Saturday, September 15, 2018

Love Is Not Easily Given

3 years ago today we were nervously awaiting the arrival of our 4th child. This time, however, we weren't waiting in a sterile hospital delivery room, we were waiting in an old conference room at a hotel in China.

3 years ago today a little girl walked into our lives. I'll never forget the first time I saw her in her mismatched outfit of pink shoes, a red and black plaid dress and a cute red bow in her hair. She was the cutest girl I had ever seen. I’ll never forget how I felt in that moment: I was smitten to the depths of my soul.

She, however, was not. She was sad. She was confused. She was scared. She was unsure. She was experiencing loss…yet again. Adoption is scary- and not just for parents who open up their hearts and their families to adopt a child- it is scary for the child.

Adoption only happens because of loss. Every orphan’s story is different, but each one has experienced loss. Elli lost her family when she was 3 ½ months old. We don’t know why or how she lost them, but Elli suffered great loss as a little baby. She lost her family. Try to imagine the depths of that loss.

3 years ago today she experienced loss yet again. After she lost her family at 3.5 months old she was placed in the care of workers at her orphanage. Although Elli doesn’t talk a lot about her time at the orphanage, all indications point to the fact that she was well cared for. For this we are so thankful. But those loving workers became her new family for the next 3 years of her life.

Then we walked into her life. From our perspective Elli was gaining a family she never had. But to Elli, she was losing her second family. She grieved that loss. Deeply. Her grief took many forms: sadness, many tears, restless nights, feelings of insecurity, rebellion, anger, and fear. It’s hard for me to understand that kind of loss and it has been difficult for us to help her deal with that grief, especially in the early days as she kept us (me, especially) at arm’s length.

3 years ago today I entered God’s classroom and learned some incredible (and sometimes painful) lessons. I’ve learned true love is hard work. It is dying to self every dayfor the good of someone else. True love never gives up.  "Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails" (1 Cor. 13:7-8).

I’ve learned your past is not a prison. Learn from it, but don’t live in it. I’ve made mistakes as an adoptive father, but as my friend Mike Hipson once told me, “I’ve given up hope on a better past.”  By God’s grace I must learn and move forward.

I’ve also learned that loss is not easily overcome. It takes time, patience, trust, understanding, space to grieve and love.

And the most important lesson I’ve learned: There is no greater gift than being loved. When I first met Elli, I loved her deeply. But she didn’t love me. She couldn’t. Love is not easily given. You don’t just give your heart to anyone and before you do, you have to know that person loves you and will not mistreat you or hurt you.

We’ve come a long way in 3 years. Her pink shoes and red and black plaid dress have been replaced with princess slippers and dresses. She is still learning to trust. She has learned we are here to stay and she has given me the greatest gift I could have ever been given: to be loved. She loves me. I love her.

By God’s grace, my sweet Elli will never have to experience the loss of family again. She has found her “forever family” and until I draw my last breath she will be my girl.

Happy Gotcha Day, sweet Elli! We love you.

Friday, August 24, 2018

My Parents Loved Someone Else More Than Me

On Valentine’s Day in 2005 I gave my wife this book as a gift:

It's a children's book. I know: it's super romantic, right? But as weird as it may seem, this book was a rare stroke of romantic genius. The title of the book was "Guess How Much I Love You" and tells the story of a mother's deep love for her child. We were expecting our first child at any moment and I had a lot of questions: “How would my life be changing? What would it be like to care for a baby? How do you change a diaper? Will I be a good dad? How would this affect my relationship with my wife?”

I wrestled with that last question the most: How would this baby affect my relationship with my wife? As I prayed through and contemplated the answer to that question I realized something had been shaping my life for decades without me even realizing it. It was just a part of me.

Having a child changes everything. All of a sudden you are faced with the overwhelming reality that a tiny human being is completely dependent upon you for everything. Children are consuming: sleepless nights, cleaning up throw up more times than you ever thought you would, changing diapers, calming fears, cleaning scrapes, hugging away hurts, assuring them they are loved and treasured, baseball practice, basketball practice, school activities, family vacations, trying to survive a trip to the grocery store with a 2 year old, washing dishes. 

Raising children can be a challenge. There is financial, emotional, physical, mental, spiritual and societal pressure. It’s constant. I should know: I have four of them, and so did my parents.

My parents got married on August 24, 1968. They were so young. Dad was 18 and mom was 17. They started a family right away as my oldest brother, Rodney, was born in January 1970. My dad served in Vietnam during those early years of marriage, so my mom was basically a “single mom” during that time. Upon his return from Vietnam, their family continued to grow. Sam was born in 1973, I was born in 1976 and Kasey was born in 1979.

Life for my parents was never easy. Mom and dad were tireless workers. Dad often worked multiple jobs to provide for our family. He was a fireman, owned a roofing company and a bit later in life he became a pastor. Mom was a stay-at-home mom and worked herself to the bone every day. Because of this, we were a single income family.

We were not rich by any stretch of the imagination. I remember my 5thgrade year at Bethune Elementary I got 2 new pair of jeans for school. I alternated those jeans every other day. We didn’t get allowances, we didn’t have the nicest cars, and I didn’t always get the newest cleats or baseball bat for every baseball season. We took our lunches to school almost every day and a trip to McDonald’s was a real treat. Other kids usually had more lunch money for the snack bar than we did. Other kids had nicer clothes and better cars. I must admit, as a young, immature kid, I was a little bothered by this. Other kids in high school were getting new cars for their 16thbirthday, but I got an ’88 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme. 

Now, as an adult and a father of 4, it doesn’t bother me at all. I know what it takes to provide for a family. It’s not easy. It’s hard work. It's stressful. You make sacrifices your kids will NEVER know about just to bring some joy and happiness to their lives. I have grown to deeply appreciate all my parents did for us growing up.

I wondered about a lot of things as a kid: “Why can’t I just get a new bat? Why can’t I get a Coca-Cola shirt (they were a big deal back then)? Why are we sneaking hot dogs into the Astrodome? Why can’t we just buy one there? Why can’t I get the newest pair of Jordan’s?”

I may have wondered about a lot of things, but I NEVER wondered whether my parents loved me. I didn’t fully appreciate it at the time, but I do now. There is a safety and security that comes from being loved and valued that money can never buy. When I wasn’t a part of the “in crowd” at school, went 0 for 4 at the baseball game, missed the game winning shot in the basketball game, failed a test or made a big mistake, I knew two people in my life loved me unconditionally. You can’t put a price tag on that kind of love. 

We were never rich, but we were wealthy beyond measure. I am a wealthy man to have been raised by Dwain and Jeanette Pollard. I am blessed beyond measure. I had parents who never gave up on me, who love me and who believed in me when others, including myself, gave up.

In 2005, as a soon-to-be-dad, I began to really realize how much their love had been shaping my life every single day. But it wasn’t just their love for me that shaped me, it was also their love for one another.

It was that Valentine’s Day in 2005 that I realized this truth about my parents: my parents did not love me more than they loved each other. I want to write that again because it is so profound: My parents did not love me more than they loved each other.I have doubted a lot of things in my life but not ONE TIME growing up did I doubt whether my parents loved each other. Even when they fought, they loved each other. When things got tough, they loved each other. For richer, for poorer, they loved each other. In sickness, and in health, they loved each other. For better, or for worse, they loved each other. Above all others, and forsaking all others, they loved each other. Because of this, today they celebrate 50 years of marriage.

So why did I buy that children's book for my wife as a Valentine's Day gift? I knew my wife was going to be an awesome mom. I am truly blessed to have married a woman who loves our children the same way my mom loved me. On the inside cover of the book I wrote this note to Leslie:

For those who can't read my terrible handwriting, the note reads, “Every time you read this to Luke…remember how much I love you.” This is the truth that I uncovered in 2005: If I love my wife well, I’ll love my kids well.

I learned this from the best mom and dad a son could ever pray for.

Thank you, mom and dad, for loving me as you have, but thank you for loving each other more. Happy 50thAnniversary. You are a true inspiration to me and I pray my wife will one day will celebrate our 50thwith the same joy and happiness you have today.

I love you both. 

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Daddy, Why Was I In China?

Saturday was just a normal night in the Pollard house. Baths were done, teeth were brushed and everyone was settling down for bed. Leslie and I rotate bedtime with the "littles" each night- one night I lay down with Adam and Leslie takes Elli. The next night, we switch.

And believe me: Elli knows the rotation. If Leslie and I are in a "parent fog" and can't remember whose turn it is, I'll ask Elli, "Is it daddy's turn tonight?" She'll look at me with this grin and say, "Ka-night [Tonight], Daddy's turn!"

Saturday night was Daddy's turn so I climbed the stairs and laid down on her pink sheets, propped my head up on her pillow and prepared to read some books, say our prayers and enjoy any number of things that might follow on any given night: snuggles, giggles and laughing at Elli as she hides under the covers and playfully yells "No!" at Luke as he sneaks into her room trying to steal a kiss.

We've got a good routine going and Sunday night was routine. We read a book called A Mother for Choco which tells the story of a small bird named Choco who can't find his mother and goes on a quest to find her. It's a story we've read dozens of time before.

I'm not sure if it's the book that prompted what happened next, but after we read the book, she wrapped herself up in her favorite pink blanket and snuggled up to my shoulder. We laid there for a couple of minutes. I thought she was drifting off to sleep. Then she asked me a question that took my breath away: "Daddy, why was I in China?"

I was speechless and caught completely off-guard: not only because my 5 year old daughter was asking such a profound question, but I also knew I didn't know how to answer it. It's a question I've asked hundreds of times over the past two years.

Why? Why did Elli's parents give her up for adoption? Why didn't they decide to keep her? Why don't we have any information on her birth parents to help us fill in the gaps? Why did Elli have to wait 4 years before she was adopted into our family?


That 3-letter interrogative has haunted me at times. As I laid in Elli's bed trying to gather my thoughts I wrestled once again with that question. However, this time it wasn't just my own internal struggle. I wasn't alone. My beautiful 5 year old girl was struggling to answer the question. "Why, Daddy?"

I prayed and asked God for wisdom to speak love, truth and healing to my daughter's heart. I felt the weight of the moment and the answer as I looked into her beautiful eyes and said, "Baby, you were in China because that's where you were born. And that's where you were when mommy and daddy came to get you. Now we are all a family."

She contemplated my answer for a few seconds and said, "Luke's a good one" (I don't know what that means for the rest of us). She paused for a moment and said, "I love you, Dad," snuggled up close and went to sleep. I don't know if my answer was a good one, but for that night, my answer sufficed.

But her question got me thinking. In fact, for the past couple of days her question has been relentlessly stirring in my heart. Why? The truth is: I don't know why. Elli may live her entire life without an adequate answer. It is likely she will have more questions as she gets older- "Why did my parents have to give me up for adoption? Why couldn't they keep me?" These are not questions I can answer.

God has reminded me once again it's not my job to know the answers to all the "whys" in my daughter's life, so for the past couple of days I've been praying, "God, she's going to grow up with a lot of 'whys.' I ask you to help me as she navigates the answers and I ask you to help me not be one of her bad "whys." As Elli grows up and wrestles with the many questions that will come to her heart, I hope she will never look at me and say, "Why him? Of all the dads I could have had, why him?"

Instead, I want her to grow up and say, "Although I may not know the answer to all the 'whys' of my life, I am thankful he's my dad." I want to be a good answer to her "why?"

I have to learn to live with the tension of not knowing the answer to all of the "whys" of my daughter's life. Today I leave the "whys" in the hands of God and ask Him to give me the love, grace, strength and wisdom to be a good answer to her Why?

Friday, September 15, 2017

When Love Takes You In

I'm going to have to fight back the tears as I write this one. This one could take a while.

Today is "Gotcha Day." No, it's not some weird September celebration of April Fools Day or a day to pull a practical joke. On this day, just two years ago, I was pacing back and forth in a small hotel room in China. I was awaiting the arrival of my little girl. It was the kind of joyful anticipation every dad feels when standing in the hospital room awaiting the arrival of a child.

A wave of questions flooded my mind: "What will she look like? What kind of personality will she have? Is she going to be daddy's or mommy's girl?"

Before those questions were answered the questions deepened: "What if she doesn't like me? Am I really ready for this? What if this is harder than we anticipated? Am I making a mistake? Can I love her enough? Will she ever be able to love me as a dad? What if this doesn't work out? What if I'm not enough for her?"

And before those questions could be answered, she arrived. I saw a little girl across the courtyard. She was wearing a pink jacket, a red dress with cherries on it and pink and white shoes. She was the most beautiful baby girl I had ever seen.

Until I draw my last breath, I will never forget how she looked that day and I'll never forget how much I loved her. Never.

That's "Gotcha Day."

A few days ago I posted two pictures of Elli taken almost two years apart. The difference in the two pictures is remarkable.

A dear friend of our family commented on the pics, "When love takes you in...everything changes." It's true. In every way.

Everything has changed since Gotcha Day.

Elli is a completely different kid. She is stunning. I know I'm biased, but she is (and I'll fight anyone who would dare say otherwise). She has grown so much. She smiles more. She laughs more. She's more secure. She trusts more. She is loved more.

Every night at bedtime I ask her the same series of questions:
Me: Are you daddy's girl?
Elli: Yes.
Me: Are you mommy's girl?
Elli: Yes.
Me: Are you Luke's girl?
Elli: Yes.
Me: Are you Noah's girl?
Elli: Yes.
Me: Are you Adam's girl?
Elli (some days): No.
Elli (on other days when they haven't been fighting): Yes.

Hey, let's be honest: love is hard.

But love took her in and everything changed.

It's not just Elli who was taken in by love. I was taken in as well. Today I am a different man, husband and father than I was on Gotcha Day two years ago. I have learned so much about myself these past two years. Adoption has painfully revealed some of my deepest insecurities. I've learned that I can be a very selfish person. I've learned that I can be too hard on my kids.

But I have also learned so much about love. Love is hard work. Love is dying to self for the welfare of others. Love keeps on giving when there's nothing left to give. Love is unconditional. Love means putting someone else first knowing you may not get something in return. Love is a choice. Love is Jesus on the cross. There he gave his life for the good of others.

On Gotcha Day it wasn't just Elli that was taken in by love. Love took me in as well.

That's right. Adoption has changed me...for the better.

All of those questions I had on Gotcha Day 2 years ago? They've all been answered:

  • What will she look like? Stunning. Like her mommy.
  • What kind of personality will she have? I would describe her as a funny, crazy, sassy, caring Princess Power Ranger.
  • Is she going to be daddy's or mommy's girl? Don't tell mommy, but I won.
  • What if she doesn't like me? She does. 
  • Am I really ready for this? I wasn't.
  • What if this is harder than we anticipated? It is.
  • Am I making a mistake? No way.
  • Can I love her enough? Absolutely.
  • Will she ever be able to love me as a dad? No doubt about it.
  • What if this doesn't work out? It has. It will. 
  • What if I'm not enough for her? I'm not. I'm not enough for Elli, but Jesus is. He is more than enough. My job as her father is to point her to him. 

Today is Gotcha Day- a day when we celebrate Elli becoming a part of our family. But it's more than that. It's a day we celebrate love taking us all in.

We love you, Elliana Joy Jing Pollard. We didn't just take you in: you took us in. Love took us in...and everything changed.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Elli- Did You Lose Your Mommy?

It's hard for kids to understand an adult world. They don't understand why they can't have every piece of candy they ask for in the store, why you can't go swimming while it's storming outside or why you have to go to work and can't play all day every day.

Adoption is an adult world concept that is difficult for kids to understand. Just ask my youngest son, Adam. On May 12, 2011, Leslie gave birth to our third son, Adam. For 4 years, 4 months and 3 days he was the baby of the family. His title was unchallenged. He was the undisputed baby of the Pollard house...then "she" came into our lives.

As much as everyone else loved Elli, Adam had some difficulty. She was now the baby and that hurt a little. While we were in China things were "okay," but once we got home Adam began to understand this was a permanent situation. He had to learn to share his toys. He had to learn there was someone younger in the family whose needs were pressing all of the time. He had to understand he wasn't the baby anymore..and he didn't like it.

A couple of days after returning from China Adam said to Leslie, "Mommy, we need to take Elli home to her mommy." Wow. How do you explain this to a four year old? So Leslie told Adam, "Buddy, Elli lost her mommy. So your mommy is her mommy now." Adam thought about it for a minute and said, "Yeah, but we still need to take her home to her mommy." Leslie explained that our home was now Elli's home and that Adam's mommy was Elli's mommy, too.

Fast forward to a couple of weeks ago. I was driving the kids to the movies to give mommy a little break and I overheard this conversation in the backseat:

Adam: "Elli, did you lose your mommy?"

Elli: "Yeah." (then a sad look came over her face)

Adam: (in a comforting voice) "It's okay, Elli. Mommy went to China to get you and now she's happy. Mommy is your mommy."

A big smile came across Elli's face and she threw her hands into the air and screamed, "Yay!"

I fought back the tears as my heart melted. Before Elli entered our lives, Leslie and I prayed with the kids every night that God would bring the right child to us. We asked God to help us all love Elli. Although he didn't get it at first and struggled with the idea, Adam finally understood "my mommy is Elli's mommy"...and he was okay with it. In fact, he was happy about it. So was Elli.

Every parent who has ever lost a child in a store knows the fear that can grip your heart as you search frantically for your child. I've lost one of my kids in a store before. Until you find him, it's a hopeless feeling.

However, I have also been a lost child. I vividly remember a trip to Sears when I was a kid. My brother and I were playing Hide-and-Seek in all of the clothing racks. I found a good spot and stayed there for some time. After I realized my brother was taking longer-than-usual to find me I came out of the hiding spot to find him. However, he was not there...nor was my mom. Fear gripped me. Panic set in. "Where are they? Did they leave me? Are they coming back to get me?"

I was probably only missing for about 1 minute but it felt like one lifetime. Then I remember hearing my mom's voice, "Robby?! Robby?!" Although I could sense fear and anxiety in her cries, it felt so amazing to hear her voice and to know my mom was looking for me. I followed the sound of her voice and started calling to her, "Mom! Mom!" We finally found each other and she hugged me. I could sense the joy she felt in finding me. I could also sense the relief. But her joy paled in comparison to the joy I felt for being found.

Elli lost her mommy for almost 4 years of her life. I don't know how long that felt to her. My heart hurts to think about it, really. During the nearly two years it took for us to go through the adoption process we hit numerous hurdles with agencies, governments, and finances. It was physically, emotionally and spiritually draining.

But a mommy who is looking for her daughter cannot be stopped. Leslie stood strong when we hit dead ends, persevered through adversity, filled out more paperwork than you can imagine and traveled halfway around the world to find her little girl.

So yes, Elli lost her mommy, but her mommy has found her. And Elli has found her mommy. Really, they found each other.

Elliana Joy Jing Pollard. Elliana means "God has answered." God has answered our prayers and brought us joy.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Piece by Piece

I love music. It's a sad time at the Pollard house. Leslie and I are "closet" American Idol fans. Now it's out. There, I feel better. If you are not aware, this is American Idol's final season so with each episode Idol is bringing back past winners for one final performance on the show. Some of them have been good: others have been ho-hum.

However, a couple of weeks ago one performance completely left me feeling like I had been punched in the gut and left a seasoned veteran performer like Keith Urban in tears. Kelly Clarkson, the first American Idol, performed a heart-wrenching song called Piece By Piece. If you'd like to watch the performance, here is a link (but I recommend you get tissues ready beforehand). I don't usually get emotional during American Idol, but there was something different about this song. It is a song of redemption, but every story of redemption begins with pain.

The song tells the story of a mother whose dad walked out on her when she was 6 years old. Here's the first line: "And all I remember is your back walking toward the airport leaving us all in your past." Let that image sink in for a moment: a little girl watching as her dad walks out of her life forever. I've tried to put myself in that little girl's shoes so many times but I just can't. I wish I could...because my daughter has a pair of those shoes.

I love bedtime with the kids. Bedtime always includes reading books, saying prayers, laughing, passing gas- you know- normal kid stuff. But with all of my kids I like to watch them fall asleep. Each kid likes us to do different things to them to help them fall asleep: Luke likes us to lay down in his bed, Noah likes mommy to scratch his back and Adam likes me to put my arm over his chest.

Elli likes me to rub her back with a blanket. She hands me a particular corner of her blanket and says, "Daddy, like this," showing me how to hold the corner of the blanket. Then she rolls over on her stomach and pulls up her shirt so the blanket can touch her skin. For 10 minutes I lay there and rub her back with the corner of her blanket. As my arm begins to cramp I watch her eyes as she drifts off into sleep.

As she does I often wonder about what image (if any) she has of her biological father. She was so young at the time he abandoned her, so I don't know what she remembers. But I wonder how she would sing that line of the song, "And all I remember was your back..." I wish I could stand in her shoes.

But the song is a song of redemption. Another man came into her life that I hope will describe what I have become for my beautiful girl:
But piece by piece, he collected me up
Off the ground where you abandoned things.
And piece by piece he filled the holes
That you burned in me at six years old and you know
He never walks away
He never asks for money
He takes care of me 'cause he loves me
Piece by piece, he restored my faith
That a man can be kind and a father should be great.

I know there are holes burned in Elli's heart. You don't easily get over being abandoned. But with every stroke of her soft, black hair, every gentle kiss to her forehead, every tickle fight, every book I read to her at night, every time I comfort her when she cries and every soft touch of her blanket on her back, I am picking up the pieces and shoveling unconditional love into her heart.

And I hope, piece by piece, as I love her, we are rewriting the first line of her song. And every night I pray she will she will grow to learn that a man can be kind and a father should be great.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Daddy, It's Scary

I am always amused by the over-the-top sensationalism of local media. This weekend I sensed a weird joy in the local reporters as they prepped Houston for "Flood-Mageddon"...or "March Floodness"...or any other lame name they could come up with to describe the impending weather conditions for Houston. A wave of thunderstorms were predicted to sweep through the Houston area leaving us wishing we had been wise enough to build Noah's ark.

The storms did come through, but they were not nearly as bad as the weatherman had predicted. There were, however, 2 kids affected by the weather. At about 3:00 a.m. a loud crash of thunder rattled the windows in my bedroom and awakened two cute kids who were fast asleep in my bed: Adam and Elli (it's a long story, but Leslie had to put the kids down for sleep by herself last night and I came home to find them cutely snuggled up in my bed).

Adam has never been a fan of loud noises so immediately put his hands over his ears and just stared at the windows as lightning flashed and thunder crashed. I put my left arm over his chest to help him feel secure. Elli sat up and had fear written all over her face. She looked at me and said, "Daddy, it's scary" and reached out for me. I put my right arm behind her and pulled her close. This is no small moment. Trust and security are big things for an adopted child and this was another evidence of her growing trust in me.

She buried her head in my chest and closed her eyes and held onto me tightly. I reassured her, "Daddy's here. It's going to be okay. Daddy's here."

Then I had a moment. As I comforted two of my kids, my mind went to a place to which it has gone many times. Ever since Adam breathed his first breath almost 5 years ago I have been with him. There has never been a day of his life when "Daddy wasn't there." Elli's story is very different. When we finally got her in September of last year she had lived 1,358 days without "Daddy's here."

My mind has gone to this place many times. When Elli falls and scrapes her knee and I hold her and bandage the wound, I wonder who did this before me...or if anyone did. When Elli cries because she is upset and I hold her and tell her, "It's going to be okay," I wonder whose arms were holding her...if any. When Elli wanted to swing "high in the sky," who was there to push the swing for her? When Elli's smile lights up the room I often wonder, "Who stopped to enjoy this beautiful girl?" When she laughs, whose heart used to be filled with joy...or did anyone even notice?

Last night as the thunder rolled on and Elli held on tightly I wondered, "What did you do in the orphanage when a storm passed through? Who held you?" And a giant lump formed in my throat as I wondered, "What if the answer is 'no one'? What if no one came into the room to hold my little girl while she was scared?" The thought just tears me up.

So last night as I held her close, kissed her head and reassured her and Adam, I prayed and thanked God that He chose me to be their daddy. And I whispered to my sweet Elli, "I'm so thankful you are here with me."

I don't know who bandaged her wounds, comforted her when she cried, pushed the swing for her, basked in the warmth of her smile or held her during a scary storm for the first 1,358 days of her life. But I do know this: for the rest of my days, daddy will be here.