Monday, August 11, 2014

Sleepless Nights Deferred

It has been six months since I last blogged. I want to thank those who have continued to ask about my journey and have asked when I would start writing again. It has been a bumpy year, and I took my blog offline (six months ago) for two reasons. (1) I was interviewing with churches, and I realized that I wanted to be able to tell them myself. (2) There was such an undercurrent of uncertainty in my life, that I felt I couldn't be completely authentic here.

Now, I'm in a new place (physically, and frankly life is much better) and I'm ready to get rolling again. Here's a teeny bit of back story as well as a preview of the way forward.

What I've been up to since moving to Georgia.
On the day that I started my home study, I also found out that my position would most likely be eliminated. (You might remember back in the fall that I mentioned a hiccup in that department.) I will spare you the dramatical details and just say that it felt like I had been kicked in the stomach by someone wearing golf cleats. And most of the pain involved wondering how I could continue to pursue this dream of parenthood in the midst of such ambiguity. After calling my adoption agency and asking them to please-for-the-love-of-God not deposit the very large check I had written that morning, lots of conversation with trusted friends and family led me to stay the course. Still, this derailed me several months as I restarted the process of interviewing agencies to determine who could best handle my case if I moved. I wound back up at the same place where I started, Adoptions from the Heart (which if you're doing an adoption in the northeast you should most definitely look up, and you should tell them to give me a discount for the amount of business I have sent their direction.)

By January, I was 100% certifiably ready to adopt a baby - just waiting . . . waiting . . . waiting. The average wait time, in my agency, for a person open to transracial adoption is six months, so in many ways, it seemed like it could happen any day. I rationalized that this would simplify my life so much. It would certainly be easier to tell interviewers that I had the cutest baby in America than explain that I am in the middle of the adoption process. But that didn't quite happen.

As April tiptoed into May, I called my agency to figure out my options. Dear sweet Ashley managed to listen to me grapple with what to do next as if I weren't a crazy person. I was committed to keynote the Montreat Youth Conference at the beginning of June and had already promised to put my adoption on hold to honor that commitment. And then there was the matter that I had no idea where the heck I was going to live and who was going to pay for me to eat, but it probably wasn't going to be Pennsylvania (which meant that I couldn't accept a baby in PA, anyway).
So the adoption went on hold. All my beautiful home study documents, the slick and sassy profile book, and my not-at-all awkward pick-me, pick-me video have been collecting dust for over three months. In all this time, my siblings have added three new babies to the family - round, smiling, gassy characters who will be the cousins of my tot-to-be. Beautiful, exciting stuff, but still exacerbates the sense of being left behind. As we pack for the beach, I remember last year's beach trip when I announced my news and expected to be sunscreening a tiny person this year.

I think I have adopted a cat. On a scale of 1 to insane,
how crazy is it for me to also adopt a boxer, pre-baby?
But (hallelujah, praise the Lord, do your best happy dance), Shelbi Latterham has a plan. At the end of  May, I accepted a position to pastor Druid Hills Presbyterian Church, in Atlanta. I should stop and say that God is really, really good. It is not a lie to admit that I have wanted to be at DHPC ever since I heard two years ago that it was a possibility. No lie; I have witnesses. And I would hopefully (most likely, probably) be headed there, position elimination or not. It's a feisty little church in a rockin' part of Atlanta that will be a-okay with me blogging about God loving and wanting full humanity for all God's children, not just the straight ones. I get to preach . . . all the time! Their committee was fully supportive of my adoption plan, and there's a nursery just begging to have a tiny PK crawling around. It's a beacon for creativity, and it doesn't hurt that there is a coffee shop across the street. God is really good! This is also the part where I offer a public service announcement for anyone who wants to tell me that "God had a plan all along." And I will warn you I might be tempted to put my own golf shoes on (or borrow some, anyway) and stomp on your toe. God has answered my prayers in more ways than I could have hoped or deserved, but that little phrase is too easy, too shiny; it (unintentionally, I'm sure) attempts to put pretty frosting over a lot of ache that deserves to not be prettied up. I'm good, really good; I'm just not pinning all the messy mess with the pretty ending on God.

So, back to the plan. All I have to do now to resume the matching for adoption is get a new Georgia-fied home study (blerg!). Next week, I close on a house in Atlanta, which will mean I can actually start the blasted thing. It is the first house I have ever bought, and it's the first time I've felt entirely comfortable thinking I would stick around long enough to get my money's worth. It has a yard that will be perfect for a rope swing, and a street where Lil' Latham can learn to ride her/his bike. I have seen more of my family in the past few weeks, since returning to Georgia, than in the past four years. I am elated that my child (and my child's mama) will be close to family.

My agency in Pennsylvania has put me in touch with an agency in Georgia, and I will start gathering all the necessary data to redo this hefty beast of a home study. But I'm not doing it immediately. I want to give my church some of my undivided attention and feel that they deserve my certain presence through Advent and Christmas. So my goal is to open myself up to matching in late December (for advance placements, only, and in January for emergency placements too). I continue to covet your prayers and continue to be grateful for this journey despite its bumps. Until momdom arrives, I have a bathroom to renovate, some freckles to earn on the beach, sleep to bank and a brand spanking new job to start. Peace and love to all of you. I bid you adieu with your daily does of adorableness below.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Downton-Abbeying Church

Dear friends,

The adoption paperwork is all turned in. My scrap book o' reasons why birthparents should choose me is ready for viewing. I have featured in my own movie. (Set on an aging wicker couch, the tale of "Pick Me, Pick Me," is pretty much a montage of my self-perceived positive attributes. I'm feeling hopeful that the fact that I never blink is not a deterrent.)

So, now I am waiting. The morning after I turned everything in, I received an email asking if I would give permission to have my stuff shown to one particular birth mother. (There were extenuating circumstances. I won't always know if I'm in the possibilities pile. Thank God.) But the first glimpse of that email really kicked in the "Holy cow!! This is happening!" Since then I have found myself to be suffering with psychosomatic pregnancy hormones, which involves crying at > 60% of all Olympic commercials (Shelli's going soft. WHAT IS HAPPENNING?) and rethinking church.

Maybe not everyone rethinks church in their psychosomatic pregnancy (or their actual, in-their-belly pregnancies). But the number of new parents who, after years away, make the trudge back to church to baptize their babies and get their kids plugged into some kind of Christian learnin' leads me to think this isn't all that unusual.

A handful of things have happened to me recently. Maybe they have been happening all along, and I haven't been perceptive to them. Maybe it's the "hormones". A little over a month ago, one of these occasions played out, while I was delivering the children's message. A beautiful young giel, whose parents are working hard to make church a place for her, was having a bit of trouble staying put up front on the steps. She galloped up and down the aisles and settled back down with her parents about 3/4 of the way back. After all the kids had gone, and the peace had been passed, I was standing up front walking through this week's announcements. I watched her walk deliberately back towards me, sit down in the center aisle beside the front pew, fold her hands peacefully in her lap and take in the announcements. From the second she began to bend towards the floor, I telepathically sent brain waves to all the congregants, "This is AWESOME! Do you understand me? This is awesome!" If she'd still been there when I finished up, I would have joined her on the floor for the sermon.

Expecting the someday arrival of my own child has made me hypersensitive to how I hope I will raise him/her in the church and how I hope my church will be for my child. I wish I hadn't immediately jumped to, "If anyone so much as looks at this sweet child of God like she's doing something wrong, I will punch them in the stomach." Let's just be clear; by "punch in the stomach", I meant give them a really stern glare. And let's also be clear that I don't think this was a reasonable reaction or that it would have been remotely necessary. My congregation didn't flinch or roll their eyes or act even marginally uncomfortable, much to their credit and my lack of credit.

But I wasn't sure. I work at a large church - a highly programmatic one with enough critical mass in every demographic that we parcel folks into age categories for most everything. This makes good sense for appealing to different learning styles. But it also means that adults and kids don't mix a whole lot. Most children and youth go to Sunday School during worship or following the children's message. Crying babies are carted off by their parents to enjoy the sermon from the telecast in the parlor.

We do worship well. We do education well. (And by well, I mean really well.) But in that moment, the sitting-on-the-floor moment, I worried that maybe we do everything so well, so orderly and parceled out that when the messy and disruptive, real-life stuff plays out in our midst we won't be ready to handle it with grace.


I grew up in a small church. I remember sitting on the laps of my parents' friends, our church friends, at church league volley ball games, when I was in elementary school and too old and too lanky for sitting on laps. I remember my sister and her best friend taking baths in the kitchen sink, their naked baby bottoms where we later washed our pancake dishes at the camp where we had our congregational retreat. I remember sneaking out of the balcony with my best friend, Christie, and being greeted by Hoyt Jackson, who had walked right out of the chancel loft, in his burgundy choir robe, to cut us off at the back door. My extended family lived far away. Madison Presbyterian Church was my family.

I want this for my child . . . to be snuggled, included, corrected by my family of faith - not just the nursery family of faith, or the children's ministry, or the youth ministry, but by the multi-generational community.

I watch a handful of families daring to do this every Sunday, even when we make it so easy not to. Big churches have the resources to Downton-Abbey their worship and programming. In Downton Abbey the children are seen and not heard. Scratch that, the children are not seen and not heard. Little Sibby and Baby George are resourced out to nanny until an adorable and convenient time for their adult family members to dote on them. The kids do kid stuff. The adults do adult stuff. And when it's appropriately civil, the Venn diagram of kid stuff and adult stuff overlaps. When tidy, comfortable and convenient become the barometer of good, the Venn diagram of child and adult overlap is very thin.

In some ways, it will be easier for my baby. He or she will be known in my church because of being mine. And I fully intend to let the sweet granny types pick her up from nursery, and the bulky deep-voiced types to sway her to sleep at the Wednesday Lenten lunch, and the teenagers babysit. (Hold me to this, please.) I'm sure he/she will spend a sizable chunk of time in the nursery, but I don't want the nursery to be all that is known of church. I want the pews to be church, and the people to be church, and the family, and the singing, and the mistakes, and the love.

Lady Mary visits Baby George with Nanny West.
I want a messy, multi-generational church family for my child and for every child, which means that I need to adapt my ministry to make that happen. I need to examine my own expectations about doing things well and remember that well doesn't always mean polished. My life is going to lose a certain amount of polish in the next few years. Shouldn't my church love me and my child through that? (Love every parent and child through that?) I'm not saying to be haphazard or sloppy. Worship done with intentionality is a glory to God, but can't the intentionality be about making space for mishaps and a tiny bit of ruckus? This means church leadership being vocally (not just implicitly) permissive of wiggling and providing enough multi-sensory learning possibilities that little ones and their wits-frazzled parents are fully embraced.

The church of my childhood made me feel like I was a part of it - not that I would be a part of it someday but that I was fully in the mix from before I could write my Es without 8 horizontal lines. My child's church must seek to do the same, by dreaming up intergenerational opportunities for worship, play and service - more things like our intergenerational mission trip, Stop Hunger Now, Advent festival, Ash Wednesday pancakes, and family Easter service. This is inconvenient. It is complicated, and it takes longer. Providing service opportunities for an 8, 16, 45, and 70 year-old to process their learning is undoubtedly a pain, but I don't know that I have been more blessed in my ministry than watching an elementary age child and his retired prayer partner hunkered over a Bible together, talking about their work in a soup kitchen.

When we have the resources, it is easier to ship the kids off to nanny. They'll learn good things there. They'll play and color and probably have a grand time. And these things are good and valuable. (Really, I mean it; they are.) But children's church, on its own, isn't church. And grown-up church, while blissfully uninterrupted (minus that lady who won't stop blowing her nose, and the guy checking the ballgame score on his iphone) is shirking it's responsibility to disciple young people. Being family is a pain in the neck. Being the family of faith is no different.

My child whether he or she has even been born yet is already part of this family. My prayer is that he/she will know it - that, while seen and heard, and perfect and completely falling apart, my child will know that this place with the pulpit and the copious amounts of coffee is where her/his family gathers and they're going to love her and teach her to love God, even when it's easier just to park her in the nursery. May my psychosomatic hormones not rest until I have done my part to live into this hope.

As always, thank you for being a part of my journey. I am blessed to have such a family (immediate, church, and virtual), Shelli

Friday, January 10, 2014

Where I've Been, Where I'm Going

I am terrible about inertia. Once I get going, I'm not super about stopping, but once I get still, I just don't want to move. I will eat Triscuits and apple sauce rather than venturing out of my apartment for groceries. Getting on the road for a trip, even one I am really excited about, takes Herculean mental effort and the tasty-treat method, in which I promise myself a fun and delicious calorie-dense snack once I'm on my way.

So it is with blogging. Once I started, I couldn't seem to keep any thought to myself. If it was in by brain, or churning around in my life, I'd toss it out on the internet. But somewhere in there, I began to annoy myself. Some people can manage to blog without it being too self-involved, but I felt like I'd turned into the only nude person on a "please keep your clothes on" beach, commanding more attention than is necessary or appropriate for one person. And it was a little too easy, at least for me, to get swept up in how many people read, how many people affirmed, how much attention I could capture. So I stopped. I meant for it to be a break. But then inertia set in, and it has been 2+ months since I have written.

As I enter 2014, I hope to find the balance of sharing in a manner that is life giving without being so self-promoting. I'd welcome advice from you seasoned and thoughtful bloggers.

I have noticed lately that more and more people are asking how things are going, when things are going, what's happening now and next, etc. I guess that's what I get when I throw a giant life event out on the internet and then go silent. But it has given me lots of opportunities for catching up face-to-face and voice-to-voice. I am so grateful for the company and support along the journey. Thank you. For those of you I haven't filled in on where things stand, I thought it might be interesting to see the timeline of my adoption process to get an idea of the turf I've covered and what's ahead. Here goes:

Things I have done
My Home Study
  • Lots of research to determine the type of adoption (domestic infant) and what adoption agency was the right fit for me (Adoptions from the Heart). All together, this took about a year and was split 50/50.
  • Signed with my agency and took a half day introductory course (August 2013).
  • Had a minor life hiccup and needed to take a two month break.
  • Completed my home study paperwork. This was about 80 pages of documentation which included a biography, info about my family, education, discipline, dreams, etc.; plus financial info, lots of background checks, transcript, health records, employment verification, references from awesome friends and more. It was a lot, but I am a dork, and I love this stuff. Plus, seminary really prepares you for telling your story. (November 2013)
  • Full day class about open adoption, what happens when you get matched, laws about parental rights in the six states where my agency works, transracial considerations, and next steps. (November 2013)
  • Home visit. My fabulous social worker, Ashley, came to my house, discovered I had no fire extinguisher and still approved my study, with the promise I'd send her the picture of one when it arrived. (December 2013)


Things ahead
Safety selfie to prove I've got the goods to be a parent.
  • Sign my profile key. The adoption process is a little like online dating. Adoptive parents check off the things they are willing to accept in a child (race, drug exposure, health of birth parents, etc.) and the birth parent(s) fill out what they are willing to accept in an adoptive family (single/dual parent household, stay at home vs. working parent, number of visits/year, etc.) If they match, then the adoptive family goes into the pot for the birth families to choose from. This was super daunting. Mine has been completed since early November, but I haven't signed it yet. That will happen this weekend, but for some reason, I'm waiting to the last second, not because of inertia but because it is daunting. (January 14)
  • Turn in profile book. If birth parent and potential adoptive parent criteria matches, the adoptive parent's profile book is placed in a stack for the birth parent to choose from. I still have a couple of pictures left to add to mine, but I will turn it in on January 14.
  • Film awesome video. This video has been the holdup. My agency requires it as part of the profile for the matching system, but filming got snowed out in December. If it hadn't, I would have already turned in the profile key and book, as well. The video is used if a birth parent has narrowed down the adoptive parent candidates to two or three and wants a little bit more of a feel for the people. (January 14)
  • Wait to be matched. As soon as my profile key, profile book, and video are done, I will just be waiting. The average wait time at my agency is 6 month if you are open to a child of any race. It could be shorter but isn't expected to be too much longer.
  • Get the call. The call that I have been chosen as an adoptive parent could go two ways: (1) I'll be given about 1 month notice that a birth mother has chosen me, and I'll get my act together. And when the baby is born, he/she will come home with me. (2) I am matched in an emergency placement, in which I'm called and told that my baby is at the hospital and waiting for me. There is almost a 50/50 chance on which this will be. And just typing this, my heart rate shot up.
  • I'll bring home the child and wait the gut wrenching days, weeks, months for him/her to be legally mine. Different states have different regulations about when parental rights are severed and adoption is legal. There may be some breath holding during this time.
  • The baby becomes Randi/Randy Latham and is officially my child. Lots of legal requirements, home visits, etc. precede this, but ultimately some sweet baby with become a Latham (bless that little kid's heart) and may or may not (will not) be named Randy.
So, that's where I am - about four days from holding my breath as I wait for my child. January 14 is a big day. I'll be turning in my last bits of paperwork, filming what I am certain is going to be an incredibly awkward and awesome video, and officially beginning the wait. It also happens to be my mother's birthday, which somehow seems quite fitting.

Thank you for your love and support, and your interest. People always ask, "Is it okay if I ask?" and the answer is "Yes." Ask away. I love talking about the process and the journey.

This year promises to be a big one for me. Whether it is big for you or not, may 2014 offer you welcome surprises and moments of spontaneous joy and profound peace.

Sample page from my profile book.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Quitters Never Win

It's a day after wrapping up the Marine Corps Marathon, and I'm feeling mostly good - a little tentative on stairs and sore in the quads, bandaided on one toe on my left foot, but largely okay.

I say that with a little bit of surprise because things did not start off well in the marathon department. The first moment I knew that my body might be a little bit off was Saturday morning, as I leaned over to put on my shoes. A sharp shooting pain rocketed through my lower back. "I better stretch a lot. I'm feeling tender." I realized that I had known that when I woke up and spent some time trying to work the stiffness out of my legs, and I knew that when I felt a little tentative walking down the stairs from a party the night before. But in that moment, I started to worry that I might be in for a little pain.

I was right. Maybe 10 minutes later, as we prepared to haul our stuff down the winding five story fire escape off the back of my friend Stephanie's cousin's rocking warehouse condo, I found myself frozen in place, hunched over my stuff not able to get up without Steph's help. It hurt. It hurt a lot. In fact, in my charmed, relatively pain-free life, I have never hurt so much - ever. We managed to get me down on the floor where I laid on my back, ate ibuprophen, and tried to stretch and not panic. Eventually we wound our way down those death defying stairs to my car, where my back promptly did the same thing, where I cursed, cried just a little, and thought that I might have to be left as a permanent fixture in the back alley of a gentrifying DC neighborhood.

I wondered if I should go to the hospital before I found myself incapable of even getting back to West Chester. I contemplated whether I needed a masseuse. I took more ibuprophen, and as I lowered myself into my car, now being driven by my friend, I wondered how on earth I was going to run 26.2 miles in less than a day..

I wracked my brain to figure out what I had done to myself and remembered a similar, but far less dramatic situation about a year ago with my IT band. As I ran my thumbs down the outside edge of my right leg, I almost leapt out of the car window. Yep, that was it.
Me with Schaap Freeman, and
Stephanie Hankins - the world's best
running partners and friends.

Stephanie and I started brainstorming a 18 hour recovery plan, which involved a lengthy hot bath in some strangers tub, lots of stretching, hopefully finding a masseuse at the Expo, and some tough love on the ol' IT. We met up with our friend Schaap at the Expo and after about a million years (or 2 hours) of winding through lines, we finally had our stuff and were on the hunt for someone to fix me. You couldn't ask for two better friends when you're feeling a little puny; they picked up everything I put anywhere close to the ground. We were too scared for me to bend over again.

No free massages to be found. But there were some people demonstrating this body buffer. Imagine a car buffer with a fleecy fur cover. The woman there should be knighted, or given angel wings or crown, bedazzled with ruby, Red Cross, plus signs. She was an angel of mercy who spent way more time with me than she needed and offered to let me come back for a tune up. I could feel that little gizmo warming up my IT band and some of the tension start to release. When I said, "Would it be weird if I asked you to use this thing on my outer right butt cheek?" She said no, and informed me that that spot was my piriformis, which sounds less pervy than getting a public butt massage. (I had on jeans, people; don't worry.) But we still gave the Expo attendees quite a show. When I left their booth, I seriously contemplated buying the super deluxe Belle Body buffer, but being in full-on adoption savings mode, that just didn't seem responsible. (If any of you want to buy it and invite me over to use it, I'm on my way.)

Lengthy bath. Painful rolling out of my IT band and piriformis. (Didn't that sound fancy?) Stretching, stretching, and more stretching. By 7 PM, I was pretty certain that a trip to the emergency room was not in order, and I knew I was going to give this marathon a shot. But frankly I was afraid. And more frankly, if I hadn't been running with two of my bestest friends in the world, who were going to have 26.2 miles of fun without me, and if a lot of people hadn't given of their hard earned resources to support my run and my adoption, I might not have made it out the door on Sunday morning.

I slept with a heating pad so I could wake up and stretch without having to spend a lot of time warming up. 5 AM came early, and after one very traumatizing stop at the port-a-potties, we were in line ready to run. Besides the fact that I couldn't pick up my own gear from the grass, I didn't really have time to think about my back. Thank goodness.

The race itself was about as good as could be. I'm not a particularly patriotic person. I am grateful to live in a country where I am safe, where I have clean water, good roads, and I do not fear putting my head down on the pillow. But I am a pacificist (one who recognizes that my privilege to be able to believe in peace and non-violence comes from the sacrifice of others, but a pacifist none-the-less). In many ways, running this race with all its American flags and military-clad race support was out of character for me. But it was a joy, an unexpected, twenty-plus-mile, inspiring joy.

All the young officers (and they were young - break-your-heart young) were so polite and funny and encouraging. They cheered, and handed out water, and shouted things like "You got this. You got this. Only 75 miles to go." And "I can tell you can keep running. Keep running." They hung medals over sweaty, weary necks, helped us hobble down shuttle steps and represented the Marines with the utmost class. I am grateful for this snippet of time that will ever impact my sense of who the young men and women are who put themselves on the line for my right to believe in peace.

Andie Vaughn gets a sweaty hug as I pass mile 18.
As far as the race, I felt good for a pretty solid chunk of it. The first two miles were up hill. That was the biggest climb of the entire run, and it made for a nice downhill slide for many, many miles. I thought about my sister Kathryn from the time I crossed the starting line until I crossed the 2 mile marker. I had planned to dedicate the first mile to her, but the reality is that I had more than a miles worth of thanks, so she got the biggest hills and a whole lot of murmurings to God about God's great insight to make us a family, make her my sister, make her an awesome mom, and make her so utterly different than me that when she was barely 20 and already knew she wanted to be a mother that she thought I should be working on that too.

The next miles ticked away pretty easily. We had decided to try to do the first half at about a 12 minute/mile pace. If I could maintain that the whole way, that would be a PR for me, and Schaap and Steph could step on the gas after the half and still have some fuel in the tank. We were quicker than that, minus a 10 minute bathroom stop, at mile 9 or so.

Mostly, I couldn't believe how good I felt. My body felt strong and capable. The Aleve (which I know you're not supposed to take when you run, but I just felt like I needed more oomph than good ol' Tylenol) was working its magic. Schaap and Steph were usually about 50 yards ahead of me, easily spotted in their pink argyle arm-bands and hot pink socks. And at every water stop, they would stretch a bit and make sure I was okay. Did I mention they were the best? They were the best.

At mile 16, I dropped my water bottle and leaned down to pick it up, and things kind of went downhill from there. As soon as I leaned over, I knew I shouldn't have. My back clenched up. I could hardly get up, and then I heard my bottle drop out of the holder, once more. If I hadn't been afraid someone would trip on it, I wouldn't have leaned down again, but I did. $#!+. Double $#!+. This was not good.

Still, I managed to keep moving at a pretty decent clip. One of my former youth, and a long time family friend, Andie Vaughn, all grown up and awesome, waited for me between mile 18 and 19. It was so incredibly fun to see her, and hug her pristine, super-stylish self with my sweaty, disgusting self. What a special burst of joy just 8 miles from the end. I waved goodbye. She took a picture of my rear end pulling away, and I was off to "beat the bridge."

There's a time limit for  hitting the 20  mile mark. You have to "beat the bridge" (which is basically a 14 minute/mile pace) to keep running. I knew we weren't going to have any trouble with that, but I wanted to beat 4 hours, which would mean that I had kept a 12 minute/mile pace for 20 miles. (Quicker people may not get that, but it was a pretty awesome hurdle for me.) Done!

But then I started to hurt - really hurt. I don't know if was the change in surface. We had mostly been on asphalt, but a big chunk of the last miles was concrete bridge. Every foot strike sent a jolt from the back of my right knee, through my back, into my right shoulder blade. The 21 mile marker was a few feet ahead, and I shouted to my friends that I needed to walk. Actually, I said, "You go ahead. I know I can finish, but I'm going to have to walk."

Schaap looked at me, and said, "No, you aren't." And when my eyes welled up, she asked what was wrong and then offered to massage my piriformis. So a few feet from 21 miles, I leaned over a bridge railing, looking out on the Potomac, and one of my dearest friends rubbed out my piriformis, which let's face it is just another word for butt. (I told you: my friends are the best!) That got me another half or a mile, and then Stephanie and Schaap pulled ahead and I walked for about two miles. It was super frustrating, because I could tell my body still had get-up-and-go. But the difference between the pain when striking at a run verses a walk was pretty extreme. At mile 23, I cried - not the boo-hoo, sobbing kind of crying, just tears running silently down my face. I stepped down, at one point, and my whole body just froze in place like I had grabbed a high voltage electric fence. I could tell that my over correcting for my back was causing other things to hurt, my left ankle, the interior of my right knee - places that don't normally bother me. Never at any point, did I feel like I couldn't finish. I hurt, but outside of the pain, I also felt pretty darn good.

Mile 24 brought Dunkin' Doughnuts, and a kick in the pants. And for the last 2 miles I was able to alternately run and walk, knowing that I would finish.

At mile 25, I remembered by friends John and Laurie. I had promised the last mile to them. They hadn't asked for it, or anything. They have just been a constant encouragement, source of laughter and venting, and familial inspiration, especially for the three years since we have been Pennsylvania neighbors. I was about to step onto an off ramp that looped from the highway down to the last mile straight-away, and I thought, "I am so grateful for my friends." And I started to cry again. (I am not usually such a blubbery baby, but I couldn't help myself.)

I cried out of gratitude for the beautiful, inspiring people in my life. I cried for John and Laurie and Kathryn, and for every single name that I lifted up over the 25 miles before, of people who came out of the woodwork to support me in my adoption plans. I cried because on November 18th I should have my home study finished and be ready for a baby to come home to the Latham castle any day after that. I cried because I am blessed. I'm sure people thought I was crying out of pain (that happens, for sure), but I was crying out of immense thanksgiving for the life I have been dealt.

At that point, I couldn't breathe and thought I had developed sudden on-set asthma and that I might require an artificial lung. And then I realized that a throat closed up in gratitude is hard to push air through, so I saved the blubbering until I hugged the necks of my friends at the end.

The stretch to the finish is one long piece of highway, smooth and straight with the finish-line arch tucked up a curve just out of sight. I had this. I totally had this. I could run that last mile, the wide blue sky above me, the buzz of the crowd already in my ears. I could run it, despite the fact that 24 hours before I thought I might need to be in traction. But strangely I didn't want to. I jogged ahead, holding back when I knew there was more in me, not quite ready for it to be over. Maybe you've had one of those moments, when you almost get something, and you know it's coming but you're not quite ready for the anticipation, the peeling off of the wrapping paper, the drive towards the goal to be behind you. I did run that last stretch, and I managed to throw my hands up over my head as I crossed the finish where my dear sweet friends had charmed a loveable Marine into letting them wait for me. And then I cried again, in gratitude. Geez, get it together Latham.

When I started this race, I thought this would be my last marathon. My body's not really designed for the mileage, and the time commitment is brutal, and my whole life is about to change. But when I finished I thought, "Well . . . maybe I'll just do Chicago, and then I'll really be done." Truth is, with those two friends on the track, I'd go just about anywhere.

5 hours and 40 minutes. That's not my clock time. I stopped my watch for the 10 minute bathroom stop and the tush massage, and I'm not even inclined to know how long we wasted with those (my guess is about 15 minutes). Even with the less than ideal bodily circumstances, I only added 5 minutes to my New York Marathon time. For Chicago, I'll try to break 5:30. I'm pretty sure I can.


Thank you for following my journey and for giving me reasons to turn into a wheezing, blithering mess at mile 25. If I could still be there on that flat concrete stretch, blue sky for miles, finish line just around the bend, counting my blessings, I would be. Nah, who am I kidding; I'd be really hungry. And besides the journey isn't over when you hit the finish line.


 



Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Ready or NOT, Marathon, I Come

In five more sleeps, I will be standing on the streets of Arlington, in the predawn chill waiting with 2 friends and 30,000 strangers for the cannon gizmo to signal the start of the Marine Corps Marathon. Just a week ago, the race organizers announced that the event might have to be called off because the jokesters in Washington couldn't settle on a federal budget plan. And I tried to be disappointed, but the truth is that I was relieved.

Training has been rough for me, and I am entering this race with a master plan that if I get eight hours of sleep every night this week, steer clear of any alcohol, drink lots of water and not too many ice cream sandwiches, maybe that will counterbalance the fact that I really have not put in the miles. I have lots of excuses, most of them legit. I have been sick on-and-off, had some minor surgery requiring an ill-timed week-long break, (Don't freak out, family. I didn't tell you because it was minor.), took medicine that made me thirsty, sunburned, have vertigo, shortness of breath, lack of appetite for anything but bread, and general grodiness. Seriously, I looked up the side effects, and in small print at the bottom of a long page, it said, "In rare instances, some people may experience, thirst, sunburn, dizziness, shortness of breath, nausea and general grodiness." Actually it didn't say the last part or anything about the desire to subsist entirely on cake. Add to this that my last 20 miler was in 80+ degree heat (If we're being honest, my only 20 miler because of a fear, the prior medicinally-laden week, that I might have to lay down ten miles from my house and be eaten by buzzards, led me to nap and go to the farmer's market instead.), and I'm feeling . . . well . . . doomed.

I'm also feeling really, really healthy. Because despite all the set-backs, it feels pretty ridiculously awesome to wake up on a Monday morning for a twelve miler that in the grand scheme of the other running I've been trudging through is no biggie. So I enter this race with a mixture of emotions - joy that I'll get to share the story of this 26.2 mile jaunt with two of my dearest friends (Stephanie Coble Hankins and Schaap Freeman, who knowing their training regimens and athletic acumen will probably leave me in the dust), resolve that I can do this even if I really stink it up, fear that it's going to hurt a lot, the excitement of the expo and the starting line and getting passed by a blind runner accompanied by her grandpa in a matching t-shirt (or some other heart-soaring reminder of the human spirit that is inevitable in situations like these), matching t-shirts with my own buddies who are promoting my adoption while they school me in a footrace.

I enter this run with a lot of the same emotions that wash over me when I really let myself think about my adoption and what it means for my life. Most days, it's just normal. I trust that it's coming, but it's not imminent. But other days, it makes my stomach flip the same way the text message about Vaseline and compression socks reminded me, "Holy Cow, I'm really doing this. Am I even ready?" It makes me excited to imagine first days of school, and play dates with the cousins, and making Halloween costumes. It makes me think I should get some eight hour sleeps under my belt while I still can. And the hoop jumping can be both as promising and as agonizing as speed work and hill runs. I'd like to think though that I'm a little more ready to bring home little, baby Latham than I am prepared for this marathon. I've been baby sitting since I was in elementary school. (Seriously. Who thought that was a good idea?) I've only been running since 2008.

No matter what, I will do it - the adoption and the marathon. This race is more than proving to myself that I can do it. It's almost like an element on my home study checklist . . . get background check, provide copy of bank statements, order transcript, run marathon. Because for at least a little while, I imagine that after October 27th, my marathon days are behind me. I'm slow so the training is slow and a huge time commitment, plus with my knee and lower back issues, I can't possibly carry around an infant or toddler and put more than 25 miles a week on my body. Running this marathon is saying, "I'm putting this aside for a while so that I can live another dream."

So ready or not, Marine Corps Marathon, here I come! I will conquer you - maybe a little more slowly than anticipated and trying not to injure myself. Motherhood, here I come! I'm training now - mixing and matching baby names in my head, researching birth defects from drug exposures, making party favors for my nephew's birthday and craft projects on the floor with my favorite Godson. Maybe it will happen more slowly than anticipated, and maybe it will pop up before I am ready. I'll just try not to injure myself.

Thanks for your love and support. My number is 15052, if you want to follow my progress. If it looks like I am not running, keep in mind I may be super slow, but provided I'm still on course I am fine and dandy and mentally calculating my-post race meal. If you happen to be in DC, come out and cheer for us. We'll be the ones in the light blue "twenty-six candles" shirts - girls on fire (or something like that)!

..............................

This marathon is my only fundraising activity for my adoption. It's also where the name, Twenty-Six Candles, came from. Read more about it here.






Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Single Mom-dom and Career Sabotage

"So what does this mean for your career?" asked my smart, savvy, go-getter soul-sister. She was talking about the adoption, of course, and the single mother thing, and how churches (since I'm a pastor, you know) would do with getting their brains around that whole scenario. She was not talking about whether or not I would be capable of the career-child hybrid life; it's not 1952, after all, and I already mentioned she's smart.

But she has a point, one that I was well aware of before I started this process. Someday, women won't have to worry if search committees and upper level leadership think that those of us with two x chromosomes are capable of climbing the (insert appropriate career descriptor here) ladder while potentially imagining "getting pregnant" someday, or raising children. The sheer number of women pursuing advanced level degrees (and in my case the number of women being ordained into PCUSA ministry) means that in a not so, so distant future this land will be full of boss ladies.

But we're still getting there. And so I know it will be harder. Some day, I won't be at the mighty fine church I am now, where I came in all readily available and child-free. If I have a kid and I'm on my own, there will be folks who will wonder how I can possibly "do it all". And if I am married and have a child or four (not really, just seeing if you're paying attention), there will be the ones who will wonder how I can get dinner on the table, and do all that mom stuff, and wife stuff and still perform at work. And that will limit my prospects. But the truth is if the potential job of my future can't see what a catch I am because I'm living a little outside the box, I don't want them, anyway.

But just to remind myself and all the smart, savvy go-getters in my life why it's okay to reach for the things you dream of, here's my list of why being a single mom is not career sabotage, or at least it shouldn't be.

I can relate. I figure that in a career focused on caring (and shouldn't that be all of them) I will bring new gifts and shared experiences to the game. Infertility? Maybe I don't get that, but yearning? Check. And instead of sympathizing, I'll be empathizing with parents whose kids eat nothing but hotdogs and crayons, and are budding Picassos with a penchant for painting wall murals with lipstick. Because I'll have my own kid who still can't say her "r"s or is reading behind grade level. Or my son will have to choose between elite soccer or youth group. "And everyone else's parents let them . . ." And there's this strange rash, or unexplained fever, or rollerblading injury. And I can't get him to bed before 9 PM because I had a late night meeting and he forgot to tell me he needed to make a puppet depicting his future career, which apparently this week is a Ninja Turtle. I may be tired, and busy, and stretched. But I can relate in a way that I couldn't before.

2 AM emergency phone calls are .0002% of ministry. "What will you do when you get an emergency phone call in the middle of the night and have to go the hospital?" It's the question search committees long to ask but don't because they're afraid they'll get sued, because they're really supposed to make decisions on your merit not your family structure. But my married-with-kid pastor friends say interviewers get to this all sorts of ways. What they're wondering is "how can you be available to us and be a mom?"  I have a handful of answers for this conundrum. The first being that phone calls in the middle of the night hardly ever happen. I mean HARDLY EVER. And if you don't have an employee who is smart enough to have a plan for this situation you probably shouldn't hire him/her in the first place. Of course your pastor, chief of staff, teacher should be available, but "available" is aiming too low. She should also be resourceful, a delegator, eloquent, engaging, compassionate, intelligent. A person can be available and hardly have a pulse (maybe that's what makes them so available, anyway).

"How can you be available and be a mom?" The first part of that wondering is about availability, and the second is about mom quality. Why does it seem so appropriate to wonder this about mothers and not to hold fathers to the same standards? I don't get the same vibe that personnel committees want to know how a man can possibly be top notch in his career and still balance his barbequing and lawn mowing, and whatever other stereotypical dad roles we put on men. Maybe committees are asking those questions (or thinking them in their heads but are afraid they're going to get sued). "Mr. Platypus, how do you imagine you will balance driving your daughter to soccer practice and coaching your son's ballet troupe and still be available if we need to call you at 2 AM?"

You can be MY community. Maybe that sounds crazy - to say to a group of people who want you to work for them that one of your assets is that they can work for you. Not work exactly . . .but that in your willingness to open your life, your need for parenting advice, the occasional session meeting babysitter, a grandmother-type because the grandparents live really far away, someone to teach your son to shave without losing an ear, to bring you soup when you're sick - that is a gift. We grow to love one another, and trust one another, and to be authentic on the journey with one another when we are able to share our growing edges . . . our weaknesses. In the ministry, and I would expect in most places, it is a gift to get to care for someone else, not all the time but some time. We grow more into our full humanity when we share the responsibilities of love. I'll bring you soup, and read you Psalms in the hospital, and I promise (even when it's hard to say I need you) that I'll let you love me too.

You know my kryptonite. Everyone has it - a vulnerability that makes them human. And if they don't, they're probably not human. And do you really want to hire zombies? My vulnerability is right out front like a logo t-shirt. "I Preach AND Proof Homework." I am a known entity. I will be a known entity when I search for that head of staff position when my child is 2 or 5 or 8 or 11. I'm not going to hide my child under a blanket in the trunk and then unveil her after you realize that my brain and passion for justice fit your bill. But it is not in the power of the job hander-outers to know everything - like who's elderly mother is going to require extended care, who is in recovery for addiction (or not in recovery), whose marriage is crumbling. You know you're getting a human with some sort of something that will someday be a challenge. At least with me, there's up-front truth in advertising. I am not a zombie.

I am fierce. You don't adopt a kid by yourself without being a little bit of a bada$$. By the time my little baby-powdered nugget comes along, I will have passed enough background checks that I could work for the CIA. Not every mom has that particular hurdle, but I tend to think a person who can get bellies full of veggies, practice multiplication flashcards, write a speech for a fundraiser, cleanup puke at 3 AM and still have on matching shoes to walk to the bus stop before a breakfast meeting is a find. If availability is going to make the character-trait list, shouldn't fierceness be there too?

So dear sweet, smart, savvy go-getter friend (you know who you are) . . . I'm not worried. There will be the opportunities that never come to fruition because I'm too risky. But that's okay; I wouldn't be happy in any place that is less than gutsy anyway. I figure everyone in every stage of life has something spectacular to offer, and single moms clearly rock but aren't the exception. The moms returning to work after raising 3 kids, the almost retiree aiming for one last career shift, the single dad, the 32 year college grad who worked his way through college after getting a GED and raising his siblings . . . everyone has a little dent or two. I figure beneath them is a little extra life and a worthwhile story. Here's to the day the dents become a selling feature.  

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Read the Lyrics

(This is one of those posts, where I need to say out loud, in very small writing at the top, that the views in this blog are my own, not my church's, not my denomination - just mine. Thanks for reading.)

I haven't experienced a whole lot of discrimination in my life. I'm white, straight, born in the good ol' US of A, raised in a middle class family, with opportunities to attend good schools. Aside from the horrors of being picked nearly last for anything remotely related to catching a ball, throwing, running or general dexterity, I have, through hard work and a general availability of opportunities, been able to achieve what I put my mind to. (Thank you Collie Bryan, my dear sweet, athletic friend for choosing me not-last. And to the person who invented picking teams, there is a special circle in hell just for you, haunted by the ghosts of clumsy, awkward adolescents with crushed spirits.)

I believe that this whole adoption business will work out for me, too. I believe that some woman with a tremendous amount of grit and grace will look at the picture of just me, and read the bio of just me and think, "I'm going to give my baby to her because she seems clever, and mostly nice, and coordination is overrated." But this adoption business has opened my eyes to what it feels like to be marginalized. And you know what? It sucks. And you know what's worse than being marginalized? Being marginalized by the community you stake your life and livelihood to claim and promote and uphold - being marginalized by Christians.

It's one thing to know that Christians have the capacity to hurt people, to use doctrine to make others feel less human and worthwhile, and it's another thing for it to be about you. It shouldn't be, but it is. And my experience with Christian adoption agencies has been incredibly disappointing - the worst. If I were someone else - someone who is used to getting kicked in the gut by the world, someone who has been shut out more often than not and had their humanity called into question by those who worship the God of love, it might be enough to make me cry. But for this lucky duck - this straight, white woman, with the pricey education, and the middle class peers - it just makes me mad . . . mad and embarrassed and sad, really sad.

Maybe there are piles upon piles of single women (and men) who dream of entering the adoption journey solo, who have planned their entire lives towards that moment of bringing home a child on their very own. But for the most part, I think single-parent adoption is a contingency for a life that maybe didn't quite align itself otherwise - a beautiful, hopeful, gutsy contingency - but Plan B, none the less. So to enter the process a little vulnerably and then to read in promotional material that agencies - Christian agencies - would only work with married, heterosexual couples hurts. Now, to be honest, this is exceptional. Most would also work with single, straight women, though literature shows definite favoritism (like if they couldn't find anyone else for some poor kid, they would consider assigning him/her to half-a-family). I never talked to any of those agencies because even if I was potentially . . . maybe . . . allowed, I have no interest in working with an agency that lets me slide but doles out discrimination in other ways, to other people.

Still, it stung knowing that just because I didn't have a Mrs. in front of my name and a fella taking up residence in my house that I was already seen as sub-standard parenting material. I get the four-hands-is-better-than-two mentality, but no agency that ever met me would in a million years could think that this kid will ever suffer from lack of people to care for him/her - not if at least a couple of their social workers have ears. And granting agencies - the awesome folks that give away free money to people who need a little extra to make the adoption dream a reality - they're worse. It is the Christian adoption grants that talk the most about "biblical families" and "families as God intended", with a mother AND a father. And I am reminded once more why single people, single parents even more so, don't want to show up at church. It's made for pairs, boy/girl pairs. And if the church is promoting that "biblical families" look a certain way and "God's intention" only fits one picture, then when you don't fit that picture God clearly thinks you are substandard material. Awesome thanks for being so welcoming. (Please note, I do not have this experience of going to church. The privilege of wearing the robe gives you an automatic in. But I get it, and it breaks my heart.)

You most likely know by now that I am running a marathon to raise funds for my adoption. (Darn you granting wizards who think I'm not family material.) Training means a perpetual quest for the right running mix. As I'm putting tunes on my ipod, I will stand in my den and pump my arms in running fashion, just to see if they fit. Maybe you've heard the song Harlem, by New Politics. Well, it is THE song. I might listen to it four times in a 6 mile tempo run. I knew, when I first heard it back before it was cool on my local, independent radio station (Did you catch how I slid in there that I predicted its spectacularness before pop radio?), that it would be my jam. (Do the cool kids still say that? "Be my jam?")

So I was on a quest to make it mine. But I didn't know the name. And my phone, where the necessary information was stored in Shazaam's beautiful memory, was in my car. And I was feeling too lazy to descend the three stories to get it, so I googled. I knew the song went something like this:

When it gets loud, I (something something)
Shake it like a backhoe up in Harlem
(hmmm hmmm hmm hmmm hmm hmm hmm)
Light it up, smokin' itjchigatim.


Now, clearly this was problematic on many levels. First, I wondered if "shake it like a backhoe" was something perverse, though I had strange images in my head of Bob-the-Builder equipment droppin' it like it's hot. Or did it say, "black girl", and how did I feel about that? And what is itjchigatim? Is that a thing? And are people smoking it? I am clearly not doing youth ministry these days. I have no idea about drug lingo any more.

Miraculously, I found it. Here's the real deal:

(When it gets loud, I turn it up)
Shake it like a bad girl up in Harlem
(When it's too hot, I light it up)
Light it up, yeah, smoke em if you got 'em

Right. This makes significantly more sense. It does beg the question why only bad girls get to shake it, but otherwise, aside from the fact that I am a big proponent of never, ever smoking, this tune would be okay for me. New Politics, I get your jam. I can sing your song, and it will be your song . . . not some butchered, made up, unidentifiable number I've created and attributed to you. I can sing the song because I've read the lyrics.

I fear that as Christians, we are singing the song using made up words. "The Bible says marriage is between a man and a woman." "The Bible says that a child should be raised by a father and a mother." The biblical model for family is this right here, and only this . . .

No. The Bible doesn't say that. When we butcher the lyrics, we are not singing God's song. We are singing some unidentifiable number we've created and attributed to God.

The Bible DOES say a lot about marriage, and if you want to tell me that because of your reading of passages from Ephesians, Colossians, 1 Corinthians, Genesis, etc. that you discern that God intends for a family to be composed of one mommy and one daddy and 2.5 kids, I can hear that. Just like I hope you can hear me, when I say that the Bible says that David (God's favored, chosen king of Israel and great, great, great granddad of Jesus) had at least seven wives and one child (who also grew up to have a heaping pile of wives) from a woman he had an affair with and then engineered the death of her husband . . . and that Ruth and Naomi are held up as a model of family, a woman and her mother-in-law . . .  and that the inability of women to be self-sustaining at the time meant their survival hinged upon the widowed daughter-in-law getting Boaz sloshed and tricking him into marrying her by sleeping with him or, at least, letting him think so.

No, I don't think God intends for us to have affairs with other people's spouses and have them killed off. And I don't think that God hopes our security will be wrapped up in whether a woman can trick a man into marrying her, but I do know that the Bible is full of a lot of different types of families - widows raising their children, interracial adoption, teen pregnancy, step-parenting (both of the latter are Jesus' own mom and pop), and a lot of family systems I just don't understand. I wish I knew with absolute authority about God's intentions for marriage and family. I wish it was clear and easy to articulate, to boil down to sound bytes. But our God is complex. God's word is complicated. And if we're going to profess to sing God's song, we sure as heck better pay attention to ALL the words.

I think what I've learned through this new reality of being the one who God frowns upon (or who someone says that God says that God frowns upon) is that we, as Christians, can't wait until we are the ones marginalized to say that it is not okay to extract snippets of God's word to hold up as the entire hymn. It is far less hurtful and alienating to say that God's word is complicated and the lyrics are tricky and a bit illusive than to say that they are simple, so simple that we mortals can pare them down to a jingle with a clear red line of who's in and who's out.

I'm lucky; I am not beaten down, I'm an insider's insider, I've experienced God's grace more times than I could ever dare to count, so often from the very community that, right this second, is saying some words about my appropriateness for full life that might be pretty hurtful to someone not so absurdly fortunate. I know the song is beautiful. It is complicated, but it is beautiful, and at its core I just keep finding love. That's the song I'm going to do my best to sing. Maybe we lucky insiders can form a choir.