelings, like when he tells us "Scares me".  Or share things like "I want Bananas AND strawberries snack" instead of just saying "want bananas". 

We've seen tons of growth in his independence - this guy can get his own milk (grab cup from cupboard, take off top, get milk, unscrew cap, pour into cup, wipe up the overflow, put away milk...look at all those steps!), he can be mostly independent in the bathroom (mom still needs to pop in to be sure he's on task!), he can help with household chores (and actually be helpful), when we say "go get dressed" he can go to his closet and grab clothes (mickey mouse jammie pants are a fave!) and put them on. 

Even now as I sit and write this out, I'm realizing this guy can do so much more than he could last year. 


7. MACY'S 2018 ADVENTURES

Sister extraordinaire, Macy loves to serve. It seems like she's constantly thinking of new ways to serve, and if there's not a need right now, she will create one. This is something we're working on :)


For me, 2018 was the year of allowing Macy to embrace her quirks. She's got a few of them and I don't ever want to squelch them or make her feel like the things she likes are wrong or weird.

Be weird, little one. Just go all in.


7. SILAS'S 2018 ADVENTURES

Little man used 2018 to ditch baby life and he dove in head first to big boy life. It looks good on him, I think. Blonde hair, blue eyes, face just like his daddy.


And although he LOOKS like his daddy, his favorite person is mommy. Sometimes I feel over-touched by 9am and I wonder why the baby of the family is so dang mom-crazy. If I'm in the room, he's next to me. If I'm making dinner, he's either on the counter, in a chair, or on my hip. And if he's not helping me make dinner, he's standing on the floor crying.

We've realized that he wants to be where the music is, and the music usually follows me. He's great at bringing the noise - it's up to us to adjust and turn that noise into music.

I'm learning :)


I think if Silas could share his biggest adventures from 2018, they'd be:
1) Using a kitchen appliance (food processor, juicer, and blender are all great options).
2) Eating a snack (basically anything that anyone else has will do).
3) Grabbing things I shouldn't have (someones phone, remote control, electric meat thermometer) and waiting for mom to see me, and then running away as fast as I can as soon as she notices.

Tender little guy, with so many big feels. Someday he'll change the world.


8. EATING FOR NOURISHMENT

What an adventure this has been. Food was my number one source of comfort for as long as I can remember. We've all shifted our thinking and we now see food as nourishment. What I eat should help my body, NOT hurt my body.

Guess what? It still tastes amazing. But it definitely takes more planning and prep work on my part. I spend a lot of time in the kitchen, and a lot of time planning how I'll spend my time in the kitchen.


This lifestyle change was not an easy one, and it's changed and evolved over time. But I've discovered that feeding my family nutritious food is a passion of mine and I've enjoyed this journey so much.


9. ENJOYING DISCOMFORT

While this has been an overarching theme for 2018, I'd say this one event is a great visual of what it looks like to enjoy discomfort. In the fall, Jake completed his first 5k. He finished 5th in his age group, and beat his personal best by over 2 minutes.


A large group of family and friends came to cheer him on and show their support, and we all enjoyed this super fun, super exciting day.

But what nobody else saw was the sacrifice of time and energy to get to this point.


Jake spent almost every-other night running for months. In the cold, he'd run. In the rain, he'd run. In the heat, he'd run. In the humidity, he'd run. I don't think he particularly enjoyed the act of running. He'd be sore and winded and dripping with sweat each time he'd walk in the door. It definitely didn't look like he was having fun.


Oh, and me! I sacrificed too! Because often when he was out running, I was home prepping dinner or giving baths or putting kids in bed.

He didn't get here by accident. But I believe crossing the finish line with his family and friends screaming for him might have made it all worth it. And then ringing the personal record bell, well, I think that put him over the top.

Jake started running as a way to connect with Carter, because Carter loves to run.

Below might be the best photo of 2018.

On the left - Jake and I in Ukraine, fall of 2011. Jake was the heaviest he'd ever been (as best we can remember).

And on the right - Jake and Carter ringing the personal record bell, over 150 pounds lighter.

This didn't happen on accident. Such an uncomfortable year.

9. LET LOVE GROW

I'm not going to say much about this adventure, because I've said so many words about it already. This is an adventure I never saw coming, but I can't imagine not experiencing.


To read this four-part series, start HERE.

10. GROW-AWAYS

This year, Jake and I finally understood the value of going away together without our three little treasures. But we don't want to just go away, we want to grow-away. We're not interested in just vegging out or checking out. We want to invest in each other and in our marriage.

Sometimes grow-aways are uncomfortable. Actually, the BEST grow-aways are uncomfortable.


Sometimes we go away for a whole weekend! Other times it's just a dinner date. This year we've got a week-long grow-away planned! But this is important for us AND our kids.

((So there are 11 adventures. Remember, I did say ten-ISH.))

Last but not least....

11. HERE'S TO THE HELPERS

In order for us to get out of the house without kids, someone needs to be here watching our kids! We've got so many people who love us in this way. Many people ask us if we realize how lucky we are.

YES! Yes we do.


And it's not just family who watch our kids so we can go on dates or weekends away. It's so much more. These people love our kids so well, they use their vacation days to spend extra time with them. They understand what our kids like and join them in it.


They get on the floor and play the same game over and over again, even though their knees creak and they question whether they'll be able to get back up. They unload dishwashers, put away laundry, bring over hot meals, and send fun mail to the kids.


All the stuff they do for us is nice. SO nice. But the best part about all of this is our kids are surrounded by so much love. Our kids are so loved by so many people, and I believe they feel it.

These kids have grandparents coming out of their ears, and I can't think of a better way to spend a childhood.



That was our year, in a (large and wordy) nutshell.

Twenty-eighteen. The year of discomfort, growth, and community. The year of doing things that I didn't really feeeeeel like doing, but then looking back and thinking "I'm SO GLAD I did that!!".

Here's to 2019 - I see so many good things ahead. I'm going all in.





Thursday, November 01, 2018

PART 4: Let Love Grow

*This is PART 4 in a four-part series. To read PARTS 1, 2 or 3, click below.*

PART 1: The Gift of Adoption
PART 2: Jump Towards Hope
PART 3: Slow The Crap Down

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LET LOVE GROW

This is the part of the story where I look back and say THANK GOD I decided to jump. Thank God I didn't dig my heels in for more than 5 minutes. Thank God I have people in my life who helped me slow down.

And then I decided to dig my heels in.

We all messaged back and forth over the next month or so. This was safe and easy and comfortable. And, I did the hard thing! So, yay for me! Now I can just sit here and be comfortable.

In a message dated SOMETIME IN MAY, my pesky baby brother said "I'm just going to say what we're all thinking. When can we meet up?". I can't actually find this message, but I'm convinced it exists.

Well, crap. I'm faced with another choice - sit or jump.

Jake could tell that I was feeling stuck. I remember him asking me what I envisioned for our reunion. Because I couldn't say "I want it exactly like all the fairytale stories on that 'My Adoption Story' show!!" I just told him I wanted nice weather so we could sit outside.

Uhh, okay...?!

I just happened to have another coffee date with Betty, in which she asked me "What are you waiting for...?" with a blank look on her face.

Well, ideally I'd be waiting for my life to be exactly as I want it so I can just add this new birth family in without hiccup or flaw. So.....

....yeah, that's not going to work.

Let's jump.

++++++++

Later that week I messaged my brother and birth mom. It was the end of May, and I gave them all the Saturday's we were available throughout the whole summer. I thought they'd definitely pick a weekend near the end of summer. Moments later I got a message from Matthew.

"How about this Saturday?!"

 Well, crap. That's not much time to get my whole life together.

"The weather is supposed to be nice, though!" said Jake. Hardy-har-har.

Whatever. This is me. This is us. This is our life. I can't think of any aspect of our life that fits into a neat little mold. The concept of 'family' is no exception.

"Okay, I've got a sitter for the kids. I'll see you Saturday."

What in the name of all that's good is going on.

The next several days, I had many opportunities to practice slowing down and being in the moment. I remember thinking that what I was about to do was not just for me, but also for my kids. It's their story, too. As Saturday got closer, my nervousness faded into excitement.

Being 'excited' doesn't come naturally for me. But I believe Jake helped me prepare for this day and truly enjoy the moment. This day is about me. I can live this day and be completely selfish.

I remember thinking that not everyone will understand what's going to happen on Saturday. Maybe there are people who won't like it. There may even be people who feel bad about Saturday. And that's okay. I can't control how people feel. I don't want to even attempt to control how people feel. I want this chapter of my book to be about giving up control, which means others might feel uncomfortable.

Because I care deeply, I wrote a letter to my mom, explaining that I was incredibly grateful for her and all the ways she loved me. I wanted to do everything in my power to be clear: my birth family will never replace her. I'm so thankful that she understands this, and has supported me on this journey.

Saturday came, and we shipped the kids off to different sitters, and then waited. The tension built and we talked about all the ways this reunion could turn out. Remember when I said that this AncestryDNA kit might change the rest of the book? This is the day that I realized my that the plot of my life had taken a course much different than I expected. The book would end differently than I thought it would.

And I had never been more okay with that in my life.

At this point, we're basically strangers. We have this connection with each other that nobody else has, but we know almost nothing about each other. So I expected awkward. I expected lulls in the conversation. I expected lots of questions being asked and answered.

But what I didn't expect was an instant connection that I can only describe as an unconscious. I was immediately settled. I knew her. There was some awkwardness, yes. But the awkwardness was that it wasn't awkward. The lulls in conversation were because we were all so at ease. The questions and answers were love.

Also, it was beautiful weather, but we didn't sit outside. And it didn't even matter one tiny bit.

My brother said it well, when he said "Meeting up today was the last thing I wanted to do, but I did it because I want to get to what's next."

Yep. I totally get it. Let's get on with life. Together.


Was the meeting like "My Adoption Story"? YES. Actually, it was better. We talked, we looked through photo albums, we went to get lunch (where Matthew and I awkwardly discovered that we're both obsessive about our food not touching) and planned to meet up again a few weeks later for Matthew's birthday.

I don't have a single photo from that birthday gathering, possibly because our three kids were running around, busy with excitement. During this second visit we also got to meet my brothers amazing girlfriend, Morgan. To say I like her would be an understatement.

During our visit, Macy asked me "What's HER name?" as she pointed to my birth mom.

Well, Macy, that's a good question. Just calling her "Lisa" didn't seem right.

"Macy, how about Grandma Lisa?"

"Yeah! Gramma Weesa, can you walk in the forest with me?"

"Gramma Weesa! Watch me on the swing!"

And also..."Uncle Maffew, see me runnin'?"

This is jumping and flailing and flying freely.

++++++++

A few weeks later, I got a voicemail from my brother. He said that my birth dad (if you're confused, this is also Matthew's dad) wanted to see me. So in August we drove to my brothers house just south of us and reunited.

It was another instant connection. He has so many similarities to my dad. His mannerisms, his personality, his facade.


He shared a photo on Facebook afterwards, and what he expressed hit me so deep. He said "33 years ago I kissed my beautiful daughter goodbye, today I got to kiss her hello." I think it reminded me that these have been full-circle moments not just for me, but for them as well.

I imagine that as much as I've wondered about them, they've wondered about me. I always wanted to believe that, but maybe I never allowed myself to really go there.

And here's where I realize that my book didn't start on the day I was adopted. My book started long before that, and the first few chapters were a mystery to me until this year.

When we left that get-together in August, just as we always do, we talked about the next time we'd all be together. My birthday was 6 weeks away, and I said that I'd be BEYOND thrilled if everyone would come to our house for my birthday.

Everyone?! Like, everyone??

Everyone.

I knew this would be outside of what was comfortable. I knew it had the potential to be epically awkward (I strongly dislike the word 'epic', but I think this is one time that it fits). I knew that some people may want to say 'no thanks' and I was okay with that.

But instead of "no thanks" everyone said "I'll be there!".

Everyone.

So for my 34th birthday, all the people who helped get me to this place gathered together. All the people who love me, love our kids, and allow us to love them. Under one roof. To celebrate me.

The only people missing were my two dads. I believe that both would have been here with bells on, if they could have.


This whole journey has been weird. I've used that word a lot over the past year as I'm telling this very story. Because right now I don't know what other word to use.

This thing that I thought only happened to 'other people' has now happened to me. I have felt as though I'm the center of a story that is in the process of being written. I'm the main character, but I'm also the writer. I get to decide where I go and how I handle things.

This life really is up to me. I'm responsible for myself. My thought process is my responsibility. If I'm scared and reluctant and timid and hesitant because - WHAT IF - then it's nobody's fault but my own. I believe that I could have sat on this, and that would have been okay. Jake would have eventually piped down about it, and I'd be going on with my comfortable, safe life.

It's my story, so nobody could have told me I was wrong.

But then I see this, and I know it's so right.


Because of these women, I'm here. They've each contributed to who I am in their own unique ways, and I love each of them uniquely.

I don't believe they are competing against each other or battling each other. I believe they're each confident in the uniqueness that they bring.


That sign behind us was something I picked up a few years ago from a 50% off sale at Hobby Lobby. But that's the title of this chapter. Let Love Grow.

This is what it looks like to let love grow. I wanted to squelch it. I wanted to dig it up.

THANK GOD I just let it grow.

++++++++

There are more women who aren't in the picture above - some related to me by blood, some related to me by love. All these women who love me, and allow me to love them. Sometimes I just can't believe how good this story is turning out. And other times, I'm the one person who stands in the way of anything good happening. I sabotage my own story. I show up as the villain and make a mess of everything.

Let this be a reminder for myself. This is what happens when I get out of the way and let love grow.

And the woman in the story who jumps freely into the hard and scary thing?


It's her. She's the one who taught me to run and jump and flail and do it with wild abandon.

When we were adopting Carter I referenced a quote frequently from Mary Oliver. She said "Tell me, what do you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?". What I planned to do 7 years ago is much different than my plans of today.

Today, my plan starts with giving up control so that I can jump and fly. This is not the easiest thing I've ever done, and I'm still learning. I've got so much to learn.

To everyone who has invested in me, I thank you. I owe many people, and I believe the best way to pay them back is to use what they've given to me and make more with it.

I want the end of my book to be all about making more by loving and being loved by others.

Closing this chapter a little sadly, as it was such an amazing one in which things happened swiftly and good things kept coming. I believe this is one chapter I'll look back on frequently and think "Man, those were good times."

But I also believe that good times are ahead. Doing life together sounds so good.

Life together, for everyone.

Everyone?! 

Everyone.




Wednesday, October 31, 2018

PART 3: Slow The Crap Down

*This is PART 3 in a four-part series. To read PART 1 & 2, click below.*

PART 1: The Gift of Adoption
PART 2: Jump Towards Hope

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SLOW THE CRAP DOWN

"I think we should send a Facebook message to the three kids, and their mom (my match)."

At this point, we didn't know which grown kid was my birth parent. We didn't know much of anything, really. For all I knew, my life could have been a huge secret that the other siblings knew nothing about. Maybe I was a secret from my birth parent's new family. Maybe I was a secret they had spent the last 34 years trying to forget about. We tried to keep this in mind as we put together our Facebook message.

"Hello! My name is Ashley. I was born September 30, 1984 in W****. Shortly after my birth, I was adopted by a couple in O****. I have never known the identity of my biological family. The only thing I know from my adoption file is that one of my grandfathers was a pilot. I recently did an AncestryDNA test and it came back that I am a closely related match to Shirley. Thanks to social media, I've done a little digging and discovered all of you.

I'm wondering if you might be able to help provide me some answers to how Shirley, or any of you, might fit into my story! I've spent my life being incredibly grateful for the gift of life that was given to me by my birth parents, and I'd love the chance to share that with them. I know I am asking a lot, but would you be willing to help me connect some dots? Grateful for any info you might be able to share!"

Send.

This was just before heading to bed for the night, and I'm not sure how I was able to sleep. But sleep, I did. And when I woke up in the morning, I checked Facebook. OBVIOUSLY. But there was nothing there. In fact, nobody even saw my message.

"What if it's in their messenger junk folder that I always said never existed but now it seems totally logical to run forward on this as quick as I can?!?!"

Slow your roll, girl. Thanks, Jake.

I had a coffee date with Betty that day. My goal was to sit across the table from this dear friend and sip coffee, while she sips her hot water with lemon, and be all about her. I did this, and she did this for me as well. I shared tidbits of what had played out in the previous 24 hours, and she cried, cried, cried. It slowed me down even more, and helped me realize that this is something.

This is something, and I'll appreciate it more if I slow down and embrace it. All of it. The tension, the release, and every spot in between. Thanks, Betty.

When I got out to my car after our coffee date, I checked Facebook. OBVIOUSLY. This time, I could see that my post was seen by a few people in the group.

"Okay, good. Someone saw it and now I can rest in knowing that I did what I could. Now it's up to them to do more."

Just as I was about to call Jake, I saw that someone else was added to the group. Someone named Matt. I had no idea what this meant, but I saw it as a step in the right direction. Not only did they SEE my message, but they're doing something with it.

I decided to go home and be in the moment. This meant that I was going to do what was in front of me - not obsessively check for new messages.

Embracing it, and waiting. Waiting. Waiting. Waiting.

++++++++

As someone who writes about family, kids, life, there are many things I don't share. Not because I don't want to open them up to the world, but because when I do it feels cheapened. A penny gets tarnished by oxygen. I like to keep a few pennies really shiny. This is a penny that I'm going to keep under wraps.

It's for me, and for her.

Just before picking Carter up from school, I checked my messages. And there it was. The penny. A beautiful, tender, sentimental message from her. My birth mom. If I didn't know better, I would have thought that I, myself, wrote it. Her verbiage, her tone, her structure...it was me.

I'm not sure if it was 30 hours of tension, or 33 years of tension. But this was the release. It was everything I didn't know I wanted. It filled a little space that I didn't realize existed.

And the person she added to the group? My baby brother. My FULL baby brother, Matthew. If you're confused, this means that she and my birth dad stayed together, got married, and then had Matthew. She also told me that she was excited to share this news with my birth dad, and that he'd be thrilled.

She shared with me that she always kept her information updated with the agency, and also some adoption search websites. When I turned 30, she assumed that since I hadn't found her yet, I wasn't interested in reuniting. Yet, here I am.

This part of the story is called "Enjoying It". I remember feeling so incredibly settled. So many questions that I had throughout my life had been answered.

Okay, but hold on. There is one little piece of her response that I believe is worth sharing. Remember when I said that as a kid, I always fantasized about my birth family celebrating my birthday with cake? I knew I didn't want to even MENTION this to her, because I didn't want her to lie to me out of feeling obligated.

But.

One of the first things she shared with me is that every year, on my birthday, they had cake.


Cake for me.

The skeptic in me wondered if this was just something she felt like she should say. But it was confirmed moments later when I received my first message from my brother. In it, he said that every September they celebrated my birthday. He spent his whole life (as an only child) knowing that he had a sister 'out there somewhere'.

Over the next several days, I remember crying while I was scrambling eggs or folding laundry or reading my kids books. Macy would ask me "Mom, are you feelin' sad?".

No, Macy. I'm feeling happy. Really happy.

++++++++

{Come back tomorrow for PART 4}

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

PART 2: Jump Toward Hope

*This is PART 2 in a four-part series. To read PART 1 click below.*

PART 1: The Gift of Adoption

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JUMP TOWARDS HOPE

This is where the story turns from feelings of hope, to feelings of fear and nervousness.

At this point, the AncestryDNA 'match' could be nothing. But it could also be something. There was this feeling in the back of my head. What if they don't want to know me? What if their family doesn't know about me? What if they're upset I haven't reached out yet? What if they're psychotic?

And this is where the story turns from racing ahead to slowing down. I'm really thankful for the people in my life who slow me down. I have several people I can talk to that I know will slow my roll. During this part of the story - the part of nervousness and fear and anticipation - I talked to these people a lot.

++++++++

So I clicked on it. And it turns out, a 'close relative match' is NOT something AncestryDNA says to everyone as a marketing ploy. I really did have a close match, and the person who I was matched with used their real name for their AncestryDNA username.

"Let's search Facebook!" he said. And like a scared little girl, I dug my heels in.

Here I am, on the brink of something scary. I don't know how this is going to turn out. Whether this is something or nothing - it really doesn't matter. Who do I want to be? How do I want to live this out? How do I want Macy to handle scary situations, someday?

I know this really inspiring woman who consistently runs and jumps freely into the hard thing. She dives right in, confident in who she is and what she has to offer. She chooses discomfort often, and I've seen her grow before my very eyes.

That's what I want to do. I want to run and jump and flail, worried about nothing more than how the wind feels in my hair as I fly.

So this is what I did.

++++++++

"Okay, yes. Let's search Facebook."

Facebook is good for a couple things - one of those things is looking at pictures and making all kinds of assumed connections. In our case, it worked out okay, thankfully. But I wouldn't recommend it.

The person I was matched with on AncestryDNA shared a Facebook account with her husband, but had photos of her three grown kids. Two sons and a daughter. A few clicks, and we were scrolling through her son's Facebook photos.

One photo stood out to us.


The caption read: Scott and me in front of Dad's 1968 Mooney M20C "Ranger" airplane, circa 1975.

I know very little about my birth family at this point. But one piece of information that I DID have was that one of my grandfathers was a pilot.

At this point (after 5 minutes on Facebook) we believed that the person I was matched with on AncestryDNA was one of my grandmothers.

One of her three children was one of my birth parents.

I remember staring at the photo of these three grown kids of hers. Which one is it? Do I look like any of them? They look happy. Am I about to turn everything upside down?

A few hours ago, I believed that this AncestryDNA kit would just be a concise little sentence in my book. But, it's looking like it's actually its own chapter.

And it might even effect the rest of the book.

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Because we don't trust Facebook with the trajectory of our lives, we decided to do some extra detective work. Jake has connections with a local police department, and they did a quick workup on the person I was matched with on AncestryDNA. Her phone numbers were from the area I was born, and although she now lives in a different part of the country, it was pretty clear based on the other information provided that she WAS who AncestryDNA said she was.

Literally, about 8 hours had passed from the time I got the AncestryDNA email to the time we had confirmation of who my match was. Yesterday I was just walking along, minding my own business. Today, I'm on the edge of a cliff faced with a choice. Now that I have this information, I can sit on it and do nothing. That's an option. It might have been the comfortable option, because, WHAT IF?!?!

And then I think about that woman I know who runs and jumps. 'Sitting on it' is not running and jumping and flailing and laughing.

So I jumped.

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{Click here for PART 3}

Monday, October 29, 2018

PART 1: The Gift of Adoption

This past Christmas, I received a gift that changed my life.  I don't think I'm a dramatic person, or someone who exaggerates for the sake of the story.

When I say it changed my life, I mean it.

Because it's too much information (read: FEELINGS!) for one post, the next 4 blog posts will chronicle the past year of my life.

Here we go.

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THE GIFT OF ADOPTION

The past year, I've felt as though I'm the main character of a story. Different seasons of my life represent different chapters of this story. Some chapters, I'm very happy to close and move on to what's next. Other chapters, I want to linger in and read again & again. And then there are chapters that I hardly remember because I was too busy thinking what everyone else thought about the chapter, or wishing for the next chapter, or being annoyed by the other characters in the book.

This chapter in my book is such a good one.

I've been pretty open about the fact that I'm adopted. I was born in the southern part of our state, and have lived just an hour's drive north of there my whole life. I was raised as an only child and my parents always did an amazing job of teaching me that being adopted was a gift. I always viewed adoption as a very positive thing. I owe this completely to my parents.


They would tell me that my birth parents had such immense love for me that they made the hardest choice to allow me to be adopted. I grew up believing that adoption led me to the best life possible.

Later, when I met Jake, I believed this even more. I used to think "I could have missed all of this". I was just one decision away from having a completely different life.

I didn't know WHAT that different life would have been, because I knew almost nothing about my birth family. I heard that my birth parents really loved each other, and they had similar interests as my adoptive parents. I also heard that one of my grandfathers was a pilot.

That's it. That's all I knew. And for 33 years, I was okay with that.

I frequently thought about my birth family, and wondered where they lived or what their life was like. If I saw a woman in a store who had hair like mine, I wondered if it was my birth mom. If someone laughed like me across the restaurant, I wondered if we could be related. I wondered if they would have been proud of the person I was becoming. Sometimes I wondered if they were even alive.

On birthdays, I wondered if they celebrated my birthday. Maybe they felt bad on that day. Or, worse than that, maybe they didn't remember my birthday at all. But there was a part of me, all through my life, that wanted so badly to believe they had cake on my birthday.

As a little kid, this seemed very real to me. As an adult, it seemed absurd.


As much as I thought about them, I was okay not knowing them.

It was like MY book started on the day I was adopted. I knew that my birth parents both had books, but they weren't MY books. I thought maybe some day it would be cool to read their books, but the likelihood of that happening seemed slim.

Part of who I am is someone who doesn't want anyone to feel bad. So, looking back, I believe that I actually wanted to know my birth family, but not if it would lead anyone else to feel bad. Finding them was not really something I talked about to anyone. In fact, I think everyone assumed I DIDN'T want to find them.

In high school I binge-watched a show (before binge-watching was a thing!) called My Adoption Story on TLC. It followed the reunion story of adopted adults with their birth families. I thought it seemed like a fairytale that was great for everyone on the show, but I doubted a reunion would ever happen for me.

And I was okay with that. Sort of.

++++++++

A month or so prior to Christmas 2017, my Grandpa asked me if he could get me an AncestryDNA kit. We've talked before about how interesting it might be to know my ethnic background. He joked that maybe I'd even find my birth family.

I laughed, because those are the crazy things that happen to other people. But not to me.


Christmas came and went and my kit lived on the kitchen counter. It's not that I didn't want to do it, I just wasn't in a hurry. I thought I'd get to it, eventually. I guess I wasn't in a rush to find out that I'm just as German as I've always assumed.

There was also a tiny part of me that wondered if I was ready for this. Because what if this leads to something? What if this is the first step into an unknown journey? What if this opens a chapter that I won't want to read?

And then I would get frustrated with myself, because if this IS part of my reunion story, why do I feel so jittery about it? Why am I digging my heels in? Shouldn't I be excited?

Finally in February I spit in the little tube and sent it off to the lab. It was a long wait and after several weeks I forgot about it and went about life.

On the morning of April 9, I received an email from AncestryDNA. Oh yea, that's right! I've been waiting for this email. I had been preparing myself for nothing more than a few ethnic percentages, in an attempt to keep my expectations low.

"Ashley, the AncestryDNA results you've been waiting for are here. You're about to discover your ethnicity estimate, get a unique look at your family's journey through generations, and maybe even connect with long-lost relatives. We're so excited for you!"

At this point, if I'm being honest, there was a tiny spark of hope that maybe, maybe, maybe this was the start of something. I told Jake I got the email and we looked at my ethnicity together.

"Cool! I'm Danish! And Eastern European! And Irish! And German!"
"Yeah, what else? What else does it say?!?"
"It says I have a close relative match. It probably says that to everyone."
"Uhh...are you going to click on it?!"

This is where I'll let you in on a little secret.

At this moment in time, our lives were as close to perfection as they've ever been. Jake and I frequently talk about working together like a well-oiled machine. It takes a lot of cogs & gears to keep our life running. On this day, in this moment, during this chapter, everything was running together so smoothly.

It was almost too good.

This potential discovery brought up a lot of feelings for me that I didn't even know I had.

".....Well?!? Don't you want to see what it says?"
"I'm not sure right now." (Because this seemed better than telling him to let me isolate so I can run ahead in fear.)

I remember thinking a lot about the lyrics to this song.

"Now I am hidden
In the safety of Your love
I trust Your heart and Your intentions
Trust You completely
I'm listening intently
You'll guide me through these many shadows."

I didn't know for sure, but I believed I would have choices to make. This would be the first of many. To click or not to click?

That's not the question. The question is, do I trust Him?

++++++++

{Click here for PART 2}

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Look At Him Now - On Turning TEN!

Ten years ago today, somewhere in Kiev, Ukraine, this little man took his very first breath.


I wasn't there, but I believe in this first moments he felt love. His parents took him home, and I believe that for three whole months, Carter felt their love. When they decided, in September, to take him to the orphanage - I choose to believe they walked away from him in love.

I so wish they could see him today. Ten years old, and so proud of himself. I imagine they'd feel proud, too.

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Dear Carter,

I think Year Ten was our best year, yet. We definitely had our struggles.

But all good things are hard.


We learned so much this year about how to love you and understand you. You've been an excellent teacher. So patient with us as we move through this life so quickly. But you take us by the hand, look us in the eye, and remind us to slow down.

So slow down, we will.

Today is your day, and I think if you could plan a birthday party for yourself, it would be at a beach. There would be a dock to walk on, a boat to ride in, soft sand, and clean water. There would not be one single bug or dragonfly. I think there would be goats at your party, to smash your cake (because you tell us about goats smashing cakes a lot, I think this is a funny joke of yours). I think all the attendees would stomp like Frankenstein (another favorite thing of yours) and we would yell "SURPRISE!!!" and "COOOOOL!!" at seemingly random moments throughout the party. There would be lots of cake (no tummy-ache cake!) and pie. All your favorite people would be there, and we would beach it up until after bedtime.

When we love someone a whole lot, we embrace their uniqueness.
Sometimes this means we have a toilet paper & paper towel birthday cake!
This sounds like a recurring dream I have. But in the dream, you turn to me and grab my face in your hands and say, plain as day, "Mom, I love you and I love life. I'm happy. Thanks for giving me a chance."

And sometimes I feel sad that you haven't or won't or can't say those things to me. But then you take my hands, look me in the eye, and we slow down - and thats when I recognize that there was so much of that this year.

Maybe you didn't use your words to tell me, but you told me. Maybe it didn't come out as clearly as you wanted, but I hear you. I see you. I feel you.


You're happy. You're loved. You're an expert at bringing joy into every situation, when you're given the space to do so.

Here's to a year of more space to bring joy. More space to be you. Who you are is big and loud and ON-every-single-second. But it's you we want, buddy.

On this extra special 10th birthday, we take a second to appreciate you for who you are and the value that you bring. You're somethin' special, kid.


Car-car, Cartsy, Carter B, Carter Keeko (I don't even know), joy bringer extraordinaire. Happy Birthday! Gifts and cake and grandparent spoiling were all part of your day, but what you don't know is that you are the gift.

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We also wrapped up Third Grade this week. It's been an amazing school year with many successes. I purchased a copy of "Oh, The Places You'll Go" when Carter was in Early Childhood (over 6 school years ago!). Every year during the last week of school, I send the book in for the teachers to write notes to Carter. As I pulled the book out to send to school this year, I cried big tears reading all those words from that past 6 school years.

Almost every teacher's note declared the value that Carter brought to their life. I thought it was the other way around - THEY have all touched and changed our life. But instead, the overwhelming theme was that Carter touches. Carter teaches. Carter changes. Carter CAN.

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We're walking in to summer with our ten-year-old fourth grader - feeling like we can accomplish just about anything together.

If only they could see him now.


 We feel what you're feeling. We see what you're seeing.

"Cooooool!"







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