This is not a neat and tidy story- and it’s only a fraction of the whole. It’s complex, dynamic, incredible and living proof that truth IS stranger than fiction. It’s the story of how two became eleven.
I always figured I’d end up working in my current job until my daughter graduated high school and headed to college. I planned to wrap things up in Alaska, pay off the last of my debts that same year, and head across the ocean and the mountains to Nepal for a couple of years. As a medic and an English teacher, as someone who has lived off-grid for much of her life, as a person who has always been a gypsy in search of a homeland… it seemed like a reasonable fit. To work and to live and to learn in an environment where my skills could be utilized and I could actually make a difference- that seemed like an excellent antidote to too many years of government work.
I’d been divorced for a couple of years, had no interest in casual dating and a lot of interest and passion for meaningful conversation, shared experiences and life well-lived. That left me with a lot of alone time.
I answered an ad on Craigslist, one dark winter night at about 10:00 PM. On a whim. The individual posting the ad had beautiful sentence structure, excellent grammar, an interest in meaningful conversation and connection AND seemed like he was probably a professor in his sixties (based on writing sample analysis). Yeah, I do that. Seemed safe enough.
The Universe laughs at our safe-words, as I quickly discovered. We emailed back and forth a few times over a couple weeks and BAM. There it was. Before we had even exchanged our real names, it turned out that we knew each other in real life. We attended the same fellowship. We had sat across the aisle from each other for months and had no idea.
He has eight children.
(I’m just gonna leave that there for a hot minute and let it soak in.)
Between the ages of nearly-two and nearly-thirteen.
I know, right? All this time, I was looking to make a difference in a mountain village in Nepal and there was a family right in my own backyard with eight kids that needed an Auntie Ti. It’s not quite that simple or that straightforward. Life never is. It’s beautifully nuanced, tragically destructive, incredibly conflicting, magnificently mind blowing… but never really quite simple.
In getting to know each of the children in their own timeframe, on their terms, I was (and still am) amazed at their tenacious love of learning, their inquisitive minds, the audacity of the hope and trust in their eyes, their individuality, their resilience.
Little did I know (little did any of the eleven of us know), the volcano of life-upheaval was about to blow a family sky-high. And it did. The aftermath of the eruption and the subsequent fallout have been enormous. Chaotic. Heartbreaking. Life-altering.
This morning, as I began my day, I was warming my heart over the virtual fire of a friend and the recent adoption of her son. I’ve been thinking a lot about the concept of “chosen family” and the micro-choices we make to live and love for the benefit of others.
This morning, I read these words (written by a woman who recently adopted a child):
“I just know that no one gets to mug for the camera with a flash of pearly whites and their newly adopted family without stepping into a story of trauma. The only way a family is made through adoption — is for someone to lose a family first. The only way anyone gets to adoption is through a door of loss and unless you fully feel the depth of that loss, the door you’re walking through leads to nowhere honest.
I just know there’s a whole lot I don’t know at all and no one ever brings home any new child, born or adopted, without pain. Children only come to us through pain — like love only comes to us with pain.”
It brought me to tears, again and again, reading these words.
“There are scars you can’t erase —- all you can do is write more love into them.”
I have my own scars. Loss of community, loss of family, loss of ideals and hopes and dreams for life and love… I spent many years trying to erase my own scars. My own past. My own loss. In choosing to expand my heart and my life, in choosing to share what little I have with others who need it more- in choosing to be relentlessly PRESENT- I have come Home.
“This is the part that feels like a morning star grazing you, marking you — the way love can be made anywhere. The way adoption can make more love, and risk can make more hope, and giving dangerously can make a heart miraculously fuller.
The way — fractured breaks in hearts can become doors. The way home happens wherever there is a willingness to let someone in. We can do this for each other in a thousand ways — we can welcome abandoned parts of each other in.
Home happens wherever there’s a willingness to pay attention.
And being relentlessly present to each other — is a tonic for each other’s relentless homesickness.”
This is for all of us, for all of us and the parts of us that feel forgotten and abandoned and want to come Home to being wanted.”
These eight children and my own child… they have all come to me through pain. Theirs and mine. They have known great loss, all nine of them. We are no less a family because of our broken places, than a mountain is less a mountain because of deep crevasses. We are all the sum of our wins and losses, our broken pieces and our wholeness.
So, here I am. A medic, English teacher, investigator, climber, photographer, writer, adventurer, explorer, athlete, mother, auntie… restless, wild, imperfect, relentlessly present, tenaciously compassionate, fiercely protective… and standing at the threshold of the next chapter in life and love.
Not all adoptions happen in a courtroom or on paper; every chosen family is custom-made, one little decision at a time. This family (and their beautiful extended family) has adopted me and my daughter.
We are Family.
We will continue to build a good life, even in great difficulty. We will continue to choose love over fear. We will choose communication and connection over the need to ‘be right’. When life buries us under a mountain of hardship, we will allow ourselves to open. To be vulnerable. To sprout. To grow. We are seeds. This is the springtime of our adventure in life together- and it is rife with change and possibility.
Home happens when we choose connection, when we choose someone (or some eleven) and we open our hearts, our doors, our lives, our minds and we grow together. I didn’t ‘fall’ into this kind of love; there was nothing accidental about it. This love chose me, and I answered. I choose this love every day, in all the ways.