One year ago today, we walked through the gates of a decrepit aquarium, in desperate search of something to fill our time, and to hide the heaviness in our hearts from our two young daughters. The day before that aquarium trip, we had said goodbye to a beautiful baby boy. Months of preparation, planning and prayer, and weeks of whirlwind travel and chaos had ended in a broken hearts, as a birth mother we had come to know and love changed her mind just hours before signing the adoption papers. And we had said a sobbing, heartbroken goodbye to a beautiful boy we had prayed for and loved and named. A baby we had seen born into the world, and held in our arms for two precious days. A baby boy we thought would be our son. To add to the depth of heartache, every moment of that goodbye brought with it deeper layers of anguish, as we remembered the losses of our first two baby boys who had gone before.
So there we were, less than 24 hours after our most recent loss. Living in a hotel across the continent from home, with two daughters whose little heads were spinning. And we wanted to protect them, and make that day somehow better. And that’s how we found ourselves at the aquarium. The stinky, run-down, paint-peeling aquarium. Where most of the exhibits were closed. And it was clear the place had seen better days. We wandered a bit, found a little playground. Looked at a few fish. Did our best to fill the time – which is hard to do when your heart hurts so badly you can barely move. So when we heard music in the distance, we followed, eager for a chance to keep our little girls entertained, to conceal our grief behind moments of fun. That’s how we stumbled upon the whale show.
The whale show was in an open air arena, with old-looking grey concrete walls, and a far-too-tiny whale enclosure. We were late, but there were lots of empty seats. Good seats, actually. Really good seats. Front and centre, with a perfect view. We hustled the girls in. Past the ushers, who said nothing, directly to the great, empty seats. Everyone else was sitting far back in the rafters. They just stared at us. No one said a word.
And the whale show started, and the girls were thrilled. And for a moment there was a glimmer of feeling a little bit okay. And then the whale jumped.
And when a seven tonne killer whale jumps in a tiny pool, and you are sitting in the splash zone, you get hit with a wall of water that takes your breath away. Never have I experienced that force of water against my body. I tipped backwards and nearly fell off my seat. My sunglasses flew off of my face and landed three full rows behind me. I gasped for air. And beside me, my sweet two-year-old had just been subjected to that same wall of water. She was stunned. And then she started sobbing.
And I carried that sweet two year old out of the arena, past the ushers who hadn’t said a word, and past the safely-rafter-sitting audience members whom I felt certain were all laughing at my expense. We stood outside the arena, as wet as if we had jumped into the ocean, and I tried wringing the water out of my toddler’s dripping clothes, puddles forming around us, my eyes stinging, shivering, ridiculous. And it occurred to me that a tiny pool in a decrepit aquarium was likely brimming with whale poop. And we were now covered in it.
And that moment, that soggy, whale-poop drenched moment, was my rock bottom. Because suddenly it became a metaphor to me for everything we had just been through. I felt like a laughing stock. A ridiculous, pitiful joke. Like the world was shaking its head at me, wondering how on earth I could be so stupid.
We had walked into this adoption with our eyes wide open. We knew the risks. We didn’t care. We felt that God had called us there, to walk through labour with this birth mom we loved, to hold her hand knowing she could still change her mind. We had uprooted our family, lived out of a suitcase for weeks, risked all of our hearts because we felt we were doing what was right, and living out God’s specific calling in our life. We had known our hearts could be broken again…and then they were. And the absolute worst thing that could have happened, happened. And now here I was. Far from home, with my precious, tender-hearted little children. Emotionally and physically exhausted. Financially drained. Heartbroken. And drenched in whale poop. I couldn’t have sunk any lower. I was spent.
A few minutes later, my dear husband and older daughter emerged from the arena. They’d just been soaked – again. But this is the thing about my husband – he has a way of laughing through the whale poop – both literal and figurative – of life. It’s a quality I highly recommend in a husband. And as he helped me wring out our poor, soaked girls, he got them giggling. And he could see that I was crying, and held my hand out to the van. Driving back to the hotel, the girls fell asleep. And because we had no towels and no change of clothes, I wept while sitting in a puddle of poop water. And I told him how ridiculous I felt, for following my heart, for risking so much, for subjecting our entire family to such heartache yet another time. But as I wept to him he reassured me – that all along our path we had made choices others doubted. That when we had chosen to love and give life to our terminally ill son, our doctors were incredulous. That when we had chosen to continue adopting after our first heart-wrenching adoption loss, many shook their heads. And that yet God had never left us. And that we were never a joke to Him. And that He would be faithful.
In the coming days, we would witness God’s faithfulness in the most powerfully tangible ways. Amazing, life altering miracles. God’s hand of mercy upon us. But that night as I lay in bed, I knew only that I had some sense of peace. That heartbreak or not, we were where we were supposed to be. That we were right in choosing to act in love, whether or not that meant risking pain. That God saw our hearts. And that our stumbling attempts to follow Him were never a joke in His eyes.
I’ve been thinking a lot about the whale incident lately. Not just because it happened one year ago, but because it has remained a metaphor to me for the adoption journey, a journey we are about to embark on once again. I’ll be the first to admit that I am struggling in the face of our next adoption – that fear has a very real role to play. That this is hard for me – at times overwhelmingly so. There has been too much loss. Too much heartbreak. My eyes are wide open yet again, and they’ve seen a lot that can’t be forgotten. It no longer feels like great difficulty and pain in this next journey are a possibility – it feels like a certainty. It’s a daily battle of hope versus fear. And the truth is, it would be easy just to stop, to not adopt again, to not risk our hearts anymore. We are happy. So, so happy. Why mess with it? It would be nice to feel comfortable for a while.
Once again God is whispering to our hearts. And we know where He’s calling us. And in this moment we have two choices: We can take our seats in the splash zone – and subject ourselves to the breath-stealing punch of the next tidal wave we can’t predict and won’t see coming, to the drenching, stinging onslaught of it all, or we can join the safely-seated crowds in the rafters. Those seats look welcoming sometimes. They really, truly do. But this is the thing about sitting in the rafters – you might not get drenched in quite the same way. But if pain is going to find you, it will find you, rafters or not. And I would rather be part of the show than just watch it. And I would rather feel it, with all of its force, than just be an observer. And I’d rather risk it all and sit in the splash zone than miss everything – the good and the bad – by hiding away. It’s what God is teaching me as He wrings the water from my clothes, and wipes the tears from my eyes, and gives me reason to laugh through the heartache. It’s what He’s teaching me, loss after loss, heartache after heartache, as He holds my hand and never laughs at my heart.
It’s a strange lesson to learn from whale poop. But God works in amazing ways.