The Christmas Ache

Can you feel it? The gnawing, nagging sense that you’re just not feeling Christmas? That maybe if you listened to a few more carols, watched another Christmas movie or finished wrapping presents, you could work up Christmas cheer?

If I’m honest, it’s not about the Christmas cards I neglected to create, nor the decorating I never completed. It’s that life is still hurtling forward. It’s that every day of Advent I have heard news of brokenness: a home destroyed by wildfire, a stillborn baby, cancer stealing a young mother, depression’s icy grip tightening, marriage tensions escalating. Despite the crisply wrapped packages and the crescendos of happiness in Christmas movies, December threatens to be like every other month: except more.

Do you feel the ache?

Other years, I’ve covered my ears and ran into the melee, hoping that the more Christmas Bucket List items I can check off, the more I will feel Christmas.

Not this year.

This year, I’m leaning into the ache. There’s late night texts with a hurting friend. Visiting a neighbour who is grieving her mom’s death. Sitting with my agitated child and struggling to show grace as bedtime turns into bed-hours. Weeping over missed opportunities and misspoken words. Admitting we are limited and living at the very edge of our limits.

I’m calling it: I can’t make Christmas magical enough to cover real life.

And here’s the best part: that is Christmas.

Christmas is not about seasonal mantlepieces, fancy parties, delicious meals nor cozy moments. (Although I am very much for these things)

Christmas is about Love entering the mess. Jesus was conceived by an unsuspecting, un-fancy virgin. He was born in a backwater town, in a feeding box for donkeys and cows. His birth was announced to the un-famous and un-showered in the middle of a field.

(Can you imagine what the nativity smelled like?)

It was not a beautifully curated scene. And yet it was.

If you are feeling tired or grumpy or lonely or like you’re faking it, come to the stable. The baby lying in the manger has come to the mess of our lives. He spent his adult life hanging out with outcasts and scammers, the sick and the unnoticeable. That baby grew up to take on the ache and the cost and horror of our brokenness by his death on the cross. And He offers us forgiveness, belonging and love. He trades our ashes for beauty, our grief for joy, and our despair for praise (Isaiah 61:3).

This, is what it means to feel Christmas-y. To bring the shards of your life to the King of Love. To recognize that there is no feeling you can conjure up that is comparable to the love He offers.

“This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son

 into the world that we might live through him.” 1 John 4:9

*The first and third photos in the post were taken by me at New City Church. Many thanks to the talented friends there who decorate beautifully. 

Categories: celebrations, Christmas, Jesus, life | Leave a comment

Zara’s Birth Story

I last blogged in June 2016 to share the wonderful news of the adoption of our daughter, Mansi. Little did I know that 366 days after welcoming Mansi into our family, we would welcome a baby sister. Growing our family through adoption and pregnancy in one year has been a stretching joy. I have so many thoughts and emotions from the journey we’ve been on; it will likely take me an age to process it. I’m not sure where to start or where to end, so here is a snap shot from a life-altering day: Zara’s birthday.

Sisters

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April 5, 2017 was an emotionally-loaded date. It marked 1 year since we met Mansi and it was baby’s due date. I spent the day waddling about Hamilton doing errands, visiting the midwife and planning our “Family Day” party.

For “Family Day”, we had Indian food and cupcakes and showed Mansi a video montage of her first year in our family. My belly was swollen with life, and my lap was crowded with Mansi snuggles.

Around 3 a.m. on April 6, I began to feel rhythmic sensations in my abdomen. They weren’t painful and were 15-30 minutes apart so I slept on. I asked Varun to work from home–just in case. I walked Mansi to school, walked the 14 flights of stairs up to our apartment and called the midwife. She suggested I take Tylenol and gravol and sleep. After an hour of light napping, I woke up feeling restless. I bounced on the birth ball and watched The Office. I texted my Mom and sister. At that point, I didn’t feel anything–except sheepish.

By lunch, I was determined that baby should be born that day. I slathered on clary sage essential oil as it’s supposed to strengthen contractions and enjoyed the leftover Indian food with Varun.

At 1 p.m., I felt the first sharp pain. For the next hour, the contractions were 10 minutes apart. I called the midwife and she suggested I stop counting and wait; it’s a first baby and they usually take a long time.

<Pause>

I too had assumed that since it was my first baby, labour would be long. I had prepped snacks and a list of activities to do; productive (sweep, wash dishes, bake), distraction (list of funny movies) and Bible verses to meditate on. I had a 3 page list of pain management techniques for us to utilize.

<And then my body went from 0-100 in an hour. It got real.>

By 2 p.m., my contractions were 2-3 minutes apart. I couldn’t talk through them or walk and was starting to feel a little panicky: it wasn’t supposed to happen so fast! Varun was hovering and timing my contractions, despite my protestations that the midwife said not to. Varun called the midwife again and she decided to come examine me.

The midwife arrived to find me mid-contraction, yogurt popsicle in hand, leaning on a door frame. After examining me, she proclaimed that I was 7-8 cm dilated and that it was time to head to the hospital. I stood like an overwhelmed toddler as Varun helped me get dressed. I asked repeatedly if the baby would be born in the car as I felt labour was moving (too) fast.

As Varun drove, I sent a pre-written text to our families updating them. Sitting down felt impossible as my body contracted and surged. Each bump amplified the pain and I struggled to remain composed.

I texted my nurse friend Shannon, “Going to hospital. 7-8 cm. Worst pain of my life…U can come visit.” Apparently my extroversion was still going full throttle at that point.

We met Susie, the midwife, in the lobby and she walked with me as Varun parked. I clung to Susie’s neck while I had a contraction in the door of the elevator (Thank you, elderly Italian man who held the elevator door open while I breathed, eyes closed).

In the hospital room, I felt instinct taking over. I began groaning through contractions, and between them asked for water and whimpered that I was too tired. My sole focus was on riding out the pain. Varun stood calmly while I clung to him, slow dance position, during contractions. He helped me change into the hospital gown and was a steady, loving presence.

I had been bummed when I went into labour because my main midwife, Allison, wasn’t on call. During the hour that I was in the hospital room, Allison arrived, wearing scrubs and looking ready for action. Her unexpected presence gave me a renewed burst of hope and comfort.

After my water broke I felt the urge to push. Everything was overwhelmingly fast, yet in slow motion. I remember the bright lights, and turning to Varun to tell him we were ‘never doing this again’. I felt vulnerable and young, and asked ‘If everyone could please stop being bossy’.  The contractions and urge to push were all-encompassing. It was almost beyond pain, or maybe I’ve forgotten in the 8 weeks post-partum.

In 3 or 4 pushes, the baby’s head was out. In that instant, I could feel her tiny, bony, wet body and it was very strange. I exclaimed, “Ah! I can feel her! Get her out!” (Classy, I know).

And then, someone was placing a wet and screaming, red-faced infant on my chest. I exclaimed, “Oh my gosh! It’s a BABY!” Everyone laughed, relieved and happy.

Someone noted the time was 5:29 pm. A midwife approached me with Advil and Tylenol, which I skeptically received. I just delivered a baby without pain medication, what was about to happen that I would need Tylenol?!

I felt exhausted and exhilarated, my body charged with adrenaline. I told Varun I was craving juice and a hamburger, and I stared in shock and wonder at the creature on my chest (who, incidentally, had peed on me). Varun asked me to turn and smile for a photo.

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“Focus on your baby”, Allison encouraged me as she gave me sutures. So I did.

I held baby’s tiny fingers and marvelled at her dark, curly and matted hair. I inhaled a scent I had never known but instantly loved: newborn baby. Welcome to the world, Zara Grace.

Middle of the night selfie

Middle of the night selfie

Mansi meeting Zara

Mansi meeting Zara

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Zara Grace Rana, born April 6, 2017

Categories: adoption, family, indian food, kids, life | 8 Comments

Welcome to the Family!

We are thrilled to announce the adoption of precious daughter, Mansi! 

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Photo credit: Vasudha Sagar

Mansi (“Mon-see”) is 3 years old and was born in Uttar Pradesh, India. As of May 5, 2016, we passed court and are officially Mansi’s parents! For the past two months we have had the joy of getting to know Mansi, and let me tell you: she has a zesty personality! We love her contagious laughter, her compassionate heart and her sense of fun.

Mansi loves swimming, dancing to Jai Ho, making pretend chai, singing ‘Yeshu Masih’ (worship) songs and looking at photos of loved ones. She asks us hard questions about physics and weather and street children. Mansi dares us to act with integrity, kindness and silliness from dawn to dusk. (Actually more like 9 am -10 pm, but more on Indian schedules another day). Friends, my heart melts when I see Mansi and Varun (‘Papa’) goofing off or Mansi bringing a ‘crying’ stuffed animal to Papa for comfort.

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Photo credit: Vasudha Sagar

At the same time, I want to tell you that it has been hard. We have been learning to be parents far from our own home, and caring for a grieving toddler while navigating an extraordinarily chaotic and frustrating adoption process. There have been long days and long nights; but God has given grace and love enough for each.

Take for example this photoshoot: it was 8 am, 40C/104F and we had woken up at 3 am to arrive at the Taj Mahal before it became ‘too hot’. Mansi was one gummy candy away from a meltdown and she could not grasp the splendour of the 500 year old architectural marvel which she refers to as, ‘the big white building’. This photo shoot was basically powered by sugar, baby-wearing and promises of more monkey-sightings.

{Massive thanks to my dear sister-in-law, Vasudha, for engineering this photoshoot. From encouraging us to make the trek to the Taj Mahal, to helping us pick out outfits to shooting and editing these amazing pics, this was truly a labour of love!}

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Photo credit: Vasudha Sagar

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Photo credit: Vasudha Sagar

And so, four years after we began the process of adoption, we are overjoyed to be embarking on the journey of Life as Family of Three. We are eager to return home to Canada and at this point, all we need is Mansi’s Canadian visa and an exit permit. If all goes well, we hope to return home around mid-July!

We’d like to pause and thank you for your love and support throughout this journey. Over the years we have been showered with love through prayers, texts, gifts, visits, donations, midnight phone calls, handmade items, care packages, encouragement, toys… Just two months into parenting we are learning that it truly does take a village to raise a child. Thank you for being Mansi’s village, we cannot wait for you to meet her!

Love from New Delhi,

Amelia, Varun & Mansi

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Photo credit: Vasudha Sagar

Categories: adoption, family, india | 15 Comments

H.S.L. Mama

Friends, we are in India with our dear little daughter M. Because we haven’t yet passed court, we can’t post her name or pictures. But let me tell you, there are many, many pictures forthcoming. And some hilarious videos.

Over the next few weeks, I’m going to post more detailed updates about the transition from the orphanage to ‘home’ in Delhi. For now, here are the highlights. In early April we traveled to India and met M at her orphanage. We visited daily and 3 weeks ago today we brought her to my in-laws home in Delhi. Technically, we are fostering her until we receive court finalization of our adoption. Next week we will return to her city (via a 14 hour train ride!) for our court date. Prayers appreciated!!!

M napping in her bedroom at the orphanage Photo credit: Vasudha Sagar

M napping in her bedroom at the orphanage
Photo credit: Vasudha Sagar

The transition from orphanage to home was very hard for M, and for us. She had lived there for the majority of her 3 years and experienced love and joy at the orphanage. She has spent the last few weeks grieving bravely, opening up her heart to us and learning the norms and quirks of family life. There is so much more to write, so I’m going to try and tackle this topic by topic. Because a lot of this is still raw (read: hard), I’ve decided to start with an easy topic: learning a foreign language as an adult.

M's handiwork. I have yet to attempt Hindi writing

M’s handiwork. I have yet to attempt Hindi writing

People often ask me how well I speak Hindi. Well, I finally have a clear answer: my toddler speaks better Hindi than I do. I think I can safely say I have the Hindi skills of a 2.75 year old.

It turns out, little M loves to talk. However, she only knows about 20 words in English, 15 of which are from ‘Ba Ba Black Sheep’. As a result, my Hindi has been steadily improving.

Because I have learned Hindi largely by watching Bollywood movies on repeat and unabashedly trying out whatever I think might be right, my Hindi is slightly eclectic. It’s a bit like a room furnished entirely from a thrift store, put together by someone who doesn’t have an eye for design. You know the look; the curtains clash horribly with the 70’s style floral couch, but the room is…functional. My verbs rarely match the gender of my nouns, but my toddler puts her cookies away when I tell her to, so we’re gonna call that success.

The newest additions to my Hindi are from a lesson plan I like to call Life With a Three Year Old. Here are a few words and phrases I’ve learned recently from M:

  • Let go
  • Wear this
  • It’s bed time
  • Sleep
  • Stop talking
  • Lap
  • Hold the swing with two hands
  • I have to pee/poo
  • It’s wet!
  • It will dry
  • Put that away
  • Tickle
  • Slide
  • Pretend
  • By myself!
  • Sparkles

For the most part, M and I can understand each other well. I speak enough Hindi to tell her most things, including ‘Don’t eat that candy the man in the park gave you’ and ‘Your Papa and I love you so, so much!’ . However, sometimes understanding her is a bit of challenge as she has an adorable accent from her home state, and, at 3.5 years old, she’s far ahead of me in Hindi fluency.

The other day, we were laying on the bed playing and M told me something about ‘cuh-lay’. I spun through the rolodex of Hindi Words that Sound like ‘Cuh-lay’, and came up with ‘play’. I asked, Do you want to play? What do you want to play? She repeated herself, louder this time. (As we know from experience with English language learners, speaking louder always improves comprehension.) With a sigh, she changed tactics: ‘When Bua (Aunt Vasudha) was here, she made a flower with it….’ Then I remembered, Bua made a flower with play doh, play doh is ‘clay’! (Clay is English and I speak English.) Womp womp.

Sometimes Hindi is actually English, and that’s confusing too.

Clay flowers

Clay flowers

So here we are, years of giggling at Varun’s linguistic mishaps and I now have a three year old correcting my verb tenses. Thus begins my life as an H.S.L. (Hindi as a second/other language) Mama!

Categories: adoption, communication, confusion, Hindi, india, language | 6 Comments

All The Feelings

Friends! We are going to India in 3 weeks to meet our little girl!!! 

To say that we are experiencing All the Feelings is a bit of an understatement. Since we found out two weeks ago that the time has come, we have been up to our eyeballs in preparation. Think: nesting + moving out of hotel into friends house + finishing up at work + re-buying items destroyed in flood + mountains of paperwork.

But really, this is why Starbucks offers double shots of espresso: because every task I complete on my Family To-Do Spreadsheet is one step closer to hugging my baby girl.

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Love the enthusiasm this travel agent brings

Ok. Maybe I should backtrack. A few weeks ago we received our NOC, which is an approval from the Indian government saying that our match with M has ‘no objections’ and can go to Indian court. At this point, we began to hear word that we would be able to go to India and foster M during the court process. Originally, we had been planning on going when court was over and staying for 2-3 weeks. But here was the opportunity to go ASAP and spend 2-3 months (or more?) with M in our home in India while the paperwork is completed.

We dreamed about it, which turned into musing, which turned into considering, which turned into OF COURSE YES!

So, we told our bosses we’re taking parental leave, we applied for visas, bought tickets, filled out fostering paperwork, and, best of all–we got to FaceTime with M! Twice! And the lovely director of the orphanage encouraged us to call regularly to help make M’s transition more smooth. Oh my heart.

You guys, this girl is adorable. M has been inviting all of her friends to come to Canada with her (yes, please). She told us about her favourite foods, the dance she performed at Christmas and, after serious prompting, told us in English, “I love you”.

All. The. Feels.

Sadly, I can’t post her picture online, so instead I’ll just insert some adorable baby animals.

Rant Lifestyle

Rant Lifestyle

Taken from Rant Lifestyle

Rant Lifestyle

Rant Lifestyle

Rant Lifestyle

Not as cute as M, but they’ll tide you over until I can post her charming smile.

Are we excited?! YES!

But. Honestly? There is a trail mix of emotions and thoughts inside me, blog posts for another day.

For now, we’re celebrating that we are many steps closer to meeting our daughter!

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Categories: adoption, family, india | 9 Comments