In honor of World Adoption Day, I’m re-posting this piece called “Island Time” about the long, yet necessary, process of adopting our daughter Amelia.
“Time is dead as long as it is being clicked off by little wheels;
only when the clock stops does time come to life.” –William Faulkner
Our official wait for our daughter Amelia began on an island. The island of Great Chebeague, off the coast of Maine.
In the summer of 2006 we mailed our thick dossier to China. Then, just a few days later, we packed my parents—weary and wary—into their big ol’ Buick, strapped our bikes onto our Mini Cooper, and caravanned south from Chicago, through Indiana on Interstate 65. We cut across Kentucky, drove down into Tennessee, and eventually dropped Mom and Dad at my brother’s house in Knoxville for a three-week stay. The next morning Peter and I took a sharp left and headed northeast.
We needed this vacation. Badly.
We had barely begun to heal from infertility and our first two miscarriages and a few adoption disappointments. We had been sharing a home with my parents for almost a year, helping my mom through surgery and chemo and radiation. Making sure my dad was fed and bathed and cared for as best we could while Mom was sick. Peter had just finished his second master’s degree. And we were spent.
Certainly, we wanted to finally move ahead with our new adoption dream. Wanted to turn the page and look ahead and begin again. But somehow we felt stuck. We were each—still—bound up so tightly in our individual fear and anxiety and exhaustion and pain that like two mummies, side-by-side in our coffin of a car, we began that trip.
We were only thirty minutes from my brother’s house when we stopped for brunch at a little French-inspired café. And we lingered, trying to let the reality of our three-week respite soak in just a bit. Trying to peer through the tangled bandages that had for so long covered our eyes. Trying to see one another again. Trying to remember how to breathe.
Then—for the next few days we took our time—traveling up through the Appalachians and over to the coast. Meandering through the mountains. Riding often in silence with the windows down. Sometimes singing along to some CD. Occasionally venturing into cautious conversation. And with each twisty mile, God began to tug away at our canvas coverings. Little by little, we began to leave behind some of our layers of linen and come back to life.
Three long and leisurely days later, we finally pulled into Portland, Maine. For a few hours, we poked around the Old Port section of town until it was time to take our suitcases and our bikes and board the Casco Bay ferry for the island of Great Chebeague.
Almost two hundred islands pepper the Casco Bay off the coast of Portland, though only a handful of them are inhabited. Stretching almost five miles long and one-and-a-half miles wide, Great Chebeague is the largest. And with 360 year-round residents, she is also the most populated. She boasts one main road that rounds her perimeter, one museum, one elementary school house, one little library, one church, one basic market, one clam shack, one 9-hole golf course, and one grand hotel—The Chebeague Island Inn.
I discovered the island and the inn on the internet a couple of months before our trip.
One evening in May Peter and I had discussed again how and where to spend our time away. He wanted cheap and rustic and spontaneous; I wanted quaint and comfortable and relatively calculated. And after a particularly difficult disagreement, we had resorted to our too-often-practiced pattern for dealing with conflict: Peter retreated and went to bed while I took control and got the thing done. I stayed up very late, plotting and planning a vacation that I hoped would satisfy us both, and I surprised Peter the next morning with an apology and a folder full of printouts. Google maps. Campsites. Theater tickets. Random, “spontaneous” things to do all along the way. Hotel reservations. And—to seal the deal—some pictures of Chebeague. Thankfully, he was game.
The island itself certainly intrigued me. The ocean—on all sides. The solitude. The slow, slow pace.
But it was the inn that really captured my imagination. A Greek Revival hotel built in the 1920s, the Chebeague Island Inn was completely restored in 2004. And with her freshly whitewashed rooms (free from telephones or TVs), her stone fireplace, her broad porch, and her views of the sea, she seemed like the perfect place to purge our souls of some of our past pain. The perfect place to reconcile my heart to God’s. The perfect place to reclaim hope and rekindle our dreams. Of family and parenthood and the imminent arrival of our baby girl. Eighteen months, we had been told.
When we awoke on our first Chebeague morning, the sheer curtains were dancing in a cool island breeze and a heavy blanket of fog hid the sea from view. When we went down to the inn’s dining room for breakfast, we were surprised to find that—because I had made our reservations for the less-expensive middle of the week—we had the place largely to ourselves.
As we enjoyed our egg soufflé and perfectly presented fruit, and as we peered over the broad lawn through the milky air, Peter looked over at me and asked me how I was.
“Grateful,” I said. I had been up early that morning, journaling these prayers while Peter still slept, so I shared. “I’m grateful that we made it through this far. That our marriage is intact. I’m grateful for God’s grace. For the healing that has already begun. And I’m desperate to follow Him forward and see what He has for us next.”
After breakfast we decided to take our bikes and explore. So with map in hand, we peddled down North Road to the southern tip of the island and a place called Indian Point. The beach was deserted that morning, and the tide was out—which meant that a long, wide sandbar lay exposed—seemingly leading straight off the edge of the earth.
According to the map, at low tide, that sandbar connected Great Chebeague with her uninhabited tiny sister island, Little Chebeague. A tempting adventure. And in spite of the fact that we didn’t know the exact rhythm of the sea and didn’t know how far we had to go and didn’t know how much time we had to get there and couldn’t see our destination—we decided to take the risk and make the cross. And little by little, as we moved out away from shore, we were able to catch a glimpse of her through the fog. Fuzzy at first, but becoming clearer with each step. Little Chebeague.
We moved much more quickly on the walk back to Indian Point, the water creeping up the sand on either side. The salty air filling our lungs. I was thanking God for His goodness and for the gift of this trip, and I was praying—for continued healing for Peter and me, for our daughter who was not even born, for the courage and patience to continue to wait—when through the haze I noticed a family on the beach. The only other people we had seen all morning, apart from the staff at the inn. But there they were. A mother and a father and their little Chinese daughter.
She toddled around, that precious little girl, in her rolled up jeans and tiny bare feet, picking up stones and tossing them down. Squishing the sand and squealing with joy. Her mother followed her all around, all smiles and laughter, rescuing pebbles from tiny teeth. And her father captured it all with his camera. “Smile, baby,” he called over and over. “Smile!”
Peter saw them too, of course. And we looked at each other—dumbfounded and amazed. And that familiar pang of longing—which had for years sunk to my gut in the form of grief—now filled my chest with something fresh. Anticipation. And hope. What were the odds? That in this remote place, at this exact moment, we would receive such a clear vision of what could be. Of what was to come. A flash of light to spur us on. We sat on a driftwood log for a few minutes and tried to (subtly) take it all in.
At the end of our island week, we stood on the ferry’s deck for most of the ride back to the mainland, wanting to soak in every last bit of the Casco Bay. But it was another foggy day, and it was difficult to see. Eventually, though, our captain directed our attention a mile or so down the coast to the Portland Head Lighthouse. And sure enough, even before we could see the lighthouse herself, her beam was visible through the mist—rotating, pulsating, warning ships of the rocky coast, and guiding them home.
I didn’t know—when we left the island of Great Chebeague that day—that rather than eighteen-months, it would be six years before I would see that face.
Nor did I know how God would grow us through all of those things. How He would prepare me to love my daughter in ways I wouldn’t have known to love before.
I didn’t know that waiting sometimes feels like a fog. Other times the black of night. But that sometimes, just when we need it the most, a light breaks through to lead us on.
Darkness. Darkness. Darkness. Flash.
I didn’t know how much I would need that light or how many different sources God would use over the years. A timely sermon. Or a song on the radio. An adoption support group. A well-written blog. A life-giving conversation. And even an authentic Chinese New Year celebration with a family from church.
I didn’t know when we left Great Chebeague that God often works on island time. That what feels like a waiting room to us may seem like something else entirely to Him. Perhaps He sees a classroom or an operating room or a deeply sacred space. Perhaps where we see sterile walls and stiff sofas and endlessly ticking clocks, He may see a wide porch and wicker chairs and the perfect chance to chat.
“Waiting is an invitation to intimacy” –Jerome Daley
Peter came home from a doctoral class last night, and I read him the beginnings of this post.
“It’s the difference between Kairos and Chronos,” he said. “We talked about it today in class. They are two different Greek words for time.”
Chronos is what we think of as time. It’s the ticking clock. The ripping off of the calendar page. The need to rush to the next event.
But Kairos is something completely other. And Kairos is how God works. In due season. In the perfectly opportune moment. At the divinely-appointed time.
Oh, how I have missed writing here in recent weeks! For the month of October, our time has been focused on launching our new book (20 Things We’d Tell Our Twentysomething Selves) and our new website (www.peterandkelli.com). We’ve been interviewed on a variety of radio shows and written guest columns for various websites and blogs. I look forward to sharing more about this experience when the dust settles a bit.
But today. Today I’m thinking about adoption. November is National Adoption Awareness Month after all.
I started the day by listening to a precious student of mine give his informative speech about his own adoption from Kenya. And I’ve been walking around ever since with misty eyes–recalling our adoption journey and my own adoption as a child of the King.
I’ve written about adoption here several times before–but it’s been a while. So today I’m pulling this one out of the vault.
It’s not an easy one. It’s not about the joy on the other side. (I’ll re-share some of those writings later in the month.) Rather, this one is about some of the blows most of us endure along the way.
Adoption is not for the faint of heart. But I can’t quite imagine anything more worthwhile or anything more reflective of the heart of God.
When We Want
(or “Sometimes the Adoption Process Feels Like This”)
“We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed” (2 Corinthians 4:8).
I grew up watching the Road Runner cartoons—the two-minute mini-episodes, in which the big-nosed, big-eared Wile E. Coyote obtains ridiculous gadgets from the mail-order company, the Acme Corporation. He uses these devices to try to catch the quick-footed Road Runner, but they invariably backfire. Wile E. always ends up fried to a crisp, squashed completely flat, or stuck with his head through a boulder.
Yet—driven by desire and fortitude—he always rebounds and chooses to come back for more. Creator Chuck Jones has rightly said that Wile E. is a “living, breathing allegory of Want.” As an outside observer, though, his seeming stubbornness always troubled me and garnered little empathy.
That is, until we tried to adopt.
We started the Chinese adoption process in January of 2006 and were told that we would be united with our daughter within a year and a half. But we chased paper longer than most, since Peter was born in England and we were married there. Because my parents were living with us and had to obtain clearance as well. My mom’s chemotherapy erased her fingerprints, which the FBI found suspect. My dad’s cerebral palsy made his fingerprints unreadable by the USCIS computers, so we had to take him into downtown Chicago to prove he didn’t have a secret life of crime.
But finally, in the summer of 2006, our paperwork was sent to China.
There to sit.
For almost six years.
As you have likely observed, the Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote follow the laws of “cartoon physics”—meaning that the regular laws of physics are bent and twisted for comic effect. Sometimes Wile E. will hang in the air until the moment he realizes that he is defying gravity. Then he will plunge to the ground. No amount of frantic airborne running will save him. He might even fall past a rock that he himself has dropped only to be squashed by it. And when Wile E. paints the image of a cave on a sheer rock face, the Road Runner can run right into the cave as if it were real. Wile E. cannot. Wile E. will run full speed into the wall of stone and will be flattened.
The laws of “adoption physics” seem similarly designed.
In May 2007 the China Center for Adoption Affairs (CCAA) tightened its regulations on adoptive parents in an effort to loosen the growing logjam of paperwork in their office. New applicants must have a body-mass index below 40 and a net worth above $80,000. They cannot take medication for anxiety or depression or be over 50 years old. In other words, they must be young, trim, financially secure, and happy. As best I could tell, on a good day and for the time being, we still qualified. But we were hanging on by our fingernails.
Then in November 2007 the CCAA made another policy change. It reversed its longstanding No Concurrent Adoptions Rule to allow families stuck in their logjam to pursue a second adoption while continuing to wait. So in December when our case worker, presented us with the concurrent adoption option, we dove head first.
We chose Ethiopia. Started decorating an Ethiopia nursery. Researching Ethiopia travel. Reading Ethiopia books.
But when our agency was finally ready to help us with the Ethiopia paperwork, it was July 2008, and our case worker dropped a new bomb in our laps. A risk statement for us to sign. Peter and I read in silence the three page list of possible-horrible-things-that-could-happen-if-we-adopted-from-Ethiopia. The main one being that China could throw our paperwork out the window. For race reasons.
“I think this is a deal breaker for me,” I said. Peter agreed.
When the case worker came back, Peter explained, “We still believe we’re meant to adopt from China. And we don’t want to rock that boat.”
“Do we have any less-risky options for a concurrent adoption?” I asked.
“Domestic would be the easiest and most foolproof,” the case worker said.
I had researched domestic adoption as well. I knew that it is neither easy nor foolproof.
But we dove in anyhow. Head first.
In another episode we find Wile E. Coyote buried in the thick text: Karate Self-Taught. Finishing his study, he peeks over the book and his brow furrows in determination. He dons a white karate suit and black belt. Then he bows to his first opponent, a tall cactus, and hops toward it—boing, boing, boing—arms poised to attack. With one swoop he chops it clean in half, amazed at his own power and strength. He turns to the camera with a grin. Ready to try again.
“Beep, beep,” he hears and races to hide behind a rock. His actual target is on its way.
“Beep, beep,” he hears again. And Wile E. leaps from behind the rock and karate chops the front of the Acme truck. The screen is filled with brightly colored stars. Then back to Wile E., hand still stuck in the hood. His face registers all the pain, shock, and horror of a coyote betrayed yet again by his own longing.
And as the truck passes by, we see in its rear the perky, grinning Road Runner who gives a taunting, “Beep, beep.”
One Thursday shortly after my mom died, I checked our voicemail, and our friend Kathy’s animated voice was the first I heard. “I’m sorry to leave a message,” she began. “I know this is a painful topic, but it’s urgent.” I grabbed a pen and started jotting down the particulars—started painting the image of a cave on a sheer rock face—as Kathy explained that a friend of hers took in babies when the mothers are in crisis.
“Last week when I was at her house,” she went on, “she had this adorable baby and the fifteen-year-old mother wanted to place the baby for adoption, so I told my friend that I knew the best possible parents ever—you guys, of course—but she told me that the baby’s father wasn’t sure, but then she asked me about you because she has lots of contact with birthmothers. Then on Tuesday she called and told me that her friends…”
I pressed “9” to save the message and went on to the next.
“Me again; your machine cut me off; anyhow, I was saying that these friends of hers adopted domestically, and the birthmother of their daughter is pregnant again. But the family can’t take the new baby, so the birthmother still needs to find a family. I’ve been praying about it all weekend, and I have a really good feeling about this. Call me!”
“Peter!” I yelled down the stairs.
“Yes?” he called from the kitchen.
“We need to call Kathy!” I yelled. “She thinks she found us a baby.”
At that point, she was our third friend to think so.
Over dinner, Peter was apprehensive. “I’ll call her, but we can’t get our hopes up.”
“I know,” I said.
“It most likely won’t come to anything,” Peter said.
“I know,” I said.
“I’m just afraid that you’re going to…”
Of course, he was concerned that I would trip and fall over the cliff again. That I would be flattened by a rock that I myself had dropped. I had before. Throughout infertility. After three miscarriages. Each time the China delay grew longer. After our dinner with Debbie. After another unsolicited adoption call lead to nowhere.
But I assured him, “I’m fine. Just call.”
We huddled over the speaker phone and listened as Kathy repeated her story with even more enthusiasm and more heavenly assurance that this was the baby for us. She gave us the phone number of her friend, Cheri.
Cheri confirmed Kathy’s story and gave us the number of her friends. “Let me do the talking this time,” I said to Peter. “It might be good if they hear from the potential mother.” He agreed, and I dialed.
When a man answered, I explained, “My name is Kelli Worrall. My husband Peter is here too. We got your number from Cheri Boyd. We are hoping to adopt and Cheri told us about the situation with the birthmother of your daughter…”
“Oh, yes…um…” Long, heavy pause. “…that situation has been rectified,” he said.
I was stunned. Frantic airborne running ensued. Peter gestured at me to say something. But gravity was kicking in.
“I’m sorry,” the man said.
Peter jumped in. “Ok, thank you. Good bye.”
When he hung up, I just kept staring out the window.
“Are you ok?” Peter said.
“‘The situation has been rectified?’ Really? What is that supposed to mean?”
“I don’t know if I can keep doing this, Peter,” I said. “I feel as if—over and over—we are the butt of the same…bad…joke.”
And—true story—as soon as those words came out of my mouth, I thought of Wile E.
And I did “keep doing this.” Even when months later a birthmom did choose us. Took our $3000. And disappeared without a trace.
Even when for six weeks we provided a safe home for a precious baby girl, who was “probably going to be adoptable.” Then got the call, days before Christmas, that her fourteen-year-old birthmom, also in foster care, had changed her mind. Wanted her baby back.
Even when we were on our way to the hospital to pick up a newborn. And got a call that this birthmom decided to tell this birthdad about the baby after all. And he was on a plane from Memphis to sort it out. And we turned around and drove home with a still empty car seat in the back.
But why? Why get up and try again?
Because Want that deep drives us to do daring things. Because it is possible, if difficult, to be both desirous and submitted—to hold both longing and contentment in our heart—at the exact same time. Isn’t it? Can we say, “I would like things to be different, but by Your grace I am okay”? Didn’t He say, “Take this cup, Father; yet not my will, but Yours be done”? Because learning to live in that tension is what being human this side of Heaven is about.
And because it isn’t only about obtaining the prize. If it were, we wouldn’t keep watching poor Wile E.
It is also about the pursuit. It is also about the free fall and the karate chop and the boulder to the head. It’s about seeing stars and dissolving into a puff of dust and all of the other lessons we learn along the way.
Roughly sixty days ago our family began our first Whole30 nutrition challenge.
A few days later, I wrote about it here. I explained why we decided to give this a try and what hurdles we encountered right out of the gate (“The Worralls on Whole30”). Since then several of you have asked me how it’s going, so I’m here to give my long-anticipated dietary report.
If you aren’t familiar with the Whole30 plan, it begins with this key premise…that “The food you eat either makes you more healthy or less healthy.” Those are your only two options. I used the book It Starts with Food (by Dallas and Melissa Hartwig) to guide us through the month, and it now lives on my kitchen counter. We’ve gotten to be very good friends.
Here’s how the Whole30 works. It asks you for one month of your life. One month to clean out your system. One month to do a complete nutritional reset. One month to eat only foods that promote healthy psychological and hormonal responses, only foods that support normal digestive function, and only foods that minimize inflammation. Practically speaking, that means eliminating all of the following from your diet: Sugar/Sweeteners, Grains/Gluten, Legumes, Alcohol, and Dairy.
And…we did it! For the most part.
True confessions. Daryl’s birthday was August 17, and we ate pizza and cake. There was also a friend’s birthday party and a restaurant visit or two where we just did the best we could. But we persevered, and we have found this Whole30 promise to be true: It does change the way you look at and think about food. It changes what you want to put into your body. It changes your taste and your tolerance for the “unhealthy stuff.”
The Whole30 made good on this promise as well: We do feel better. Peter’s stomach inflammation is greatly reduced. I no longer have my giant crashes in the late afternoon. My energy levels are more consistent and my thinking is more clear. (At least I think it is. Peter might beg to differ.) When he is eating clean, Daryl is more present and self-controlled. (And I can now often tell when he’s had something roguish to eat.) An unexpected benefit is that food just tastes better. (You should have heard the yummy noises the four of us made over a simple rotisserie chicken.) And the weight we’d tried for a long time to lose just disappeared–almost by accident.
Bottom line: we’re hooked. And we’re going to stick it out for the long haul—with a few simple modifications. After your official Whole30, the book gives you advice for reintroducing some foods—slowly and deliberately— and gauging your body’s response. We’ve reintroduced Greek yogurt. I’m back to putting cream in my coffee—still sans sweetener. We will occasionally enjoy a bit of gluten or sugar, but defining and sticking to “occasionally” is the key. (I should also say that we’re back to supplementing with Reliv products as well.)*
So, the question I’ve received most often has been this: Is it hard?
My answer has been, “Yes. And no.” Here are a few of my observations:
Eating out is hard. Sometimes impossible. At many restaurants—especially fast food establishments—there is nothing on the menu that we can eat. So we’ve learned to plan ahead more. We pack more lunches (and dinners, if necessary). And we eat out even less than we did before. (An added financial benefit.)
Cravings are hard. For the first two weeks, my craving for sugar was crazy. I knew I had a thing for sugar, so this didn’t surprise me too much. But pressing through those two weeks without ice cream or chocolate or a sweet Starbucks something from the drive thru was the hardest part of the whole month for me. That, and learning to drink my coffee black. Blah!
Social events are hard. While I’ve grown in my own ability to say “no” to the brownies our friends might bring to our house, I still usually cave when my kiddos are surrounded by chocolate-lipped friends and they look at me with such pitiful longing.
Grocery shopping is easy. Okay. Another true confession. I had already been using Peapod (a service that delivers your groceries to your door) for over a year when we started the Whole30, and this was perhaps my saving grace. It’s much easier to resist all the Ghirardelli’s milk chocolate chips when they aren’t staring me down, face-to-face.
Cooking is easy. I enjoy cooking, so before the Whole30 I would typically prepare recipes with a long list of ingredients several times each week. So compared to what I used to do, Whole30 recipes are simple. Just pick a protein, add some vegetables, cook in a healthy fat, and season with spices. We’ve tried many combinations of these basic four elements. We’ve like every one of them. And we’re not bored yet. (Though I know I will probably need to find some additional options soon.)
Re-training our kids was surprisingly easy. Amelia used to beg for candy several times a day. Of course, I said “no” most of the time. But I must have said “yes” enough to make it worth her while to plead. Now—two months in—she begs for frozen mango chunks and cashews. Daryl used to ask for McDonalds sometimes on the way home from school. Today he asked for a Starbucks “Protein Box.” And while the answer was still “no”—those things aren’t cheap—I like his new taste in fast food.
And that is, I think, the biggest payoff for me—knowing that I’m doing what I can to give my kids, my husband, and myself every edible advantage.
I know it isn’t the Holy Grail. And I know it isn’t for everyone. But if you’re thinking about trying your own Whole30, I would say, “Go for it!” I’m here to cheer you on.
*Our Reliv distributor is Kim. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org if you’d like more information.
Have any of you done a Whole30?
Tell us about your experience…
Any of you thinking about it?
Let us know how it goes…
They arrived today.
With their baskets of bedding and their neat stacks of notebooks and their brand new jeans. They came to our campus with their snarled up stomachs and their wide wet eyes and all of their hopes and dreams.
They arrived with their siblings and parents and friends, who filled up their fridges and helped settle their stuff. Who gave lingering hugs and some last words of advice and finally waved goodbye.
I watched them come. For the eighteenth time. And I am always moved by the sight of them. Moved with gratitude at what God has done. Moved with excitement over what He will do. Moved with a certain measure of awe.
On the sidewalk I greeted a few of them today with a handshake, a smile, and “you are welcome here.”
On Monday morning I will meet many more. I will show them a syllabus and learn their names and begin my specific task of helping them read, think, and write.
But knowing what I know—that these next four years will be full of all manner of things—I feel compelled tonight, before I turn out this light, to offer a simple prayer…
Walk with them. Reveal Yourself—in ways old and new. Please be near.
Fuel their passions. Strengthen their resolve. Fill their hearts with peace and love.
When loneliness comes, be their Friend.
When fear overwhelms, be their Rock.
When the path seems hidden, be their Light.
When they are broken, heal their hurts.
When they doubt their calling, be their ever Burning Bush.
When they doubt You, show up big.
May they fall in love with learning.
May they discover new gifts.
May they steward well their money, their talents, their time.
May they discern Your truth and cling to it. Tight.
I pray for a church home where they can find community and be fed.
I pray for a mentor who will challenge them and cheer them on.
I pray for some life-long, life-giving friends.
Build into their being tenacity and resilience,
Patience and compassion,
Boldness and gentleness,
And a deep dependence on You.
When they trip and fall, or when they run headlong in the wrong way, be their Father. Pursue them relentlessly. Pierce their soul. Lift them up. Dust them off. And bring them back.
You are God.
They are Yours. Not ours.
We commit to serving You and them, to the best of our ability and by Your grace alone.
We lay this year on the altar. Do with it as You will.
Freshman, what are you praying for this year?
Parents, what do you pray for your freshmen?
Within your temple, O God, we meditate on your unfailing love.
Like your name, O God, your praise reaches to the ends of the earth;
Your right hand is filled with righteousness.
Mount Zion rejoices, the villages of Judah are glad because of your judgements.
Walk about Zion, go around her, count her towers,
Consider well her ramparts, view her citadels, that you may tell of them to the next generation.
For this God is our God for ever and ever;
He will be our guide even to the end.
Like it or not, it’s transition time.
Tomorrow Peter and I head back to our teaching jobs. Next Monday our kids start back to school. We’ve been cruising along in 3rd gear for the past three months, and we’re about to kick it straight into 5th. I can already feel the jerking and the grinding of the gears. This transition always shakes me up.
You would think I’d be an old hand at this by now, having been on one side of the syllabi or the other for just about every year of my life. But I’m here to admit that I still feel sad every time summer and I have to say good-bye. Sad and anxious and resistant. Like I just want to stomp on the brakes, screech to a halt, and throw the whole world into reverse.
This year, though, I’m longing to make this shift more smoothly—gracefully—gratefully—if not for my own sake, for the sake of my husband and my students and the two pintsize passengers who are unwittingly along for the ride. I can’t stop the seasons or the spinning of the globe. Clearly I don’t have that power. But what I do have is a choice and a God who will be our guide.
So this morning, while the rest of my family enjoys a final opportunity to wake at their leisure, I’m sitting in our breakfast nook, sipping green tea, pouring over an unlikely Psalm, and praying for peace.
I’m counting towers and considering ramparts.
I’m remembering waterpark escapades and late night family time around the fire and a successful septum surgery and picnics with friends and all the ways He has shown us His unfailing love.
I’m choosing to trust and to tell the next generation that this same God will be our God into the fall and for ever and ever. Even to the end.
What about you? How are you handling the summer-to-school-year shift?
Here I am, sitting on a pile of pillows in a bathtub at The DeSoto House Hotel, Galena, Illinois (circa. 1855). We’re in room 203, with its soaring ceiling and grand windows and slanted floors. It is 4:30 a.m. I’m sipping black decaf coffee that I made in the little hotel pot. And the rest of my precious family is sound asleep just outside that door.
Our annual China Adoption Travel Group Reunion is coming to an end. We’ve spent a long weekend here in Galena with five other families, whom we adore. I’ll share more about this wonderful tradition in a later post…
Because this morning what I really want to talk about is food. Probably because I could eat my right arm, right now.
Back in June I shared that we Worralls had adopted three core summer values, three standards that we would use to guide our summer of 2015. They were (1) Good Health, (2) Relational Connection, and (3) Eternal Value. Well, now that the summer is all too quickly coming to a close, I’m here to report that we have prevailed on some fronts and lost ground on others and learned,well, a few lessons along the way.
For the first half of the summer, much of my “good health” energy was aimed at giving our home a much-needed overall. Walls and ceilings and fences needed painting. Closets and cupboards needed sorting. The basement needed a major purge. And it was time to get rid of some things that I had been hanging onto for way too long. (There’s plenty of fodder there for future blog posts as well. Stay tuned.) This giant clean-out culminated in last week’s massive, multi-family garage sale. When we get home later today, I’ll start donating the leftover piles. And I can (just about) cross that project off of my list.
So now I’m turning all of my “good health” attention to another major and much-needed overhaul. The way we Worralls eat.
I’ve known for a long time that our diet needed some attention, but I kept convincing myself that it wasn’t terrible. We’ve fiddled with things here and there over the years. Tried gluten free for a time. Cut back on carbs and sugar. And so on. But in recent months Peter has suffered from chronic discomfort and pain. Tests have been inconclusive. One doctor labeled his problem “inflammation” and medicated him to no good effect. Last year Daryl struggled with focus in first grade. Amelia consistently asks for candy fifty times a day. And who am I to talk? My own sugar crave has gotten completely out of control. My energy levels (and moods) have fluctuated—sometimes drastically. My back pain has returned with a vengeance. I haven’t slept well since I can remember. My own inability to focus sometimes frightens me. And I just haven’t felt as well as I know I could.
I did some research and stumbled upon the best-selling book It Starts with Food. When it arrived in the mail, I devoured it in two days and shared sections with Peter (in particular, the whole chapter on inflammation). He agreed that we should give it a try.
If you’re not familiar with the Whole30 plan, it’s pretty simple really. At least the concepts are. Put into your body what makes you healthy; leave out of your body what doesn’t.
It’s the execution that’s a bear. The Whole30 invites you to strip your diet back to the basics for thirty days. Take out all of the “psychologically unhealthy, hormone-unbalancing, gut-disrupting, inflammatory food groups” and let your body heal. This means no dairy, sugar, grains, or legumes. Instead, build your diet around proteins, vegetables, fruits, and healthy fats. Then, after thirty days, you can start to reintroduce some of the other stuff—slowly and carefully and with great attention to the effect. Figure out what your body needs. But the Whole30 program promises to forever change your relationship with food and even your life. We’ll see.
So last Wednesday we Worralls started our first Whole30. All four of us.
The timing was not ideal.
In fact, with our China Travel Group Reunion falling on days 3-6, the timing probably could not have been worse. It’s hard enough to eat this way when it’s just you and you’re at home and you’re in maximum control of your surroundings. It’s a whole other story when you’re out and about with a large group of friends, eating at restaurants and trying to include your kids.
I considered this when we began. Really, I did. But I decided to dive in anyhow. There is always a good reason not to start something like this, right? And I knew I needed to get us over the hump of the Whole30 before school starts up again. They warn you that the first two weeks are the worst. So we went for it and decided to just do the best we could “on the road.” We ordered eggs with onions and peppers off of the a la carte menu for breakfast. When everyone else was enjoying a sub sandwich picnic, we stopped at a grocery store and picked up some rotisserie chicken and carrots and fruit. Thankfully, the kids gobbled that up without too many complaints. And surprisingly, apart from a few comments at the breakfast buffet—“I want a muffin! Everyone else has a muffin!”—we were doing pretty well.
Until last night.
Last night our whole gang gathered at the local Culver’s for our final meal together. It was impossible to order Whole30 compliant food off of the Culver’s menu, but we did the best we could—opting for the dinners of meat and sides, rather than the sandwiches with fries. But, of course, many in our group were getting custard for dessert.
And our kids wanted some. Of course, they did.
So in honor of the special occasion, we decided to let them “cheat.” Of course, we did. As long as they ate their giant pile of green beans first.
Poor Daryl. He ate every last bean and a good helping of meat, and he was so excited to have his first serving of sugar in five days. But when his cup of custard arrived, he stuck in his spoon to get a bite and flung the whole scoop onto the table. Splat! And poor Daryl began to cry.
A Culver’s employee witnessed the incident and brought him a second scoop with an added cherry to make up for the mishap. Daryl wiped his eyes and stuck his spoon into his replacement treat, only to somehow slide this second cup onto the floor where the lump of custard slid across the rug.
I cleaned up the custard as best I could and whisked Daryl outside. When he caught his breathe, I asked him what was going on. I hadn’t seen him this upset in a good long while. “I’m embarrassed,” he said. “And sad.”
As I listened to him there on the curb of the Culver’s parking lot, I realized that I had set him up for just this sort of struggle—putting him on a restrictive diet in the company of so many of friends, taking him to Culver’s on Day5 of the Whole30 (the day they say you will want to “kill ALL the things”), asking him to eat differently from everyone else when he already feels different enough.
So after he apologized for his outburst, I apologized for my part in the problem. And I tried to explain again that, as parents, it’s our job to make the best decisions we can for our kids. That it’s our job to teach our children how to take care of their bodies, their brains, and their souls. That what we eat can affect all of those things. But that we don’t always get it right. That these things can be complicated. And that we’ll have to be patient with each other as we work our way through.
We’re heading back to McHenry in just a few minutes, and we’ll be continuing on this Whole30 journey through the end of the month. I’ll let you know how it goes and what we discover. If anyone wants to join us on the plan, let me know. We’re only a week ahead of you and would love to cheer you on!
p.s. Here’s Dinner Day 1. Mmm, right?
I am the Lord, your Holy One, Israel’s Creator and King.
I am the Lord, who opened a way through the waters, making a dry path through the sea.
I called forth the mighty army of Egypt with all its chariots and horses.
I drew them beneath the waves, and they drowned,
their lives snuffed out like a smoldering candlewick.
But forget all that—it is nothing compared to what I am going to do.
For I am about to do something new. See, I have already begun! Do you not see it?
—Isaiah 43:15–19 (nlt)
As you may already know, last winter—January to March—Peter and I wrote a little book. 20 Things We’d Tell Our Twentysomething Selves. We’ve spent considerable time since then on editing, proofreading, strategizing, seeking endorsements and such. (Hence, my inability to post here as often as I’d like.)
To be perfectly honest, it’s been a bit of a battle. This little book.
Not (usually) a battle between Peter and me. Thankfully, we enjoyed tackling the task together. It’s stretched us and opened our eyes, for sure, and it’s prompted some hard conversations. But we saw God once again use our individual—and very different—strengths in complementary ways. I think we learned to listen to each other on a new level. And I believe we are closer now than we were before this project began. (All glory be to God alone!)
No, the fight for this book has been something other than that. Something more and something multifaceted. It resided sometimes in the physical realm. I had trouble sleeping (even more than usual), and Peter’s been perpetually sick. Then we had random, repeated, major repairs to both of our cars and our house.
The worst of this happened one Tuesday when I came home to find three waterfalls running from our kitchen ceiling and then down to the basement. The toilet in our upstairs bathroom had spontaneously decided to overflow—for seven hours straight. The plumber couldn’t figure out why. Our old wooden kitchen floor was damaged. Some walls still need repair. The carpet and ceiling in the basement are significantly stained. And our insurance company calculated at least $11,000 of work. A couple weeks later a pipe burst, flooding another basement room—three times—before we could locate the source. And we were incredulous at our own “bad luck.”
It’s been an emotional battle as well—and, most significantly, a spiritual one. Sometimes brutal. Peter and I have both wrestled with discouragement and fear and self-doubt. While God has repeatedly confirmed to us His call, the enemy has seemingly gone out of his way to give us grief. But it’s forced us—yet again—into a deep and daily dependence.
Right where we ought to be.
Why do I tell you this? For several reasons really. Because you will undoubtedly experience a similar sort of battle. Perhaps you already have. Perhaps you are even now in the midst of a relentless flight. Because sometimes when God calls us, when He moves us and seeks to use us, sometimes when He is preparing to display His power in profound ways, all we can see with our physical eyes is the opposing army closing in from behind and the waves of the sea stretching out in front. Because sometimes God will turn our biggest struggles and disappointments in life into the greatest demonstrations of His glory and love.
I tell you this, too, because we believe God can do something new—in and through this generation. In fact, we believe He has already begun. And we will be more than honored if He chooses to use us or this book as some small part.
This summer we’ve had the opportunity to use the 20 Things to encourage the college staff at a local camp. Every Wednesday evening we meet with them. We discuss sections of the book and work through some inductive Bible studies we’ve written to compliment each chapter. We’ve been blessed by their eagerness to engage and grow. And it’s been further proof to us that He’s up to all sorts.
Today I want to share the exciting news that our book is now available for preorder on Amazon! You can find it here. This is really happening, folks. Please share and help us get the word out!
I love it when a plan comes together.
I particularly love it when that plan involves surprising Peter Worrall. He is not easy to surprise. Or maybe I am just rubbish at keeping secrets. Whichever it is, more times than I can count, he has figured me out and blown my cover.
On Sunday, though, I managed to get him good.
On Sunday Peter was scheduled to preach at a church in Downers Grove, a charming Chicago suburb about an hour south of us. He often preaches at churches around the area. Sometimes the whole family tags along. But other Sundays—for the sake of consistency for the kids—I take them to our home church in McHenry, and we spend Sundays apart.
As Father’s Day approached, I asked Peter what he wanted to do for that special Sunday. Should we all go to Downers Grove? Or should he go alone? Should we meet up later for lunch?
Last week was a fun, but very full, week for our family, including three very late nights in a row—resulting in sometimes-cranky kiddos and a sometimes-irritable momma. So, not surprisingly, Peter looked at all of us and decided that—Father’s Day notwithstanding—an early Sunday morning trek to Downers Grove wasn’t in anyone’s best interest. I nodded with resignation, but immediately the wheels in my head began to turn.
On Sunday morning, then, Peter woke up early and prepared to go preach. He wanted to get to the church nice and early, so he was leaving at 8 a.m. Before he headed out, he came and found me—still in the big bed, cuddling both kids. He kissed us and said, “Goodbye.”
“Happy Father’s Day!” we all said. “We love you.”
Then, as we listened to Peter packing his computer bag and searching for his keys downstairs, I whispered my plan to my co-conspirators. We were going to surprise Daddy by showing up at the church where he was going to preach. The kids gasped at the prospect, eyes big as saucers.
“What?!” Amelia exclaimed. This was apparently the most incredible idea she had ever heard.
“Shhh. We need to be still and quiet until he’s gone,” I whispered. And amazingly they complied. I think they even held their breath until we heard the backdoor close.
Then, on cue, we all three jumped out of bed and flew into motion. We had just 45 minutes to get on the road.
“Daryl, you look out your window and make sure Dad’s really gone. Amelia, let’s get you dressed. What do you want to wear for our big surprise?”
“He’s gone!” Daryl shouted, jumping on his bed. “He’s gone!”
“My Elsa nightgown!” Amelia shouted, jumping around her room. “My Elsa nightgown!”
Okay. Admittedly, the initial excitement over our scheme was short lived. There were difficult debates about Amelia’s clothing choices, and once we were finally on our way, there were innumerable “when will we be there?” whines from the backseat.
But I’d do it all over again. For the surprise and the smile on Peter’s face when he saw us down the hall. For the opportunity to support the man who gives so sacrificially to all of us. For the honor of hearing that man preach about family. For the chance to hear him recount how his own understanding of fatherhood has grown and how he wants to father in the future.
So today—even more than boast about my own success at surprising him (though there is that)—I want to provide you with a link to the Father’s Day message Peter shared on Sunday from Ephesians chapter 5. He scripted that sermon, which he doesn’t usually do. Much of the material is pretty personal, and he wanted to get it just right. The happy additional benefit of this is that he could post the manuscript on his own blog, which he did yesterday. And you can find it here.
There’s a lot in there. Maybe read it in chunks, point by point. Maybe share it with a few of your favorite fathers. And maybe remind them of your support and how necessary they are—as imperfect as they may be.
I met Meredith last month when Peter and I spoke at a young marrieds’ retreat in Gull Lake, Michigan. During the Saturday evening session, I spoke from John 11 about Mary and Martha and Lazarus and Christ. If you’ve done much reading here at This Odd House, you’ve probably picked up on how much I love that chapter—what it shows us about Jesus’ sense of timing and His purpose (the glory of God!) and His power over life and death.
As a part of my message that night, I also read from my essay “And the Walls Came Tumbling Down.” It’s a hard piece about our infertility journey. In it I describe—in rather raw detail—the sort of spiritual crisis I found myself in. I’ve read this piece aloud to a few groups now, and I’m nervous every time. Understandably, I think. It’s a whole lot of vulnerable. But I share it because I want to give other people permission to bring their pain out of the shadows and into the light. I want to challenge the church to come alongside of them. I want to point them in the direction of true healing and hope.
Every time I’ve read it, I have been amazed. Every time, after I’ve read, a man or a woman or a couple (or two or three) has come up to me and said, “Thank you so much. That was for me. That was for us.” Every. Single. Time.
Last month at Gull Lake after that Saturday evening meeting, Meredith approached me with two of her friends. All three of them have been working through some form of infertility. And they shared with me that they had been friends for some time—not knowing one another’s private pain—before one of them finally broke the ice and explained what was going on. Then—you can imagine her surprise—when the other two responded by saying something to the effect of “No way. Me too.”
When we talked that night, Meredith also told me about a blog she had started called “The Baby Wait.” It’s a lovely place where she is collecting stories and posting encouragement and creating community for those who are waiting.
Today I’m honored that Meredith has chosen to share a piece from our story. “Island Time.” You can find it here. And then you can read some of the other stories she’s gathered—all describing the faithfulness of our God and the many ways that He finds to build a family.
Please share this post, friends—whether infertility has directly touched your life or not. Share it because you, too, may be surprised at who of your friends is stuck in the shadows and needs just this sort of support.
“And so with the sunshine and the great bursts of leaves growing on the trees,
just as things grow in fast movies,
I had that familiar conviction that life was beginning over again with the summer.”
― F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby
If you’ve seen the Disney movie Big Hero 6, you undoubtedly remember the climactic scene where Hiro and his inflatable nurse-robot Baymax enter a mysterious portal to rescue Abigail, the daughter of the vengeful Professor Callaghan.
Baymax and Hiro find Abigail, who has been drifting around in her capsule, lost and unconscious, for some time. Baymax grabs the capsule and begins to propel it back toward the portal exit. Hiro clings to the top of the capsule and navigates around all of the space debris. “To the left! Hard right! Up and over! Level off. Easy. Woohoo! Nice flying. We’re almost there.”
But then Baymax spots a huge boulder flying straight for them. He positions himself to take the hit and save the capsule. Sadly his superhero suit is crushed on impact, and it slips away in pieces into the dark unknown. His thrusters are rendered inoperable. And the only option left is for Baymax to sacrifice himself one last time on the others’ behalf.
Hiro and Baymax share a touching goodbye—after which Baymax gives Hiro and Abigail and the capsule one final thrust. Then Baymax floats off into space just like his suit before him, and the capsule hurls toward the opening. It zooms through the portal, lands hard on the ground in the “real world,” bumps a time or two, then screeches to a halt.
And that, my friends, is what June feels like to me.
I don’t know about you, but we flew through the school year at often breakneck speed, navigating around whatever life threw at us next. We had some near misses and took some direct hits and said some sad goodbyes. Now we come hurling through the portal. We land with a smack and a thud, a bit dazed and stunned, nursing a strange mix of emotions—grief and relief. We made it—if barely. But what in the world just happened?
The rockiness of the June transition is magnified for our family by the fact that Peter and I are both professors, so we have the summers together at home. Consequently, it isn’t just me who has to transition into this new summer way of life. It isn’t just the kids. It’s all of us. The whole blessed family. Bump. Bump. Screech. Thud.
Last Thursday was the first official day of Worrall summer, the first day when no one had to be at work or at school. So Peter and I met on our patio that afternoon to ask some hard questions and formulate a plan. My peonies and irises were in full bloom. The kids were playing in the sandpit. Peter was sipping a cup of tea. And I was creating lists and tables on my laptop. Obviously.
First, we typed out every task that needs to be done in the next three months, every home repair that ought to be addressed, every activity that could be attended, every purchase that could be made. We sat there with the highlighted park district flyer and the camp schedule and the emails from family regarding good dates to visit. And we tried to piece together the puzzle.
Of course, it didn’t take long to realize that there were more tasks and activities and opportunities and needs than there was time.
Staring down the calendar and the list, Peter and I were left asking—yet again—how do we decide what stays and what goes? What we allow into our lives and what we don’t? What we ought to invest in and what we ought not?
How can we live intentionally? How do we steward well each day that we have been given? How might we begin again?
We decided on three simple values, three simple criteria against which we will weigh things this summer, three simple qualities that we want for our family because they are important to us. But even more—we believe they are important to God.
- Good health. Does this thing (this activity, this to-do, this purchase, this commitment) lead our family toward greater health—spiritual, physical, mental, emotional? Or not?
- Relational connection. Does this thing provide the opportunity for a deeper connection with our family and friends and community? Or does it hinder that connection from happening?
- Eternal value. Is this thing just meaningless, a chasing after the wind (Eccl. 1:14)? Or does it build up the kingdom of God?
That’s what we want to be about this summer as best we can and by the grace of God.
How about you? What criteria do you use for how you spend your hours and your days? Please share.
So, here’s to summer and fresh starts and the sun through the leaves and tall glasses of ice cold lemonade and life beginning—all over again.