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On the Twelfth Month of Julia...

Over the past twelve months, our true love has given us countless gifts. Some felt wrapped in big beautiful packages, like her first word – Mama! Others were disguised as lumps of coal, only to be fully understood and appreciated in hindsight. The tough lessons pierced hard and the joys exceeded our wildest imaginations, but all were gifts indeed and we’re truly grateful for each one.

Exactly twelve months ago tonight, Kevin and I sat at our favorite East Nashville restaurant basking in the glow of our match to Julia (just hours before!), and in the iPhone screen that illuminated the picture of her we kept propped against the salt shaker the entire meal. Tonight we’re headed back to our spot to celebrate, this time as an *official* party of three. We will probably ask for a highchair though instead of making her lean on the shaker.

The year flew by in a blink, to think she’s been home nearly eight months. We wish one of her gifts to us had been the ability to slow time and stay awake to soak her up for all eight-thousand-some-odd hours of it. But as we step back and reflect on the year as a whole, we are reminded of all the big and little blessings she did give us along the way – some before we were even together.

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On the first month of Julia, our true love gave to us, Elation

There really are no words to adequately convey our joy and excitement in being matched with this child, so I guess “elation” will just have to do. Our hearts were privileged to experience a euphoric high that neither Kevin nor I knew even existed. It is some potent stuff ya’ll, and we’re still riding on the fumes today.

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On the second month, Faith

Upon receiving a tough update in January, we crashed hard from that first elated buzz. Our irrational instinct was to fly to China ASAP, but that was not an option. Instead, we had to find what would later be recognized as a gift – “faith”. Faith in the process to keep moving at a relatively quick pace. Faith in our agency to get more information from her orphanage. Faith in the caretakers to nurture her little body. Faith in Julia to have a fighting spirit. Faith in the powers-that-be for everything to turn out alright.

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On the third month, Patience

As we waited and waited for more information on Julia and as we crossed the days until travel off our calendar, another gift revealed itself as such – “patience”. We had to override our natural sense of urgency and control with patience instead. Adoption simply takes a while, and the tempo was out of our hands most of the time. Disguised as a test, this gift is the one that keeps on giving. Parenthood requires a lot of it, so it turns out we were lucky to get a forced head start.

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On the fourth month, Humility

The financial support, the donated garage sale items, the turnout at our fundraising concert, the emails of encouragement, the blog comments, the sincere agony for our wait, the shared joy in our journey, the folks that came out of the woodwork, the old relationships found, the new relationships forged. We were truly brought to our knees by a most beautiful rallying around a child we all had yet to meet.

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On the fifth month, Adventure

April was already our favorite month. It holds memories of our wedding day and of annual treks to various National Parks to celebrate, renew, and discover together. It was quite fitting that the greatest adventure yet would also be in April. A 7,500 mile one-way journey across oceans (and over the north pole!) to finally hold our daughter was only the beginning of the real ride. We loved our short (but definitely wild) time in China, and we would stand in Disney-length lines to ride this parenting roller coaster again and again and again.

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On the sixth month, Empathy

As we watched our little girl reel from an abrupt life alteration that we will admittedly never be able to fully understand, we both experienced “empathy” like never before. When all we wanted to do was squeeze her tight and make her understand how much we loved her, instead we had to respect where she was and humbly meet her there to provide what she needed. Oh how we would have transferred all of her pain, fear, and confusion onto ourselves if we could have. But as it is with all human beings – no matter the age – she had to process the grief herself, in the way she knew how, and on her own time, in order to start healing. All we could do was love her, guide her, and show her that we would be here always and forever. Intimately experiencing someone’s grief secondhand ended up being a beautiful gift that reminded us how we are all fighting our own battles within and could use a little more compassion.

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On the seventh month, Hope

In June, we celebrated Julia’s second birthday together as a family! We had another big reason to celebrate as well. Julia finally granted us eye contact beyond the occasional glance when she thought we weren’t looking. She touched our faces and used gestures to ask us to do things for her, both providing much-needed hope that she was moving toward healing and trusting us.

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On the eighth month, Presence

As the three of us began to settle into a routine and find our rhythm as a family, we were able to relax a little more and just enjoy each other. Since I am able to stay at home with her full time, I had nothing but said time to give. Sure, this “job” can be pretty intense and tiring. But it is infinitely more rewarding and enjoyable. She makes me want to savor every second and be fully present with her in this short sweet time before she doesn’t need us, she’s off to school, thinks we’re uncool, starts driving… oy.

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On the ninth month, Validation

Beginning our second week home, we had regular monthly appointments with the Vanderbilt International Adoption Clinic to keep an eye on Julia’s progress. The pediatrician tracked her weight, length, and head circumference, plus her growth in physical, mental, and emotional skills. By August, she was finally on the charts for height and weight! She was making leaps and bounds of progress in muscle strength and coordination too. All the avocados, coconut, and eggs we had been pumping into her were finally doing the trick.

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On the tenth month, Fun

Our little lotus finally started revealing more of her true personality in the fall, which as Kevin said in the previous post, is a bonafide ham. This child’s joy is infectious. Her spirit shines. And as cliché as it sounds, there’s a twinkle in her eye. Perhaps you have even seen it in her photos. She is a master puppeteer at getting adults to make complete fools of themselves to see that smile of hers. We have sung, danced, wrestled, and played like little kids to the point of needing ice packs, heating pads, and prescriptions (you think I am joking).

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On the eleventh month, Trust

Hands down the most cherished gift of all has been Julia’s trust. She began looking to us for reassurance and clung tightly when she needed us. She didn’t want to let go at bedtime. She started to utter “Mama” when she felt insecure. Stranger and separation anxiety are not feelings you want your child to experience of course. But for us, they mean she doesn’t want to be apart from us, we hope because she loves us and finally understands what “Mama” and “Daddy” mean. We consider ourselves honored to be the lucky recipients of this most precious gift a child from her beginnings could give.

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On the twelfth month, Wonder

Back to that twinkle in her eye, we have been blessed to witness and take part in her discovering the world. She loves rain. She squeals with delight when she sees a bird in the sky… just like in her book! Music moves her. Sweaters are soooooooooft. Spice jars are fun to smell. Everything is a drum and makes its own unique sound. Her eyes have reopened ours to all the everyday wonder around us, and the holidays have been times ten.

I know the song stops at twelve, but the gifts thankfully do just keep flowing our way. We pray and trust that the next twelve months will bring even more blessings to our daughter, to us, and hopefully to all of you and your families as well. Cheers to a peaceful 2015 and a very Merry Christmas from the Browns, party of three!

"I am a lotus flower – delicate, fragile, yet strong... floating, unfolding, and blossoming into the life where I belong.”