Be careful if you ask, "How are you?" anytime soon. With the hot mess of emotions I have going on, you're not going to get the simple, "I'm fine," and keep on walking sort of answer.

We got word yesterday that "Sam" will have a family coming for him soon, but it's not going to be us.

I'm sad, but it's a contented sort of sadness. The family who has accepted his referral is a wonderful one. We've already been in touch, and we'll continue to be so that Zoe will know her brother and her brother will know her. We'll be able to see him grow up, albeit through pictures and stories from his actual parents.

Yes, it stings that those parents won't be us.


We trusted God. We placed this in his hands. We prayed, hard. We asked him to choose what was best.

Meanwhile, another couple trusted God. They received a referral. They prayed, hard. They knew our love for this child, but they felt certain of their "yes" to both God and the child we called Sam.

Even though we didn't know he would be available for international adoption until months later, we've known about "Sam" since the week we was born. It's becoming clear that our role in his life was to pray for him daily until his parents knew about him and could begin to do so. They look forward to being able to tell him that he has been deeply loved, every single day of his life. I'm glad we could be part of that. Still sad, yes, but glad/sad.

No, this isn't the story I wanted to be writing, but it's not my story to write. It's God's.

When we announced the plans for this adoption, we ended the blog post with these words:

We know this is crazy, but I hope you’ll share in the joy of this story we never would have crafted on our own. We said our family was complete, but God didn’t agree. We know He writes the best stories, so we’re looking forward to what’s in store.

 And we're still looking forward to what's in store, even though it's different from what we wanted.

laying my Isaac on the altar, not knowing if I'll get to pick him back up

Over the past week, two stories have loomed large in my mind: the story of Abraham and Isaac at the mountain altar in Genesis 22 and the story of the two mothers fighting over one child in 1 Kings 3. In case you need a summary or refresher, I'll share the gist of each:

In Genesis 22*, God calls Abraham to take his long-awaited son to Mount Moriah for a sacrifice, except they had no ram or other animal to offer on the altar. That's because Isaac was meant to be the offering. I can't imagine Abraham's three day hike with his son and two servants, knowing what was to be asked of him at the end point. Then he and Isaac leave the servants behind as they go to the altar. Abraham lays the wood upon the altar, binds his son on top of it, and just before the sacrifice, God puts a stop to it. A ram is provided. Abraham gets to lift Isaac off the altar again.

In 1 Kings 3, two women are sleeping in a house with their newborns when one baby dies. The mother of the dead child switches the children, placing her dead baby in the sleeping mother's arms while taking the live baby back to bed as her own. The sleeping mother awakes and begins to mourn but then realizes the dead child isn't hers. The two women end up in Solomon's court, both demanding that the living child is hers. Given that DNA testing isn't a thing yet, Solomon has to judge which mother should raise the child. His solution? Cut the child in half and give part to each mother. One mother agrees to that plan, even though the baby will die, and the other offers to give the child away to prevent any harm. Solomon rightly determines that the mother is the one who was willing to give up the child rather than allow him to die. A real mother is one who seeks the best for her child, no matter what heartache it might bring to her.

If you've been following our story - see posts here and here - then you probably understand why I've camped out in these two scripture passages.

God has asked us to lay our adoption of "Sam" on altar before him. The beautiful difference, of course, is that no harm will come to Zoe's brother. Another family has been offered his referral or, in terms of this metaphor, the opportunity to pick his adoption up from that altar. If they say no, we will gladly lift our plans from the altar once more and continue to pursue being mom and dad to "Samuel." But for now, we have to leave it all at the altar, trusting God to do what he deems best.

God has asked us to care more about what's best for "Sam" than what we consider to be best for us. If the other family says yes to the adoption referral of Zoe's brother, that means we set aside our hurts to move forward with a relationship with them, so that the siblings can know each other. Yes, we want for them to grow up together in the same family. But, no, that decision isn't up to us right now. So rather than to allow our feelings to tear apart this little boy or tear at the adoption hopes of another couple, our bold answer has to be that of the first mother in 1 Kings 3:26:

Then the woman whose son was alive said to the king, because her heart yearned for her son, “Oh, my lord, give her the living child, and by no means put him to death.” But the other said, “He shall be neither mine nor yours; divide him.”

I will act as this sort of mother to "Sam," even if I never get to be his actual mother. If it is best for him - which is something only God knows - my prayer is "God, give them this baby boy." Being a parent means putting a child's best interests first, even when it breaks your heart. Perhaps that's what we'll be asked to do, to have fostered love for "Sam" in our hearts for months but then to submit to the adoption by another family. Or perhaps, like Hannah said of her Samuel in 1 Samuel 1:27, we might get to say, "I prayed for this child, and the LORD has granted me what I asked of him."

I don't know how this will play out.

I do know that I will trust God, no matter what.

And I am thankful that we will probably get to be part of Zoe's brother's life, even if we don't get to be his parents.


*Note on Genesis 22: I know two of my dear friends, both atheists, who point to this story as proof of a macabre god who isn't worthy of worship. I understand their stance. It is a hard story. But for me, it serves as a powerful object lesson. For starters, Abraham tells Isaac that God will provide the lamb, so maybe he trusted all along that God would spare Isaac. We don't know that for sure, though, from the story given in the Bible. If God had Abraham go through with it, sure, I might have difficulty trusting that God, if I'm completely honest. But as this story stands, nothing in it changes in my respect for a God who illustrates to us again and again that he is all we need! I'm not saying that because of blind obedience or "shoulds" - as in "I should believe..." or "pastors say I should..." or "I write about faith so I should..." but rather because I have been there. No, I've never been asked to lay a child on an altar for bodily sacrifice, but I have been called by him to lay my health, my marriage, my child's eyesight, this adoption, and more treasures at the foot of the cross... and in each of tose moments, I've found Christ alone to be sufficient. After all, God provided the ultimate sacrifice of his son on the cross, and this story of Genesis 22 - and my story of my own life - is but a shadow of that. I started this side note as an explanation for friends who aren't Christians, but I think I might be failing at that because I can only explain this through the lens of knowing and trusting a God who you don't know or consider to be real, if you're one of those friends. So suffice it to say: I know in the dark and in the depths and in the quiet and in the loud and in the hard and in the easy and in the doubts and in the tears and in the laughter that he is real to me, so I can't help but read and dissect this story with that perspective.

how are you holding up? and other questions

Many of you have asked questions about my last blog post, so...

How are you holding up?

Um, I'm not really sure how to honestly answer that question. I'm listening to a lot of Gungor and Laura Story's Blessings and similar songs in a playlist I made a titled "encouragement" long ago for such a time as this. I'm diving into the Psalms. I'm flipping through albums of memories from Zoe's adoption exactly three years ago and viewing each one as a stone of remembrance of what God has already done in and through our family and her first family. 

Oh, and I'm eating all the things. I like to eat my feelings, and none of them have been healthy this week. 

So if you're homestudy ready now, does this mean...?

No. Let's just stop right there.

For those of you who aren't familiar with the lingo, homestudy ready is an adjective used to describe an adoptive family who has been approved to adopt by a licensed social worker and who has the report - the homestudy - to prove it. That homestudy is used to evaluate a family's ability to be a safe, loving, and suitable adoptive match for a child in need. When prospective adoption situations arise, agencies and lawyers seek out homestudy ready families first, because having a homestudy is like putting your money where your mouth is - it means you aren't just talking the talk of adoption, but you're willing to walk the walk of being scrutinized and background checked and physically examined and having your children medically cleared and getting personal references and providing every imaginable financial detail and discussing any hard parts of your part and... well, let's just say it's a lot. 

(Note: I'm not complaining about that. It's a lot because it should be a lot. When a child loses his or her first family - by choice or abuse or death or disease or povertyor some other measure of brokenness - the next family to receive the child should be screened well so that the child doesn't have to experience any additional trauma. I'm all for homestudying the heck out of prospective adoptive parents. I'm just saying it can be a lot to open yourself up to, even with the best social worker.)

*Side note: poverty alone shouldn't be a reason for adoption because financial and social supports can and should be extended to try to allow the first family to parent the child. If that is truly attempted and doesn't work, then that means another reason is present in addition to poverty. But when poverty is the only problem, then the solution should be something else other than adoption.

When friends ask what's next for us if this adoption doesn't happen and we have a homestudy ready and we're already pre-approved for international adoption by US Citizenship and Immigration Services, they're asking if we're going to adopt a different child. The answer? No. Not unless God moves us in a way we're not expecting right now.

Adoptions fall through. We know that. But our family has never experienced an adoption failure before, and words can't describe this hurt. It's like having a miscarriage but the baby is fine, thank God, but you'll never get to hold and love and raise him like you expected so the loss and grief and sadness is still deep and profound. Loving someone else is always risky, and right now we're feeling too raw to even consider that sort of risk again.

We've said no before and had God turn it into a yes, so we'll see what happens this time. We weren't planning to adopt yet when my friend Georgeanna contacted us about Zoe and we weren't planning to adopt three at once or from Uganda at all until another friend shared a waiting sibling group with us, so we've learned to hold our "no" loosely. After all, we want to be faithful in all circumstances, not just the ones we choose. But for now, our hearts are with "Sam" and not ready to open up to any other children than him and the six God has already placed in our home.

How's Lee? How're the kids?

Lee is grieving hard too. From comments made to us in passing, we've realized some people assume I'm the driving force in our adoptions. That couldn't be more wrong. Lee and I are a team. I guess you could say he's the leader and I'm the mouthpiece. His heart is as 100% in this adoption as mine is.

We haven't told all of the kids yet. Some are too young to fully understand. The big girls do know, though. They say they won't be sad until they know for sure that he's going to be adopted by the other family. Patience says she's sure the other family is going to say no to the referral and then we're going to get to be Sam's family. I'd love for her to be right.

Do you think you might be able to adopt Sam after all?

I really don't know. I want to say yes. I want this to work out in the way we imagined. I want God's plan for this to match with ours. I want to be hopeful.

But hoping hurts right now.

So I'm not hoping. I am trusting:

that God is still God.

that God has a plan for us and for Sam and for their birth mother and for the family considering the referral and for you.

that God's plan is far superior than anything I could ever imagine.

that he loves me more than I will ever understand.

that beauty can still come out of brokenness.

None of this is in our hands right now, so we'll wait and trust as our homestudy and dossier sit ready in a drawer, just in case.

dingle, party of 8.

I'm not sure how to begin this post. I've only shared about this on friends-only FB statuses so far, so forgive me for the surprise for the rest of you. I didn't want to go public until I felt like the situation was more firm.

I don't think we'll be able to adopt the boy we've named Sam in our hearts.

Yes, he's Zoe's brother biologically. Yes, we were contacted to adopt him. Yes, we prayed over the opportunity and said yes. Yes, we've planned and sacrificed and been fingerprinted and background checked and scrutinized and spent some money toward that end. Yes, we have two or three boxes labeled "Sam" full of baby & toddler stuff in the attic. Yes, we love him and always will, no matter what.

But when I blogged about the possible adoption, I titled it "dingle, party of 9?" with the question mark on purpose. When we announced our news then, we shared:

Right now, we’re in the early stages, so there’s a possibility something could change. That said, we’re far enough in that we feel safe sharing with confidence that this process will end in Zoe and her brother growing up as siblings in our family. (In other words, if this were a pregnancy, we’d be entering the second trimester - not completely out of the woods for complications but far enough along that the odds of everything else going smoothly are pretty good.)

Well, something changed. It seems another family will get to hold and love and raise "Sam."

In Taiwan, large families aren't the norm, HIV is even more stigmatized than it is here, and people with special needs sometimes face discrimination. Don't get me wrong - I love Taiwan. I can't wait until the day we return, whether to visit or for this adoption if the tide turns back to us. But just as I love America while still acknowledging both flaws and cultural issues present here, I'm doing the same here for the island country branded on my heart.

The orphanage where "Sam" lives decided, based on our family size and special needs present in our home, to present Zoe's birth mother with a smaller family to consider and suggested that he would be better served by those prospective adoptive parents. She signed off on that. We have to respect that decision, even as it breaks our heart. It would be arrogantly hypocritical for us to advocate for foreign countries and first parents to have autonomy in adoption decisions and then rail against those principles when it doesn't work out for us like we'd like.

The referral for the child we hoped to adopt has been presented to a different family.

If they say no because of certain risk factors in his file, the referral might return to us. At this point, though, I have to assume they will say yes. Why? Well, I know we would say yes in a second and immediately pay the fees necessary for the adoption services. That money is waiting in an account at our bank, ready for that purpose. Given that we would say yes in a heartbeat, I can't imagine why they wouldn't do the same. We've shared our information with their agency and with the orphanage, in hopes that the siblings will have contact in the future even if they can't grow up as siblings.

Do I know what God is teaching us through this right now? No, to be honest, I really don't. But I know that he is good and perfect and that he loves us and Zoe and her brother and this other family more than I could ever feel or imagine, so we're trusting him to write the next page in each of our stories.

After all, God has gone above and beyond anything we could ever have hoped for our family so far, including the scenes below (captured by our friends at The Archibald Project) from three years ago when we met Zoe for the first time in Taiwan. So for now, we're settling in and striving for contentment as Dingle, party of 8.