Adoption Story, Part 2: The Next Right Thing


This is the second part of a 3-part series about our family’s journey through adoption.

Part 1 of our family’s adoption story was a 2,000-word description of the two-year process that we went through before even deciding to proceed with adoption. My purpose in laying all of this out was not to bore readers silly, but to make it clear that this was not a simple or spontaneous decision: It was slow and filled with false starts, doubts, and frustration.

Once Erick and I decided to pursue adoption, we began a long journey of small steps. Our mantra during this time was, “Let’s just do the next right thing.” (This was several years before “Do the Next Right Thing” became a copyrighted earworm via the Disney film Frozen 2.)

The first thing to do was to sign up with an adoption agency. Erick felt very strongly that we should try to adopt a child within Vermont, so that we could have a local impact in our home state. Vermont is a small state, with few adoptions: In 2018 there were 859 total adoptions in Vermont, the third lowest of all 50 states (only North Dakota and Wyoming had fewer.) So, without much to choose from, we met with an adoption counselor at a Vermont agency.

At this particular agency, prospective adoptive families work with an adoption counselor in order to become approved for child placement. Birth parents work with an options counselor in order to discern whether adoption is the best choice for them, and to choose an adoptive family. All adoptions are “open,” which means that, although some privacy is respected, adoptive and birth parents are known to each other. There is a whole spectrum of possible post-adoption contact, but when we signed up with this agency we agreed to provide the birth parents of any child we might adopt an annual update with photos for 18 years, and at least one in-person visit. Open adoptions are now widely considered to be the healthiest scenario for adopted children, so we were happy to agree to this.

Applying to adopt a child is a serious business that shines a light into every crevice of your family –as it should. More than once I thought, “My goodness, if this process was required of anyone who wanted to have a child, we’d have many fewer children!”

We had to get fingerprinted, have our backgrounds checked, and release our DMV records. We had to provide our financial records. We had to obtain three letters of reference. We had to fill out a questionnaire that asked detailed questions about our upbringings, our families of origin, our marriage, and our childrearing philosophy. If we wanted to consider transracial adoption (in our case, a child who wasn’t either White or Asian) – and we did – we had to spend at least 8 hours reading or watching videos on the subject. We had to fill out a “key sheet” — a terrifying document that listed every possible physical or mental condition that might come with our adopted child, including race, age, disability, parental behaviors — and check which ones we were willing to accept.

We began the process in November 2017; we completed the paperwork in March 2018. Then we had an in-person interview with our adoption counselor to review our answers. Our home visit took place in June 2018, during which our adoption counselor came to our house to see the physical space and to interview our biological children. Finally, we had to compile a photo album of our family and write a letter to the birth parents – any birth parents who might be considering us; this was what birth parents would use to determine whether our family was the right home for their child.

In August 2018, we were notified that our home study was complete: We were cleared to adopt a child. At this point, the next right thing was to wait.

So, we waited. We waited and waited. Over the next 13 months, we received three calls about potential adoptions, but all of them were in states outside Vermont. Our adoption agency has a reciprocal relationship with several other agencies, but interstate adoption would have required us to travel to another state and stay there until the legal paperwork was completed – a stay of between 2-4 weeks, in most cases. This did not work well for a family with four homeschooled children, and at the time (pre-COVID-19) Erick’s teaching job could not be performed remotely. So, we had to let these opportunities pass us by.

As the months stretched out, my old doubts returned. I must have heard wrong – again. If we were supposed to be doing this, why were the years passing without anything happening?

Finally, despair set in. Vermont IS such a small state, with so few adoptions. And anyway, what birth parent would choose US, a family that already has four biological children? There was no way.

Erick, as usual, was less emotional and more philosophical.

“Well, we’ve made ourselves available,” he’d say, shrugging. “There’s nothing more we can do; it’s all up to God now.”

But I felt like adoption was receding into the haze.

Around this time, our daughters, who hadn’t mentioned adoption throughout the months of silence, suddenly started asking when their new sibling would arrive. All four of them – even the ones who hadn’t been enthusiastic at first – agreed: “We need a new baby in the house!”

I’d force a smile and parrot Erick: “It’s all up to God now.” It was painful.

Then, one afternoon in mid-September 2019, my cell phone rang as I was dropping our daughters off at a field hockey practice.

To be continued.

Adoption Story, Part 1: Vague Feelings, Specific Decisions

Adoption Story, Part 3: The Thing With Feathers

Adoption Story, Part 1: Vague Feelings, Specific Decisions


This is the first part of a 3-part series about our son’s adoption, which was just finalized last week. 


“Who knows, really, where dreams begin? Perhaps they first take shape in the unknown realms of sleep or in the far corners of our consciousness, gaining size and substance off in the distant wings of awareness, until one day, just out of the corner of your eye, you see it – the hazy shape of a new idea that is suddenly too big and insistent to ignore.”

–Katrina Kenison, The Gift of an Ordinary Day.


It started as a gnawing at the back of my mind, vague feelings that flitted through my brain like moths around a porch light.

“I don’t know what, but I just feel like there’s something more that we should be doing,” I’d say to my husband as we sat on the couch at night after the kids were tucked into bed.

This started in the spring of 2015. Our family had been happily settled in Vermont for four years. Erick was halfway down the road to tenure in his job as a professor of economics at Middlebury College, and was about to begin his sabbatical year. We had four daughters, between the ages of two and seven. I was busy at home with the girls, but also found time to maintain a blog and write bi-weekly columns for our local paper; I’d recently completed a draft of my first book. Life was good.

Maybe that’s why I was feeling unsettled: because life was starting to feel too settled. I start getting twitchy when life gets too comfortable. In my experience, comfort is the start of a spiritual death spiral: Life feels easy, so I stop paying attention, I stop caring as much, I fritter away time, I lose my edge, and my soul curls up and goes to sleep.

Or maybe it’s just that I was turning 40 that September.

But Erick felt it, too. Our approach to life is shaped by our Christian faith, so when we both started feeling these stirrings and rumblings we didn’t attribute them to something we ate, or something we read, or turning 40; we figured that it might be possible that God was trying to get our attention.

We talked, we prayed, we thought, we talked some more.

“I just feel like there’s something more that we should be doing.” The question was: WHAT?

This wasn’t about making ourselves feel better, earning pats on the back from others or from God. It was more about getting outside of ourselves, sending love out into the world in a fresh, bold way. Like Miss Rumphius in Barbara Cooney’s picture book of the same name, we wanted “to do something to make the world more beautiful.”

This was not the ideal time to add something more to our life, which was already quite full. Four young children kept us running, and also limited our bandwidth.

Not only that, but in January we’d be traveling across the country to spend the semester in Berkeley, California, where I’d homeschool our two school-aged daughters for the first time while Erick did research at his alma mater, UC Berkeley.

Oh, and did I mention that we were in the process of buying a new house in Vermont? This house was part of our vision of living closer to the land, raising animals and growing more of our food. It sat on 12.5 rolling acres. The only problem was that the house itself was a mess, requiring a down-to-the-studs total renovation. And the garden plots and animal pens? They didn’t exist. We put our current house on the market, authorized a contractor friend to handle the renovations on the new house while we were away, and spent hours over at our new property shoveling dirt and lugging the stones we uncovered.

I realize that all of this may seem at odds with my original claim that life was getting “too comfortable.” But this is the kind of climate in which I thrive, when life is full of love and purpose, and big dreams are being followed – just as long as I have enough coffee, chocolate, books, and quiet alone time to recharge my deeply introverted self.

Still, even with all that was happening, both my husband and I couldn’t shake the feeling that there was something else we were supposed to be doing.

Then one afternoon I opened our local newspaper, and the front-page story brought everything into focus. The story was about Vermont’s opioid epidemic and how it was causing a massive increase in the number of children placed in foster care; between 2014 and 2015, the number of Vermont children taken into custody increased by 75%.

There are children out there who need homes, I thought. We adore children, we’re a stable family with plenty of love to give, and we have a home that we could open to more children.

I discussed it with Erick, and it seemed so glaringly obvious, it was hard to imagine why we hadn’t thought of it before. Fostering or adopting fit our particular skill set, was something our family could do all together, and the Bible – on which we base our lives – makes clear that faith-in-action involves caring for orphans (and all other disenfranchised peoples.)

First, though, we had to go on sabbatical and then move into our new house in Vermont. We agreed to spend the intervening months thinking and praying about foster care and adoption.

So we went to California. The entire time, it felt like foster care and adoption were stalking me: In books and articles I read, in interviews I heard, in email updates from friends, I kept bumping into stories of children who needed homes and the families who welcomed them.

After we were settled into our new house in Vermont, we began pursuing foster care. Erick was drawn to foster care as a starting point, since it’s often a temporary situation: The goal of foster care is to reunify the child with his or her birth parents. Erick thought this might be a way of “easing in” instead of cannonballing right into the pool of adoption.

We filled out some paperwork, met with a social worker from the Vermont Department of Children and Families (DCF), completed a home study (basically a tour of our house with an emphasis on safety), and were added to our county’s list of potential foster families.

And then we waited. We waited and waited. Even though the Vermont foster care system was (and is) overloaded, we received very few calls about children needing placement, and none of those calls met our lone criteria: That any child we took in be younger than our youngest daughter, who was three at the time. (Our daughters have a strong sense of birth order, and we didn’t want to shake things up more than necessary.)

It was our first of many experiences with waiting, but honestly, I didn’t feel frustrated or anxious; I felt relieved. As usual, there was a lot going on in our house. The homeschooling that began as a temporary situation while on sabbatical had turned out to be one of the best parts of sabbatical. Our two oldest daughters wanted to continue homeschooling, so not only were we adjusting to a new house, but we were all getting settled into a new school routine as well. In retrospect, it’s hardly a surprise that some of our daughters weren’t enthusiastic when we introduced the idea of fostering a child: They’d had to adapt to so many changes over the past months, and now we were throwing a baby at them?!?

Truth be told, the idea of getting a call that a child needed a home today felt a little overwhelming to me, as well.

We used those months of waiting to do more research on adoption and foster care. We met and spoke with multiple people who had adopted and fostered, we read books and articles, and we continued to talk and pray.

The more we learned, the more it seemed to me that fostering might not be the “easing in” scenario that Erick had envisioned. Yes, it can be a temporary situation, but it’s also extremely wrenching for all concerned. Foster care placements typically happen very quickly, as the result of a family trauma. And while a foster child would live with our family, there were limits at how much they could be part of our family. (I could not, for instance, homeschool a foster child with my own children, but would be responsible for transporting them to their current school.) There would be regular supervised parental visits, in pursuit of reunification. And that desired-for reunification meant that this child, to whom my own children would grow deeply attached, might have to leave us.

I think that foster families are heroes, and I am honored to count some of them as my friends. We have kept up our foster care certification and it remains something we might consider in the future. But based on where our family was at, foster care looked like a more confusing, difficult, and emotionally draining scenario than straightforward adoption. In adoption, at least, I figured that the child entering our home would be more clearly our child from the outset.

I discussed this with Erick, and we spent a lot more time talking and praying. (You’re probably sensing a theme here.) He was just starting the process of applying for tenure, so he had – to put it mildly – a lot of things on his plate. By this point, I was feeling confused: It had seemed so clear that opening our home to a child was something we should pursue, but it just didn’t appear to be working out. The foster care system, which seemed less and less right for us, wasn’t exactly knocking down our door. Our own children were lukewarm on the idea. Adoption felt like a big, scary choice. Maybe I’d misunderstood what we were supposed to do.

“I just wish someone would drop a baby on us, so we’d know for sure!” I moaned, more than once.

In the summer of 2017 – if you’re counting, that’s two years after we first felt nudged towards adoption – I went on a weekend retreat in the Vermont mountains. Just me, some books, and my laptop. On the agenda were resting, writing, and doing some serious praying about adoption.

I’ll be honest: At this point, I fully expected God to give me a pass. I thought I’d pray about adoption, and God would say, “You know what, Faith? You’ve given it a good shot, but it’s just not what I want your family to do right now. Guess you must’ve heard me wrong the first time.”

Now, this might sound a little woo-woo, so I want to be clear: I am not in the habit of hearing voices, certainly not the voice of God. In fact, most times when I’d like to hear directly from God, He’s maddeningly silent. I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve felt that God was giving me direct, clear instructions. This was one of those times.

I prayed alone in my room in the mountains. I waited for God to give me a pass. And instead I heard — as clearly as if God was sitting right next to me: “Keep going.”

To be continued….

Adoption Story, Part 2: The Next Right Thing

Adoption Story, Part 3: The Thing With Feathers

Wrestling With Monsters


This morning, I collected our family’s weekly order of library books at the pickup spot in Ilsley Public Library’s back garden (an event that inspires a level of excitement in my children just a notch below Christmas these days.) Included in our bag of books was my book group’s pick for the month: Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. So today, a cloudy grey day when the temperature has dipped into the 50s and it feels more like the last days of autumn than the first days of summer, I am thinking about monsters.

More accurately, I am thinking about evil. Monsters are the embodiment of evil; beings that give form to our fears.

The past few weeks have been dark ones for our country. It may be June across the nation, but it feels more like November, with heavy grey clouds swirling over our collective mood as we reckon with our evil history of slavery, racism, and injustice. As part of this process, Confederate war memorials have been singled out as objects that give form to our fears: Robert E. Lee is the monster to be toppled.

Click here to continue reading this week’s “Faith in Vermont” column in The Addison Independent. 

A Soundtrack for Reflection

I am less inclined, as time goes by, to put statements out on social media about current events. So many others are posting eloquent comments and helpful links online.  For me and for our family these past weeks have been a more intense continuation of a process of listening, seeking to understand, repenting, lamenting, and discerning our role moving forward — a process that began several years ago. Because sadly, as tragic as George Floyd’s killing is, it is not the first time something like this has happened.

We don’t tend to love words like “repent” and “lament.” They’re so Old Testament. Then again, the Old Testament may have some things to say about the state in which we find ourselves.

Over these weeks, I’ve been reflecting on prose and poetry, art, and music. One song that I’ve found particularly powerful for this moment is “Equally Skilled” by Jon Foreman. (Its text is taken entirely from Micah 7.) It may not speak to you like it did to me, but I wanted to share it, in case others find it helpful.

Of Quizzes and Identity Crises


My children have done many things to amuse themselves while staying at home during the COVID-19 pandemic. They have read, read, and read some more. They have logged in countless hours on our trampoline and ninja slackline. They have played games: chess, poker, Apples to Apples, Unstable Unicorns, and Monopoly Deal. They have made art, baked, finished embroidery projects, and all four of my daughters are currently at work on novels.

But one of their most enduring hobbies throughout this time has surprised me: The taking – and making – of personality quizzes.

It started back in March, when a friend emailed me a link to a quiz that inventoried your personality traits and produced an extensive list of the book and film characters you most resembled. Thinking it would be a fun diversion, I shared it with my daughters. Little did I know that they’d take the concept and run wild with it.

Click here to continue reading this week’s “Faith in Vermont” column in The Addison Independent. 

Beauty on the Driveway


For the past 65 days, one of my lifelines has been a quarter-mile strip of sandy gravel. Its surface is mostly white, except for the places where we attempted to patch the potholes with cheap grey gravel. From the look of things, the potholes are winning.

My lifeline has been my driveway.

Our family has developed a daily routine around the driveway. First thing in the morning, while I’m fixing breakfast, my husband takes the dog for a run several times up and down the driveway. After breakfast, I strap the baby into a chest carrier and set out with my daughters for a single pre-school lap up and down the driveway – me walking, them usually on bikes. In the late afternoon, when the baby wakes from his nap, I put him in the stroller, put the dog on a leash, and walk as many laps up and down the driveway as time permits until dinner. Sometimes I’m joined by my daughters, sometimes by my husband, but often I’m alone.

The driveway gives us exercise. It allows us to breathe in fresh air and soak in Vitamin D. It takes us to the mailbox, which holds the treat of letters from the outside world or packages of online purchases more often these days.

But the greatest gift that the driveway gives me is beauty.

Click here to continue reading this week’s “Faith in Vermont” column in The Addison Independent. 

Why Keep a Garden, Chickens, or Children?


This will likely be a short column, because we are in the midst of putting in our garden.

I have a complex relationship with my garden – as, I suspect, do many. Starting around March, a feeling that has lain dormant throughout the winter begins to stir in me: panic. Suddenly, I feel the urge to start drawing up a planting schedule and ordering seeds. This feeling intensifies as the days lengthen. By the time we start planting, usually in late April, my panic has been replaced with a lingering guilt. I feel guilty if I’m not out working in the garden when the weather is fine. When the forecast calls for rain, I am almost always relieved; nobody would expect me to be out working in my garden in the rain, would they?

Yet I will tell you that I love gardening.

This year, our gardening season has overlapped almost exactly with the COVID-19 quarantine. I hear that more people are planning to put in gardens this year, driven perhaps by the desire to have a food source that doesn’t involve navigating grocery stores, or inspired by more unscheduled time at home. But I wonder how many people shared this thought along with me, as I pulled on my garden gloves and picked up my shovel: Finally! Something I can control!

Click here to continue reading this week’s “Faith in Vermont” column in The Addison Independent. 

The Greater Good


In order for me to have time and quiet in which to write this column, my husband took all five of our children to ride bikes around their grandparents’ neighborhood.

Once upon a time, this would have been a normal occurrence on a Sunday afternoon, but not today.

This is the first time I have been alone – really and completely alone, without a single member of my family in the house – in over a month.

This is the first time my children have been in a vehicle, the first time they have pulled out of our driveway onto the main road, in over a month.

“I forget what it’s like to ride in a car!” exclaimed my eldest daughter as they prepared to leave. “How do we do it?”

Click here to continue reading this week’s “Faith in Vermont” column in The Addison Independent.

God on a Respirator: A Reflection for Good Friday


I began writing a reflection for Lent back in early March. Then the world got turned inside-out as the COVID-19 pandemic spread around the globe, filling intensive care units, distancing us from each other by six feet or more, wiping our calendars clean, and confining us to screens within our homes.

When I went back to take a look at my pre-COVID-19 reflection, I found that I could no longer relate to what I’d written; my words belonged to a former life.

I am going to begin with two assumptions:

1) That Jesus Christ is “God the Son,” and

2) That what we are commemorating during Good Friday and Easter is Jesus’s death by crucifixion, followed by his resurrection from the dead three days later.

I recognize that not all of my readers will share those assumptions, but I am not going to spend time arguing them here. (If you’re interested in excellent, logical arguments in this arena, I’d refer you to C.S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity, and Rebecca McLaughlin’s Confronting Christianity: 12 Hard Questions for the World’s Largest Religion.)


COVID-19 is a virus that attacks the lungs. It destroys lung cells as it starts to replicate, which triggers the immune system to step in. But the immune response may also destroy lung tissue and cause inflammation, which can lead to pneumonia. As the air sacs in the lungs become inflamed and fill with fluid, it becomes more difficult for the lungs to get oxygen into the bloodstream. People who die from COVID-19 are usually dying from multiple organ failure and septic shock due to lack of oxygen.

Crucifixion, which was developed by the Persians around 300-400 BC, was perfected by the Romans and used as a punishment for the worst offenders. It’s death by slow torture: Hands and feet were nailed or tied to a cross, and as the arms and legs gave way over time the victim would bear his entire weight on his chest. This put the victim into a state of perpetual inhalation; death resulted from suffocation or organ failure due to the resultant lack of oxygen.

In other words: Both COVID-19 and crucifixion involve death by asphyxiation.

I have been reflecting upon this over the past week. What it means, if you accept my opening assumptions, is this:

God has experienced firsthand what it feels like to die from COVID-19. 

God has felt the crush of chest pressure, God has gasped for breath, God’s oxygen saturation has plummeted, God’s heart has raced and then stopped all together.

I’m just going to leave it at that. I’m not going to interpret it or tell you how it should make you feel.

You may find it comforting that God in human form underwent the worst that the world can throw at us, and therefore understands what we are experiencing right now.

You may find hope that, in rising from the dead, God demonstrated that death does not have the final say and promises an ultimate resurrection of all things.

You may feel infuriated. “I don’t want your sympathy, God,” you may be thinking. “If you know how bad things are here, why don’t you FIX them already?”

All of those seem like valid responses, good places to start. Let’s approach Good Friday with whatever we’re feeling, be it awe or anger, and let God take it from there. The most important thing, it seems to me, is that we feel something.



I’ve seen several articles lately in which mental health professionals explain the emotions that humankind is experiencing right now – when the worldwide death toll from the COVID-19 virus continues to rise and the social distancing guidelines under which we have been placed stretch out indefinitely – as grief. Collective grief. If this is the case, then it looks like I’ve reached the anger stage.

I don’t consider myself an angry person, but I suppose we are all angry people; some of us just deal with or bury our anger better than others. My own anger is usually hidden deep beneath layers of trying to be “nice” and desperately wanting everyone to like me. There’s something about this global pandemic, however, which is causing my anger to bubble to the surface.

What am I angry at? It’s not that our family’s life has ground to a standstill, our movements confined to our home, and our social interactions limited to digital platforms. We spent a lot of time together as a family before quarantine, we’ve been homeschooling our children for the past four years, our homestead comprises twelve acres and a quarter-mile driveway, I enjoy having my husband around the house, and I’m an introvert. I have very little to complain about in this arena, other than bemoaning the increased time we’re spending in front of screens to maintain extra-familial relationships.

My anger is a result of our family’s experience with illness – illness that may or may not be COVID-19 – over the past three weeks.

Click here to continue reading this week’s “Faith in Vermont” column in The Addison Independent.