Wednesday, November 18, 2015

What Led Me to You, by Carrie Dahlin

This past weekend I attended the Called to Love retreat for adoptive/foster mothers here in Oregon. It was the first time I had ever attended a women's retreat, let alone one focused on this subject matter. There are reasons for this, one of which I'll explain in a minute. When it comes to the topic of adoption, I find myself shrinking back a bit, truth be told. Sometimes it's because I'm not sure how the subject matter will be handled and sometimes its for more personal reasons. We have adopted three times now and there are some areas where I've really started to feel like I could use some input from people who are ahead of me on this journey. I thought perhaps that this was a good year to set aside the weekend and go check out this conference. Jonathan agreed and so off I went. Double bonus points: one of my good friends went with me so it was guaranteed to be fun no matter what we encountered at the retreat.

The only thing I had really paid much attention to prior to arriving at the conference was the fact that Stephanie Fast was going to be the main speaker on Friday night. I totally love Stephanie and was excited to hear her speak again. I will never, ever, ever get tired of hearing from her. Whenever she talks I want to jump up and down and run around the room. She has a most dynamic faith. She's genuine and real, with a deep faith that challenges and encourages all around her. I find it amazing the ways that God has chosen to use her to share Him with others. But I digress (a little). If I had any further hesitations about attending Called to Love, they vanished upon walking through the doors. Instantly I knew that the weekend was going to be so good. And it was! It was just stunning (and still is blowing me away) to be in a room full of women who know your story because they are living your story. Yes, our names and faces might look different but a great many aspects of our stories look and sound exactly the same. When you meet people and you say, "What? You too? I thought I was the only one." then you know you can be friends. Knowing that the emotions you feel, the struggles you endure, and the victories you cherish are understood by others is one of the greatest blessings in the entire world. 'Phenomenal' doesn't begin to describe it.

Enter: What Led Me To You. At the conference there were a smattering of tables with goods and wares to purchase. If you know me, you know I was looking for the books! And there weren't many which was somewhat distressing. (I do have to say that. The conference needed more books!!) At one table I noticed a friendly looking lady standing beside a pile of friendly looking books. I approached her and discovered that we share the same name, spelled the same way. (Which is, of course, the right way.) I asked her if she wouldn't mind telling me a little bit about her book and she happily obliged.

Carrie Dahlin said that she had a hard time finding books about fostering parenting that were honest about the struggles and real hardships and so she decided to write one herself and the fruit of that decision lies within the pages of What Led Me To You. She and her husband began foster parenting a few years ago and have had an interesting journey which has culminated in a few adoptions as well. Carrie writes about what led them to begin this journey and is quite open about the different hurdles and obstacles they've faced in the midst of everything. She shares their story with gut-wrenching honesty regarding her own emotions at various stages of the journey, a fact which makes this book particularly approachable. If you are looking for a how-to as relates to foster care then this is not your book. If you want to hear someone's heart on the matter, and get an idea of the struggles and the joy mixed up in the process, then this book is a don't miss. She speaks from her heart.

Now, as is the case when someone is writing from their heart, it also reads off more like a conversation than anything else. Reading this book very much feels like a sit-down conversation with Carrie. I feel I can attest to this as in our two brief conversations I found that she spoke very much as she writes. As a result, sometimes you read a passage that is more a stream of consciousness than anything else, but it's not too distracting. If you are thinking about engaging in foster care you likely won't mind her written voice because you'll want to hear how she was feeling at various points in time as it will help to give you a clue of what to expect.

As mentioned, Jonathan and I have adopted three times. We do not feel called to fostering and likely will not do so. However, the door is open for future adoptions if God makes a way for it. I read this book because I was curious about her experiences, because I knew that she had adopted as well as fostered, and because many of the emotions overlap between the two. I stayed up late Friday night in my hotel room reading the first half of her story. The next morning I was able to connect with her over the first of many experiences she had as a foster parent. With this slight introduction, I'm going to make something public which I have never done before but which I feel like I can talk about for the first time ever. Carrie and I had an unfortunate shared experienced upon entering into the foster/adoption world in that we were both falsely accused of harming, or endangering, a child. The details between us differ a bit, but the ultimate reality was that false accusations affected our experience and instilled a certain fear about continuing on our individual journeys. It is a hard thing (understatement) to be falsely accused and to have professionals examining your life to see if the accusations hold water. In both of our cases, we were found altogether 100%  innocent but the memory burns. It is not something that you forget. It affects your decisions and choices long after being declared innocent. There is a death of vision when a situation like this occurs and you feel very scared of what people will say and angry about what people have said. False accusations interject confusion. In these half dozen years since, I've not mention it publicly to people because when a person is put "in the know" they tend to speculate whether or not the thing was true. The phrase "grain of truth" is tossed out with raised eyebrows and these statements can be just as damaging as the original accusation. It feeds into doubt and discouragement like nobody's business and continues the hurt. Fear becomes the second weapon used against you and it is almost more effective than the accusation itself.

But here's the ultimate situation: both Carrie and myself are innocent of the accusations. We both understand the pile of ugly feelings. We both know the real source of the accusations and understand that there is one who stands opposed to the idea of adoption just as we know that there is One who models it for us. What matters most is not what people see and think, but what God has called us to. Is it an easy road? We both know the answer to that question is, "No!" It is not easy and yet it is God's good plan for our lives and the lives of the children in our home.

Carrie admits in her book to finding it hard at times to want to please people and have their good opinion. Despite whatever you might think, the same is true of me. It is hard to go against the tide and live a life that most people wouldn't choose because they think it too hard or too risky. It's life on the edge. But here's the thing: the edge is the most exciting place to be!! 'Living to the hilt' is the general idea of all of life!! Is adoption and foster care hard? Yes. On oh so many levels. Is it worth it? Beyond anything you could ask or imagine! Being content in the knowledge that you are walking in the will of God makes all of the hardships, bumps and hiccups ultimately appear as nothing. It's a death to self in some many ways, yes, but that's a good thing! Following hard after Christ is all I ever want to do. Even if and when it hurts.

There are no regrets (foolish to ask this of me) and no wishes for a "do over." There is a great contentment knowing that the children God has given to us were given and placed with a specific reason and purpose in mind. There is a joy in their presence and their company. Sharing family with one another is a blessing I really cannot describe with words. God has used them to change me and used me to change them and we are all on this journey together. The journey continues to improve and become sweeter. Yes, there will be the naysayers and the people who speak words of death but Christ has only words of life and so we focus on Him. If you feel led to pursuing foster care or adoption, educate yourself, seek out (good) advice and, above all, make sure that God has called you to it. If He has - prepare for one of the more wild, fantastic rides of your entire life. It's a good ride.

Christ is front and central of Carrie Dahlin's life and of What Led Me To You and I so appreciated that. If you are thinking about this topic at all, I wouldn't hesitate recommending this read.

If you are an adoptive mom or foster mom, I also can't recommend the annual Called to Love retreat more highly. My faith was strengthened, my soul encouraged and, remarkably to me, I dropped some baggage I had been carrying around unnecessarily. I don't know what the future holds but I do know that there are a great group of women out there engaging in the same battle as myself. Knowing that they exist adds fuel to my fire.

I'll end with a song that we sang at the conference which I cannot get out of my head. It ministered to me deeply as its messages spreads itself out over our entire family history and story.

You were reaching through the storm,
walking on the water
Even when I could not see.
In the middle of it all,
when I thought You were a thousand miles away
Not for a moment did You forsake me,
Not for a moment did You forsake me


Stephanie said...

Looks like the kind of book I could have used last year when we struggled so much with our fosters.

Barbara H. said...

What a neat experience - both the conference and meeting a new author you connected with. I'm sorry about the false accusation, but grateful it didn't ultimately deter you from your journey.

*carrie* said...

I am so glad the retreat was a blessing to you, Carrie!

I startled a bit when seeing the song you mentioned at the end. That song has been so meaningful to me. A dear friend sent it to me when my family was going through something very challenging a couple years ago, and I have listened to it (often on repeat) many, many times.

Annette Whipple said...

This post is still speaking to my heart...and I know you wrote from your heart.

Shonya said...

Well now.

I love this post--as you surely knew I would!!!

As a conference junkie, you KNOW I'm wishing I could have gone with you! As a fellow adoptive, bookworm mama, you KNOW I added this book to my Amazon wishlist even before beginning this comment. As your friend, I am EVER so glad the Lord ministered to you and relieved you of that baggage. God is so, so good to us to always be there and heal the hurts in His perfect timing.

And that song--needed today over here. Thank you for sharing, yes, even the more personal posts (my favorites, actually).

BerlinerinPoet said...

You are so brave, friend.

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