This Bittersweet Life. (An Adoption Update)

It’s New Year’s eve and I’m sitting here on my faux leather couch watching paint dry while my husband rolls the last coat of dark brown onto the accent walls in our living room. The color is “bittersweet chocolate” and I think about how fitting that is…how bitter and sweet this year and our lives have been.

I really wanted to get on here and write a glowing recap of the past year and then somehow bring it to a close on a high note of hope and euphoric happiness. I wanted to end it on a crescendo of excitement and possibility, but the truth is that is not where I am, and that’s not how it is this New Year’s.

It’s not that we didn’t have a good year.


It was actually pretty phenomenal in terms of opportunity and possibilities. I got to see more of the world and be in more music videos than I could’ve ever asked for. Our business flourished in spite of a setback earlier in the year and community became stronger than ever and I got involved in a women’s (empowerment) group that changed my life and we both felt a noticeable shift in what is possible when we just simply say ‘YES’ to the call and the nudges in our lives.

So of course we were hopeful when Denise came. Even though we knew it might only be temporary and we made sure to tell our children that, we couldn’t help but think of the possibilities and if perhaps she was ‘the one” we would adopt. We felt that we needed to be open to it even though she was older and even though on paper she wasn’t the perfect match for us.

We said yes anyway, and so she came.

She came as part of our agency’s hosting program which allows older adoptive children to be seen and possibly placed with their forever families and yet she came with so much more.

She came with her heart and her big personality and her Spanish music wide open and she waltzed right into our hearts the second she came. The first few days were amazing as we all got to know each other the best we could without speaking each other’s language. We mostly used hand gestures and laughed a lot. Within a week, it became very apparent that we were NOT in fact, fluent in Spanish, even though our daughter speaks and understands most of it, and so we relied mostly on hugs and meaningful touches.

Actually let me rephrase that, SHE relied on lots of hugs and meaningful touches, and eventually she’d stomp off dramatically when she didn’t get them. By the second week, pouting had become Denise’s primary method of communication, and huffing and sulking, her second.

This was all to be expected, and John and I were committed so we kept trying to understand and to give her what she needed. We tried so hard in fact, that our own kids started feeling overlooked and neglected.

Ariana, our oldest, started having unexplained bellyaches at school and wanting to come home because she “missed her family” even when she had finally gotten Denise to come with her and Emerson started screaming the second she walked through the door and they each began acting out in bizarre ways we had never seen before.

I started to wonder why I had done this and John started to inquire about the kids’s behavior and we all started to get tired.


Christmas came and went and it was crazy busy and crazy beautiful and we were exhausted by the end of it like we had never been exhausted before.

Don’t get me wrong, we had fun and we had a good time. But we were TIRED.

Then it came time to say goodbye and Denise started crying and I started crying and we all started crying.

She cried for 2 days straight before she left and I thought my heart was going to break. On one of the last days, she asked me for the second time if we were going to adopt her and I told her the same thing I had told her the first time. I told her we would pray and ask God “what He thinks is best…for her and for us.”

Both times, the words came through the translator like daggers to the heart, heavy and helpless and inadequate for the question it answered. There it hung, suspended like a lead balloon from a telephone wire…my answer to the lifelong question of a 10 year old orphan girl. There I was, weary and teary-eyed, holding the plea of her lifetime in my hands and all I wanted to do was say “YESS! of course we will!” All I could think about was her going back and growing up without a mother and phasing out of the system because someone like me did not come for her.

But we had decided that we would not make that decision until AFTER she leaves and after we had had a long honest talk with our daughter about it. She would, after all, be the one with the most changes and the most adjustments, going from the oldest child to the middle and we felt that we needed to be sensitive to that.

So I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t say the words I so badly wanted to say.

And so I held the crying child in my arms and let her sob in my chest for 2 days and then waved goodbye as she walked out the sidewalk to go back, and I prayed. I cried and prayed that somehow soon she would find her forever family and that somehow something we had done had made a difference and that it was enough.

It hadn’t even been 3 weeks and yet how I prayed it had been enough. How I prayed that perhaps now she knew what she was looking for and perhaps now she would recognize it when she sees it. Maybe now she would know without a doubt that she is loved by her eternal father, her true “forever family”, whatever that would look like.

Perhaps she would remember…how she had been loved by me and by us and how it’s 10 o’clock on a New Year’s eve and I’m sitting here on this faux-leather couch, thinking about her.

The chaos of the past month is over now and the house is quiet again. I read a few paragraphs from the book “Tiny Beautiful Things”. I read them out loud to the walls and John and whoever will listen and find comfort in them. I think about the “tiny beautiful things” that make up our lives and these moments…

How rich and sweet and bitter they are.

I think about the past few weeks and how some things end and are not meant to be forever, but how they are still worth it. How quickly things can change and how quickly you can fall in love with a 10 year old girl from Colombia and then spend the rest of your life and your holidays thinking about her.

It was her birthday yesterday. I wonder if she had a party with balloons and cake…and at least some of the things she wanted. I wonder if anyone was there to dry her tears and let her know all the things I couldn’t and that it’s ok.

It’s OK to love and to give until your heart hurts…to live and to laugh wide open, to enjoy the moments and to cry when they end… because we don’t really know the end, none of us knows the end.

We just know that God holds it and he holds us.

He is good and he is in all of it, the beginning and the end

and the bittersweet in between.

We will never forget you, Denise. Even though I couldn’t be your Mother and I couldn’t tell you what you so deeply wanted and needed to hear, you will always be in our hearts and you will always be the girl who taught us to love deeply with our hands open. All our love and prayers, your temporary forever family.


Since Denise’s leaving, we have had the long honest talks with our daughter and with friends and other adoptive parents, and we are sad to say that we will not be pursuing adoption with her at this time. However, we believe with all our hearts that she deserves and will find a loving home and a perfect match to her “forever family” soon. We regret that we can’t be that, but we know and believe that there is someone out there that can and we will now be her and their biggest advocates We will continue to hope and pray for Denise, that someday soon her family will come for her and that her story will have a happy ending. Will you hope and pray with us?


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