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Dear friend,

Five years ago today you made what must have been a difficult decision…one filled with much pain. I know I’ve said this before, but I can’t imagine what you experienced that night, and I don’t want to. There is no way that you could have known, as you wrapped up that little girl and prepared to take her to a place where she would be found and cared for, that God was preparing a place for her here – half a world away. We are thankful for her everyday, and I didn’t want this day to pass without pausing to honor you. Regardless of the reasons for your decision, we know that it was not a decision made lightly.

Just a quick update for you – Hannah is doing great. She is incredibly intelligent and terribly curious. She loves to figure out what things do and why they work. She loves to help, especially in the kitchen. She is learning so much, and always surprises us with words that she uses; words like “apparently” and “supposedly.” She has always, from the first moment we met her, dealt with new situations very well. She went to the dentist for the first time the other day, and she didn’t flinch when they cleaned her teeth. She was complimented at the doctor’s office the other day for her bravery during a strep test. She loves princesses and (recently) Barbies, and loves to sing and dance, especially with her brother and sister. She is very friendly and extremely confident.

In short, Hannah is loving and smart and considerate and wonderful. We couldn’t love her any more than we do, and we tell her often about how much you must have loved her to let her come here to be with us. I know that at some point there will be many difficult questions that we can’t answer in your absence, but for now it is enough to know that God picked her out of 5 billion people to come live with us. We are teaching her about God and Jesus, and she plans to be baptized in the Jordan River when she is ready. Hopefully we’ll find a river a little closer by then.

It is late and time to go, but I wanted to again thank you, wherever you are, for the choice you made five long years ago. I hope that if you are thinking of Hannah tonight, you will feel comfort knowing that she is loved dearly, and you will always be remembered with great honor for your decision and the impact it has made on our family.

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This is a statement that I had prepared to read Sunday morning to our church family, but other things took precedence. I typed it instead, cleaned it up a bit, and decided to post it here as well. Just read it out loud, cry all the way through it, and it will be as if I had read it to you myself.
Love to you all,
Lee

Thursday we celebrated Will’s 1st birthday, and naturally we spent some time reflecting back over the events leading up to and following his birth, and through each part of that experience we see God working through you. Even as we take joy in knowing that things worked out the way we wanted, we are also thankful for the difficult times as well. It was in these times, when we didn’t think we could take the next step, that you carried us. We didn’t know how we would handle adversity, but now we know that God is more than able to sustain us, no matter the situation.

I want to take this opportunity first of all to thank you again for the tremendous gift you gave us, but I also want to take a minute to encourage you as well. Just as we were at a low point almost a year ago when Will’s birth parents took him back for a few days, there are members of our body who are at a low point now. I have always taken great comfort from the following words of Moses found in Deuteronomy 8.

“You shall remember all the way which the LORD your God has led you in the wilderness these forty years, that He might humble you, testing you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not. He humbled you and let you be hungry, and fed you with manna which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that He might make you understand that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of the LORD. Your clothing did not wear out on you, nor did your foot swell these forty years. Thus you are to know in your heart that the LORD your God was disciplining you just as a man disciplines his son. Therefore, you shall keep the commandments of the LORD your God, to walk in His ways and to fear Him. For the LORD your God is bringing you into a good land, a land of brooks of water, of fountains and springs, flowing forth in valleys and hills; a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive oil and honey; a land where you will eat food without scarcity, in which you will not lack anything; a land whose stones are iron, and out of whose hills you can dig copper. When you have eaten and are satisfied, you shall bless the LORD your God for the good land which He has given you.”

The Wilderness plays an important role throughout the history of God’s people, but maybe nowhere more prominently than in the story of the Exodus. I typically thought of the Wilderness as a punishment for disobedience, but now I am coming to understand that it was more than that. God doesn’t just punish His people, but disciplines them. Everything He does is to teach, to instruct, and to prepare His people for what is to come, and to maintain His relationship with them. The Israelites needed to learn to trust God, to obey Him because He knew what was best for them.

I believe that we are in the Wilderness – we have trusted God to lead us out of slavery, but we are still waiting for the Promised Land. And in the journey God wants to prepare us, to teach us to trust Him. Sometimes that means that we experience loss, heartache or broken relationships. Sometimes we have difficulty with our job or our finances. Sometimes we struggle through an illness, a habit or a sin – whether it is because of something I have done or something that someone has done to me, or even just a random occurrence, God is able to use any circumstance to teach me to trust Him more, knowing that the journey is only temporary, but the reward is eternal.

I was reading about this subject once, and learned more about the Wilderness. Whereas I used to think about the Wilderness as a desert, it seems actually to be full of vegetation and plant life, but only the kind that could sustain you for a short time. It was okay to pass through, but was not suitable for settling down. Knowing this helps me greatly, because I know that when I experience pain or sorrow, it reminds me that this world is not my home, that I haven’t settled down here, but I am on my way to a better place. God gives me all that I need to sustain me for the time that I am here, but there is something much better to come.

As we begin Will’s second year, we are thankful that for all of you who are on this journey with us. We know that no matter what happens, God has given us a family that will gladly share our burdens and our joys. We love you all so much, and just like our love for our children increases each day, so our love for you grows more and more. Thank you for loving us in the amazing way that you have, and know that when Will’s story is told, God will be glorified.

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June 11, 2008

As the day begins I want to take a few minutes to publicly celebrate not only Will’s birth, but also his addition to our family. It is difficult to remember, sitting here a year later, all of the emotions we experienced, and I suppose that is a blessing.

We had only known for a little more than a month that we were going to be adopting him, so there was a major rush to prepare not only our home, but also get all of our paperwork done. We began the process not knowing how we would pay for it, but God answered that particular prayer in a definitive way through our church family. We also weren’t totally sure it would all happen, and for a while it didn’t, but again our church family (up to and including our physical families) were up to the challenge.As I think more about it, that day was full of excitement and fear and joy and apprehension, and all of it had to be restrained. All of these emotions, and several more, were present, but none could be given full rein. We just had to sit and wait, and that was perhaps the hardest thing of all.

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Jaycie with her new brother - a few days old

I want to also pause and thank Will’s birth parents. Part of what made that day (and the following weeks) difficult is that we saw in their faces how much they loved him, and we could only imagine the battle that was raging within them. They had made a good but tough decision, but they weren’t prepared for the love that they felt when he was born. We could see them struggle, and to this day I continue to be amazed that they made the decision that they did. To admit that you are not prepared for a child and to know that no matter how much it hurts you, he will have a better life with another family has got to be one of the hardest things to do.

So to his birth parents, thank you for this gift. He has brought us all so much joy, from his first smile to his first steps, we have cherished each day. We love him as our own, and will continue to teach, nurture and guide him the best we can. And as we tell his story, he will always know that you love him.

One final gift we have been given in the last year is spiritual in nature. As we have experienced each step of this journey we have known true love. We have seen love like God has when Will’s birth parents gave him to us. We have felt some semblance of the love God has when they decided to take him back. We were completely crushed, yet we felt God wrapping his arms around us through the love of our Christian brothers and sisters.

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Just a few days old.

If the story had ended there, we would have had a great story to tell of God’s care and concern for us. But He saw fit to give our son back to us, and the love we have felt for Will helps remind us once again of the love God has to adopt us as His sons and daughters, no matter the cost or the pain or the heartache we cause Him. We have also been overwhelmed through each step of the way by the love we have felt from so many people who we haven’t seen in years, all over the country, who care so deeply about us and have lifted our family up in prayer. There are no words to express the great comfort we received from you.

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Hannah with her "buddy" - August

I am so thankful for each piece of this story – the good and the bad. I wouldn’t want to do it again, but I know that if needed, we could do it because it is God who sustains us. He gives us what we need, and He knows best what that is better than I do.

Okay, enough stalling. I have a cake to bake. Enjoy these pictures of our “little” boy.

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Will in September

Adoption Day!

Adoption Day! October 22, 2008

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Jackson's Orchard - October

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December (Duh!)

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January 2009

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March - starting to cruise the furniture already

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Easter - the first picture when he looks all grown up

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June - walking all alone (not his sunglasses, btw)

Dear friend, I thought about you today. I don’t know if you remembered that today marks three years since you gave birth to a little girl. I can only assume that it crossed your mind. I spent some time thinking about you – wondering what your life is like, what you think about your decision, and if you ever wonder about your little girl.

Hannah's 1st Birthday

Hannah's 1st Birthday

January 2009

January 2009

I want you to know, above all else, that we are thinking of you today. We know nothing about you, but we are thankful for you and your sacrifice. The decision you made three years ago, although I am sure it was difficult, has made such a difference, not just in our lives but also in the lives of many others.  I wonder if you ever regret your decision. I can’t answer for you, but I can tell you that we love Hannah with all of our hearts, and we can’t imagine a life without her.

I wonder if she is like you at all. Does she have your engaging personality or your amazing smile? She has the ability to light up a room and command attention from the moment she enters until well after she leaves. Does she laugh like you do? That laugh gets me so tickled, and she brings so much joy when she laughs. Did she get her love of music and dancing from you? She is drawn to all kinds of music and will dance no matter who is there. I’ll take some credit for her rhythm (or lack of it), but…and I don’t know how to ask this…do you shake your booty when you dance? She does that all the time, and I don’t know why. Does she share your sense of humor? She not only loves to laugh at others, but loves to make others laugh, and she is genuinely funny. Does she get her determination and mischievousness from you as well?

I have to tell you, there are so many things that she does that make us question if she favors my side of the family or her mothers, only to remember that she is adopted. She is such a great child, and we love her so much. She is a great sister to her older sister and her little brother. She is loving and caring and so sweet. She is really smart, too. I know everybody says that about their child, but this is true. She can already say her alphabet and spell her name. She kept hearing her sister asking for G-U-M, and she quickly figured out what that spells so she can get some too.

I could keep going, but I just wanted to tell you that Hannah is doing great. We can’t celebrate her birth without thinking of you and the sacrifice you made that made it possible for her to be a part of our family. She loves us, and she is greatly loved in return. We owe so much to you, and we can never thank you enough.

It is official! Will is now a Fowlkes! We went yesterday to the Finalization Hearing at 11:45, and by noon we were officially and legally a family of 5. It was all in all a little anti-climactic in that the result was a foregone conclusion, but it was a nice moment. We especially were thankful that my family and some of our good friends were able to be there – unlike our China trip.

I have never been in court before, and I have to say it wasn’t what I expected. We were asked to “testify” about our understanding of the responsibilities we were accepting, about our strong moral character, etc. I came to realize that I would not be a good witness. I am too much of a class clown. You have no idea how hard it was to be serious. For example, the first question I was asked (after my name, address, etc.) was if I heard and agreed with everything Ashley had just said. I wanted to say that I was only halfway paying attention because Hannah was sitting in my lap, using her feet on the table to create enough leverage to almost push me over in my chair while singing the theme song to “Handy Manny.” Instead, I managed to say with a straight face, “Yes Sir.”

The whole proceeding was without incident (and humor, I might add), but the end result is that Will is my son. He is now and forever will be William Keegan Fowlkes. We were a little too preoccupied to take any pictures, but my family took a ton. When we get some I’ll post them.

I may have said this previously, but I want to say again “Thank You” to all of you who have been our backbone during the most trying times of this process. You’ll never know how valuable you were. During the times that we thought that God had allowed us to lose Will, you cried with us and prayed for us. Because of your love we never lost faith or wondered how we would make it. We knew that even in that loss, God was with us and was providing for us. Even if Will had never come back home, we knew that God had used him already and would continue to use us through that experience. But more than that, during that time we were not able to pray for his return, although we obviously wanted that to happen. We were just too hurt to verbalize the possibility lest we develop false hope. But you took up the slack for us, praying for him to come home to us. Now that Will is home, and knowing how many people have been praying for him all over the country, we are very well aware of the gift that he is and know that God has plans for him. I eagerly anticipate the day when he is old enough to realize how much of an impact his life had on people just in his first few months of life.

I again want to remember Will’s birth parents. Without their selflessness, even though it was painful for them, we wouldn’t know Will at all. We are overjoyed with the adoption, but we will always remember the sacrifice that made it possible. There is a sermon in that, but a). I’m not a preacher anymore, and b). I’ve got two sleeping kids and a nap is actually possible. You’ll have to do the heavy lifting on this one by yourself.

Maybe it is the sleep deprivation, maybe it is a toddler in the house, or maybe it is just that time passes more quickly as I age, but it doesn’t seem like only three months ago that we were waiting in the hospital for baby Will to be born. The last 13 weeks have been full of ups and downs, questions and answers, crying, pooping, and not much sleep to be had. It has been difficult at times, but I wouldn’t change anything. It was perfect in a way that only God can orchestrate.

Will is such a good baby. He has his moments of frustration when we aren’t quick enough to pick up on his not-so-subtle cues, but overall he seems to be pleased with our progress. He has the cutest smile and is starting to laugh. I can sense that the most difficult part of this process is behind us, and the most fun parts are ahead. He is growing so quickly, and it seems that he soon will be as big as Hannah.

Sometime in the next few weeks we should go to court to finalize the adoption, and what a happy day that will be. The final pieces of Hannah’s adoption were somewhat anti-climactic after the long wait and the trip to China and meeting her for the first time. This time around I think having a ceremony at court will make this all seem like more than just a dream (albeit a very realistic dream involving stinky diapers and bolting out of bed at 2:00 in the morning).

In the absence of a lengthy post about Will’s birth parents, let me say again how much we admire them for their decision. It isn’t just that they chose us – that is just an honor for us. We were able to see first-hand the love that a young couple has for a life that they created, and the intense struggle they endured to do the thing that was best for him, even though it caused them great pain. They really wanted to be his parents, but they decided to give him up. We will forever be mindful of that sacrifice, and as he grows we will be able to tell him over and over about the deep love that his parents had for him.

In other news…Hannah is potty training, I am going to my 20-year high-school reunion next weekend, and Jaycie is learning to play the violin. I love my life and am thankful for all that God has done for us. We have some decisions to make, but we are showing uncharacteristic patience and God is providing guidance just like we knew He would.

It’s been three hours, and somebody wants a bottle. Gotta’ go.

I really don’t know what to say except that I am still here. I haven’t done any more live blogs and don’t really plan to – for several reasons. First, not every day is as exciting as the first one, second, lately when I have had a second that I could be blogging I have been lying in the recliner trying to catch a few blessed minutes of sleep. And third, I am starting to get self-conscious. People who are almost total strangers to me come up and joke with me about calling poison control. Lately, for some reason that is beyond me, there are a lot of people who are reading this. I have always written as if it were a journal for myself – a therapeutic outlet. Even the live blogs were a form of stress relief. Now I feel quite narcissistic and full of myself.

Will is doing really well. He is such a good baby. He is starting to sleep more at night and less during the day – which is good at night but now I have to plan ahead a little more. I can tell that I am getting more comfortable, and I make an effort to get out at least once a day – even if it is to go to the video store. The one day I stayed home all day was not good. I can tell that Hannah is becoming more independent – playing by herself and even going to take a nap with little supervision a few times. Of course, if she would go ahead and learn to use the potty she wouldn’t have to endure her dirty diapers while I finish feeding the baby. But then again, I can’t imagine the difficulty of trying to feed a newborn and help a toddler toilet train at the same time. Maybe I should count my blessings.

We only have a few more days of uncertainty and waiting until we can talk about our son or our three children without feeling like we need to clarify it or give a disclaimer. In the meantime we continue to be thankful for and amazed by the outpouring of love we have felt. While this situation has been difficult for us, it doesn’t seem like the kind of thing that would warrant such attention. I am looking forward to the day that Will can start to comprehend what a special little boy he is, how many people have been a part of his story, and how many people loved him before they even saw him. God’s hand has certainly been heavily involved in his young life already, and we are excited that we will (probably, most likely, hopefully) be able to share in it with him.

One final thought before I crash for a couple of hours. I really hesitate to ask for your prayers again, but Ashley and I really need wisdom in our relationship with Will’s birth parents. They are not believers, but they are experiencing the sacrificial love that God must have felt when He sent Jesus. We want to communicate that to them, we want to tell them about the amazing things that God has done, is doing and will continue to do, and introduce them to Him. We just don’t know how or when or what. I know that God will give us the words, but it is so difficult to separate our human emotions and fear so we can trust Him more.

Will got home today at about 11:00 a.m. Something tells me my time available to blog is going to be seriously hampered.

I have so many thoughts running through my head that there is no way I can put them into a cohesive post. We were at the point of accepting God’s decision for us and being okay with it. We knew that despite our grief, God was still good and still answering our prayers. We never thought He had abandoned us, just that we obviously couldn’t yet see what He had in mind for us. We had told the story of God’s provisions through our church family when we were in need and the scores of people who rejoiced as we rejoiced. Then we told the story of God’s sustenance during our grief as the same people wept with us. We knew that God was faithful even when we didn’t understand, and we were carried along by God through His people.

One of the things that has really struck me this week has to do with the many many people who prayed for Will to come back to us even when I couldn’t/wouldn’t pray for that. I don’t know if that makes my faith weak – I hope not. It isn’t that I didn’t think God could do it. I just wanted God’s will to be done. Maybe I didn’t want to admit that I wanted that, maybe I was trying to protect myself and my family by not hoping for that, but for whatever reason I didn’t pray for a specific outcome. However, through the last week or so I have found out that many people were praying for that very thing. They wanted this for us. They weren’t afraid to ask God boldly for this outcome when I wasn’t able or willing to. They had the courage to hope when I was afraid to.

One thing happened today that illustrates this perfectly, but first a little background. I never got around to telling about all of this, but several weeks ago our small church family presented us with a check for $10,000 to cover our adoption costs. $10,000! We were stunned and amazed and humbled and many other emotions that have no words for them. In addition, they presented us with a money tree to cover monthly expenses for the next few months. In their bold way, they collected this and presented it even before we knew if the adoption would go through.

One of the first things we did when Will went back to his birth family was to return all of the money. One of the elders came to the house that afternoon, and we gave it back. I think this was an attempt at closure on our part, similar to our putting the car seat and bassinet in the garage. When we got the call on Friday, this is one of the things that made us laugh, this and the fact that just that morning I had returned an unopened package of diapers. We never worried about this money, but I did feel bad that there would be a hassle on their part. What did they do with it? Did they give it all back to the people who had given it? Would they just go back to them and ask them to re-gift? Surely they would have the good sense to wait a few weeks just to make sure.

This morning the church treasurer walked up to Ashley and handed her an envelope – but not just any envelope. It was the same envelope that we had returned two weeks ago. It had the same check for $10,000, and the same cash that was given in our money tree. They had just kept it, unopened, trusting that we would need it, believing that God wasn’t through with this situation yet. I have to say that I was not surprised about this, but I was amazed.

I have so many questions that I think I should make them into a separate post altogether. They are mostly about prayer and how God works and if this worked out the way it did because so many people prayed for it on our behalf or was this God’s plan all along…ad infinitum. But for now I want to thank those people who prayed for us when we were too fragile even to hope. I want to praise God for surrounding us with so many people who are traveling this path with us, holding our hand when we need it, walking ahead of us to show us the way, and carrying us when we are too tired to go any more. I want you all to know that, like Aaron and Hur held Moses’ hands up when he grew tired, you have sustained us more than you will ever know.

One final thought. I know that this is not over, and just because this would seem to be the perfect ending doesn’t mean that it is going to happen. There are too many people who are in much more pain than we are, who pray more fervently and have greater needs, who don’t get the outcome they want. I know that there is nothing special about me or my prayers that would make me deserve this. We have been blessed through joy and through sorrow, and because of this are willing to face whatever may come. Then, despite our outcome, we will recommit ourselves to being the church to others – rejoicing when they rejoice and weeping when they weep.

Okay, I know this is more complicated than just “moving on,” but on some level we have to start taking one step at a time. We entered into this process knowing that each step was a tenuous one, and that at any moment this could happen. I am thankful that we had this mindset from the beginning, as I can’t imagine the grief of losing a child in any way if it were totally unexpected. But in moments of loss as in moments of gain we take comfort in the love of God as it is expressed through His people. We thought this experience was so that we could love Will, but maybe it was so that we could experience the love of so many people.

When we got the original call to see if we wanted to be considered for an open adoption, it was scary on many fronts. We didn’t know much, but we did know one thing. This was an opportunity given to us by God. Unfortunately for us we know our Bible enough to know that God sometimes asks His people to do things that may cause them pain. He asked Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, He asked Joseph to endure years in prison for doing the right thing, He asked Hosea to marry a woman who he knew would leave him, He asked the disciples to leave everything to follow Jesus, and he asked Paul to endure great suffering. So we went into this with our eyes open, trusting that God would sustain us as far as it went and meeting our needs, whatever they would be, and He has.

Now we take comfort in knowing that we did what God asked. We were obedient. It didn’t work out like we had hoped, but we know that God is faithful to those who obey Him. He doesn’t promise us everything we want, and He doesn’t promise that it will work out like we plan. In fact, He doesn’t even promise that we will understand. But He does promise to take care of us, to protect us from those things that are too much for us to bear, to love us and to comfort us.

We have been blessed more than we deserve, and we are probably more aware of that in our sorrow than we were in our joy. God provided through His people not only every penny of the money we needed to adopt Will, but also a huge container of Starbucks Java Chip ice cream and a box of Kleenex when we can’t. He has given us friends who are excited with us and friends who will cry with us. He has blessed us most of all with a daughter who has the depth of faith to pray that we can keep the baby even though she will be relegated to the smaller room and the back row of the van, but the simplicity to be comforted with a book about Camp Rock, a sleepover and the promise of going to the pool.

We don’t know what the details of our story will be, but we want it to be a story that glorifies God in the good times and the bad ones. We want people to see God working in our lives, even when it is messy and we are crying a lot. At the beginning of this process we considered the level of vulnerability we should allow because we knew this could happen. Ultimately we decided to be open with everyone, also because we knew this could happen. We wanted people to be happy with us, but we also needed to be able to share our sorrow.

As we reflect on this experience we recognize that our journey also provided a test for others. Through our needs, God’s people felt the opportunity to act on His behalf, and they were overwhelming in their obedience. So many people have gone above and beyond to help us in every way possible, and in this have been the body of Christ to us. We pray that we will be similarly obedient when we have opportunity to help others.

I can’t say “Thank You” enough. We are overwhelmed by your love and concern and support. And ice cream.

Note: I don’t mean to imply on any level that we are in the same league or even the same sport as Moses, Joseph, any prophet or any apostle. Also, by using the example of Hosea, I by no means am casting doubt on my wife. She is no Gomer, that’s for sure.