Monday, October 27, 2008

Katy’s Family Forest, part 16

My poor heart was really working overtime that day—I probably took days off my life! It was pounding right out of my chest as we left Graeter's (the ice cream shop) and drove toward Frank's house.

We pulled up, and immediately noticed that the pick-up truck was gone. (God has always had a way of protecting me from myself. J) But we pressed on. We parked on the road across the street, and I used the back of one of Jon's business card to write a short note in case no one was home.

Jon wanted to go with me, but I asked him to wait in the truck. I needed to do this myself. So with shaking hands—well, OK, my whole body was shaking—I climbed out of the truck and made my way to his front door, silently praying that he wasn't really home.

He wasn't. But his wife was.

I had no idea if she knew who I was or why I was there, and if not, I wasn't sure I should be the one to explain it. So I just gave her the business card, asked her to give it to Frank, and left.

I didn't know what to expect at that point. I had already made one attempt at contact that had gone unanswered. I had left him my e-mail address on the business card, so I went home and waited. I didn't have to wait long.

A couple of days after our trip, I got an e-mail from Frank. If I had worried that we had somehow found the wrong guy, that was no longer an issue. I still have the e-mail somewhere, but I can sum it up pretty well for you without looking… It said, "Don't ever contact me again. If I change my mind, I'll find you." He said that he had never told his wife about me, and that I had caused some problems for him. He hadn't spoken to Jan since the day I was born, and didn't even know that I knew about her, let alone him—he hadn't ever expected to hear from me, and was quite happy to keep it that way.

I don't take rejection well. Here was a man I had never met, a man who knew I had been conceived but had no interest in caring for me even then, a man with whom I had no emotional connection of any kind, yet with one simple e-mail had completely shattered me. The nicest thing in the whole e-mail said, "Please respect my feelings about this and do not contact me again." Oh, and here's the best part… he started off the e-mail with, "Dear Kathy." He didn't even get my name right.

I was crushed.

Around this same time, my parents were planning a graduation party for me. Yes, I had finished school in December, but Heidelberg is a small college and only has graduation once per year, so my actual graduation wasn't until May of 2001. It wasn't anything big, just a little cookout for family at my mom and dad's. But it just so happened that Jan had e-mailed and said that she wanted to come visit, and one of the weekends she suggested was the same weekend as the party. I told her that would work out perfectly, so she could be there.

Let's just stop here and recap for a minute the amount of absolute insanity that was on my plate right at that moment. I had, of course, the normal life stresses that everyone has… I had just finished my senior year of college, moved home, gotten married, moved in with my new husband, and started a new job (which I already completely disliked). I didn't have any friends close by, and I was trying to find where I fit in my church, which had just been "Jon's church" up until we got married. Those things were stressful, but manageable. But then throw this into the mix: within the past year, my birth mom (who I was still in many ways getting to know) had confirmed to me she was gay, she had a girlfriend who I did not care for at all, I had sought out my biological father, found a dear woman to whom I had no real connection but was really starting to love, and then most recently, had been rejected by the man who I wasn't sure I was ready to meet anyway. It had been a big year.

And so we come back to the graduation party. I enjoy spending time with Jan, but as I mentioned, I did not like her partner at all, and I sometimes found it awkward to "hang out" with them. The party seemed like the perfect opportunity for Jan to be part of something that was important to me, and it would also give us something to do, so I didn't feel like I needed to find ways to entertain them during their visit.

Cue the next drama.

Jan responded with a big e-mail about how she was no longer comfortable to be around my parents. This may seem to make sense at first glance, given the fact that she is my biological parent and they are my "real" parents and I'm sure it all seems very awkward; but keep in mind that this came after 20 years of a relationship between them. Jan had not just been part of my life all that time, but part of theirs, too—and they had been part of hers. They didn't always agree with the choices she made, but they cared about her and had really developed a friendship in the midst of it all. And now she just didn't want to see them anymore. To this day I don't know why, really. I know that my parents feel the same way about homosexuality that I do, and I know that Jan is well aware of their feelings, too, so I am sure that this contributes to it… but in her e-mail, she assured me that it had nothing to do with her being gay. She said she would explain it at a future visit, but she never offered and, to be honest, I never asked. I have enough to worry about in my own life, I didn't want to get in the middle of something that wasn't mine to fret over.

Anyway, Jan ended her e-mail with something along the lines of… "Please respect my feelings about this." Sound familiar? It was the same thing that Frank had said in his e-mail.

I'd had enough.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Katy’s Family Forest, part 15

Janet really was, and continues to be, a blessing—a completely unexpected twist to this already complicated tale, but a welcome one. We became very close through our e-mails, in some ways closer than I was with Jan. I think so much of that was the lack of pressure. For one thing, our entire relationship was online, so there was no nervousness when we "met" or anything like that; and since we were such a surprise to each other, there were no expectations. It was a nice oasis in this whole mess!

I finished college in December of 2000, and then Jon and I were married in February of 2001. It was hectic and crazy, but it was wonderful. I moved home from Heidelberg, got through Christmas, spent the month of January working on last-minute wedding plans, got married, and went on a fantastic honeymoon. I then had another month of time to move in to Jon's house and get settled before launching my new career as a software engineer. I was on the fast-track to becoming a grown-up! J

Meanwhile, it became quite apparent that I wouldn't hear from Frank. I thought that I would be OK with that—after all, that's what I had decided when I sent my letter in the first place. I would drop it in the mail, and let God and the postal system take over from there. But then the "what ifs" started to pop up… What if he had moved and hadn't gotten the letter? What if it got lost in the mail somewhere? What if we had the wrong guy? What if he wanted to respond but was embarrassed by his role in the whole thing to start with? What if he had gotten the letter but lost it before he could respond???? So many questions!

And so it happened that in April we had a chance to visit some friends of ours in Columbus. Jon, as I said before, had graduated from Ohio State University, and enjoyed going back to his old stompin' grounds. And I love the city of Columbus—it's such a pretty area—and am always up for a weekend trip in that direction. J But this time, it was different. I spent the entire time thinking about Frank.

The area where he lived was very close to the part of the Ohio State campus where Jon had spent most of his time, and he was pretty familiar with the neighborhood. So at the end of the weekend we said good-bye to our friends, but we didn't head north. Instead we drove to the little town where Frank lived… and found his house. It was a small ranch… in a quiet neighborhood… a pick-up truck and a car were in the driveway…

We kept driving. I didn't want to stop—how could I just do that? Out of the blue? Just drop in, unannounced?

Jon's favorite ice cream place from his college days was right in that neighborhood, so we decided to get our minds off of things with a couple of scoops. J My heart was POUNDING, and I couldn't even enjoy my ice cream. I was so distracted… Every man who came in made me wonder: What if that's him??? What if we're sitting right next to each other and don't even know it? The picture I had of him was 20 years old—I had no idea what he might look like anymore. I couldn't focus on anything else.

So we decided: We would go back to Frank's house, and this time we were going to stop and meet him.

Update--more to follow

Hello, blog friends. I'm sorry I've been incommunicado--the kids and I are enjoying a wonderful vacation in southern California. And while I blogged quite a bit during my trip to Texas, this one has been different because, well, my kids are with me. That doesn't make for lots of quiet, introspective time! As an added obstacle, I've had limited Internet access... And let me tell you, I have new respect for the saying, "What doesn't kill you makes you stronger." It's been a tough 10 days for me and my significant other--that is, my laptop. But we only have to make it to tomorrow night, when we'll be back in the comfort of our own home with our wireless Internet access.

Seriously, we are having an absolutely FABULOUS time. We are also very much looking forward to getting home to see Daddy, who wasn't able to join us on this trip. (It's a long story.) The highlight of our trip was a day spent in Disneyland--it was wonderful! I have over 200 pictures of that ONE DAY. Out. of. control.

Here are my favorites:

Jon couldn't make it on this trip, but I'm not corralling the kids alone--his mom is here with us! In fact, we are really here with her, not the other way around. She is a wonderful woman, and we're having a great time being here together.

What would a trip to Disneyland be without getting to meet Mickey Mouse??? Matt is absolutely ENTHRALLED with the Mouse--or "Mou", as he calls him. (That's "mouse" without the "s", if you're not fluent in toddler-ese.)

And the absolute highlight of the day: Meeting Cinderella!!! I really wish I had captured the look in Grace's eyes when she FIRST saw the Princess. I almost cried--she was just so beside herself. The entire trip would have been worthwhile just for that moment.

Anyway, I just wanted to check in and let you know that I am alive and well. I actually do have a couple of chapters of "Katy's Family Forest" ready to go, so I will try to get one of those up later today. In the meantime, I'm off to Legoland! Talk to you all soon.

Monday, October 13, 2008

A picture meme

I'm quite behind on my blogging. Courtney tagged me in a post four days ago, and I didn't even realize it until just now! But it sounded like fun, so I thought I would join in anyway. Better late than never, right? :-)

So here it is...

The Rules:

Go to your pictures, find the 4th file, then the 4th picture and post it. Tell the story behind the picture in your post. Then pick 4 people to tag.

The Picture:

The Story:
In February we took the kids to Great Wolf Lodge for a little family getaway. It was a lot of fun, but... they hated the water park! Yikes! Here is Matt enjoying a WONDERFUL game of hide & seek in the hotel room. :-)

Now I tag:

You're it!

Katy’s Family Forest, part 14

I was completely unprepared for Frank to be that close. Only two hours away. In Columbus. Our state's capital. Home to Ohio State University, Jon's alma mater. Oh, and coincidentally, only about 30-45 minutes from Jan, my birth mom. They hadn't seen each other or spoken in over 20 years, and they lived less than an hour apart!

I sat on that information for a while. I chewed on it. Now that I had found him… what should I do? What if he had been wondering about me all these years? What if he was waiting for me to contact him? What if he was praying that I didn't? What if he never thought of me at all? And what if, by some chance, we had the wrong guy? A little "Guess what! You're my dad!" letter to the wrong man could really wreak havoc!

Finally, in the middle of my last semester of college, amid finals and honors projects and wedding plans and roommate issues and everything else, I wrote him a letter. I told him who I was and where I was, that I wanted to contact him but needed nothing from him. I didn't need a family or money or… anything else. I just wanted to make contact. I found a recent picture to toss in, and with shaking hands, sent it off to Columbus.

I decided that I had fulfilled my birth-father-search obligation. I had sought him out, found his address, and made an attempt at contact. The ball was now in his court, and whatever he did or didn't do with it was up to him. I was done.

In the meantime, I was developing a wonderfully odd relationship with Janet, the woman who had helped me find him. She was helping me get to know a man I had always wondered about without having to go through the awkwardness of, you know, meeting him.

Through Janet I learned that Frank's wife at the time of his affair with my birth mom had been his third, and that he and that woman had a child just about a year older than me. They were divorced before he and Janet were together, and though he and Janet never married, they lived together for a time in California. They'd had a child together with a rare birth defect, and he had died when he was only a few days old. One could say that Frank didn't handle the loss of his child well—he left Janet the day of the funeral. Of course, he'd also had multiple affairs when they were together—she even caught him in bed with another woman just a few weeks before their child was born.

He sounded like a real peach.

The child they'd lost was actually the reason that Janet had been trying to contact him. She had remarried and now had several children with her husband—some biologically and some adopted—but one of their children had also been born with the same birth defect that her child with Frank had. This child had lived longer—until he was 14—but eventually succumbed to the illness. (I know you're curious, but I cannot for the life of me remember what the illness was.) Anyway, she now lived in Illinois and wanted both of her children buried together. She needed Frank's approval to move their son from California to Illinois. So she searched for him online, found him, then found us! By the way, he refused permission.

I was starting to wonder why I had even tried to contact him. It made the silent response to my letter a little easier to bear.

Through Janet I also got the only real look at Frank I'd ever had. She sent me a picture of him holding his daughter Kristen—the one who was just a year or so older than me—when she was about 3 years old. She also sent me an old slide of his parents, and told me a little bit about his family. They were from Pennsylvania… his dad had died years ago, and his mom was alive but suffering from Alzheimer's Disease. I believe he had a younger brother maybe, too…

Janet was a real God-send. It was wonderful to have this connection, and yet feel very protected from the harsh reality that seemed to be my birth father. And she was thrilled to feel that her child with Frank had another sibling, and welcomed me as part of their family. By e-mail I heard all about her husband, her children, her job… It really was like we were family, as though my lineage weren't complicated enough.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Katy’s Family Forest, part 13

Jan—let's call her Janet, to keep her straight from my birth mom J—quickly e-mailed Jon back to confirm that we were indeed talking about the same person. I'm still not sure how she was so confident. I'm telling you, we're not talking about a real unique name here, people. Anyway, Jon passed her e-mail on to me to handle as I saw fit. You see, I hadn't truly expected to find him. Before Jon had come across this messageboard, I had decided that I didn't want to invest the money in the investigator he had talked to. I didn't imagine in a million years that we would be able to contact him on our own. So now that the opportunity was right there in front of my face, I was no longer so sure I wanted to go forward with it. Jon assured me that he would leave the ball in my court.

But then, for some reason, he didn't. He felt obligated to respond to Janet's e-mail, and he told her why we were searching for Frank. It seems like such a minor detail now, so unimportant, but at the time I was absolutely devastated. This was a big step for me, and I wanted to take it in my way, on my time. Instead, he'd pushed me right down the staircase!

It was probably the shove that I needed, though. I now felt that I had no choice but to e-mail this woman about this man who I wasn't even sure I wanted to find. So I did. I told her who I was—probably reiterated a lot of the things Jon had already said—and explained why I was looking for Frank. I had no idea when I hit the "send" button what an integral part of my life she would become over the next several years.

Somewhere I still have that first e-mail that Janet sent me. I was in awe of how God had dropped her in our laps—I still am. Yes, she said again, we were talking about the same Frank… and she also knew who I was. She and Frank had had a relationship shortly after his relationship with my birth mom—but theirs had been… well, more "real", for lack of a better word. While I surmise that Frank's relationship with Jan had been a fling (and had definitely been an affair), he and Janet had been in a long-term, somewhat-committed (more on that later) relationship. One where they lived together and had a child together as a result of actually TRYING to get pregnant. She had known about Frank's affair with Jan and knew that they'd had a child who had been given up for adoption. And now here we were, 21 years later, "meeting" for the first time by the miracle of the internet.

And then I got it—Frank's address. I'm not sure if the message Jon had come across online was an old one, or if she had found him in the interim or what, but she now had his physical address. And she sent it to me.

And this man… the one who had lived in Colorado when I was born… who had lived in California when I was a child… who had traveled the world as a member of the Air Force… lived in Columbus, Ohio. Two hours away from me.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Deep in the Heart of Texas

Good morning! I just wanted to pop in and tell you how great things are going here in Grapevine. And it. is. AWESOME.

MOPS Convention is an experience that I just cannot describe. I cannot stress enough how highly I recommend a trip to Convention for all MOPS leaders. It gives such a new perspective on what MOPS really is--what the values and goals are, the value placed on making better moms, women, and leaders in the name of Jesus Christ. It is truly incredible.

A few of the more memorable speakers I have heard so far... Patrick Lencioni is the founder and president of a consulting group that has worked with Fortune 500 companies, professional sports teams, and major universities--and he found that, even though all of the executives said that family was a higher priority than their business, they spent more time working on improving their business. So he developed some principles to help make family life a little less chaotic. I REALLY got a lot out of this one, and plan to buy the DVD to share with my husband.

Mike Miller works with Family Time, an organization committed to helping families institute intentional spiritual training in the home through regular family time. This was another fantastic session. I went in expecting it to be a sales pitch for their product, but instead it was a VERY well-done talk about not outsourcing our children's spiritual development to the church. That doesn't negate the need for church or the benefit of programs like AWANA, but those things still need to be demonstrated and taught in the home in order to really make a lasting impact. And he also took off the pressure that "family night" needs to be a huge 3-hour ordeal--just 10-15 minutes of uninterrupted fun time with a purpose can make such a difference! Mike travels all over and often speaks to groups of dads... I wish he were coming somewhere near us so that I could send my husband!

And Dr. Tim Kimmel spoke about Grace-Based Parenting, which really hit me right where I am. He again talked about the need to be directly involved in our children's spiritual training, and... oh my goodness, I feel like I can't even give you a synopsis of what he said--you just need to check him out for yourselves. He definitely had a lot of ideas that I want to implement in our home.

And I am VERY excited for today, because I get to hear the man who wrote the second-best book (next to the Bible ;-) ) that I have ever read: Erwin McManus. (The book that I'm talking about is Chasing Daylight.) He is addressing us all during the general session, and then I will also be going to his workshop afterward. THIS is the talk I have been waiting for the whole weekend! YAY!

So as you can tell, things are going well. I am missing my family and will be ready to go home tomorrow, but I think it's good for me to have a chance to miss them a little bit! :-)

The only downside is that I am not sleeping well or feeling very well. I don't think that I am getting sick, I think it's a combination of stress from some other things that are going on and my crazy hormones. If you get a chance to pray for me, especially as I travel tomorrow, I would appreciate that.

For now, though, I am off to enjoy two talks by a great man, some wonderful worship and quality time with other moms, and then a relaxing time by the pool!

See you all soon...

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Katy’s Family Forest, part 12

As if entering my senior year of college, planning a wedding, and finding out that my biological mother was gay weren't enough… for some reason, that summer it became very important to Jon that I locate my biological father. To be fair, it's not like he was pushing me in a direction I didn't want to go—I had at some point told him that I felt I was ready to start searching for this man. When I had first found out the details of my adoption from my parents, knowing that Jan was my birth mom was enough. I didn't want to push any harder—I couldn't take any more! But now two years had gone by, my relationship with Jan was settling into its own unsteady rhythm, and I was becoming a stronger person. I felt that I could handle whatever lay behind that door.


In all honesty, when I told Jon that I was ready to search for my biological father—Frank—I just meant I was ready to spend a few minutes on the internet Googling him (Did we have Google back in 2000?) and then give up and say, "Well, at least we tried." But to Jon, this became a real mission.

So let's start with what Jan knew about him. It wasn't much. She knew his name (which is a very common one, both first and last), the state that he lived in when they met, that he was also in the Air Force, and that he was married at the time of their relationship. Her last direct contact with him was on the day that I was born, or maybe the day after, when she told him that she had given me up for adoption. She knew that he had lived in California at some point after that, but had no address or anything like that.

That was it. Wait—I believe we even knew his MIDDLE INITIAL. Yep, now THAT is a detail, folks! Seriously, it wasn't much to go on, and we weren't even sure where to start. Jon, a landlord who periodically has to track down tenants who chose to skip town without paying their rent, quickly thought to contact a man that he sometimes used to aid with finding such tenants. He agreed to help, but warned us that it could be expensive. He talked to us about some options to keep cost down… like he would print out a list of every man with that name in the right age range who had a military background, and then Jon and I could do further research on each person on the list to eliminate the wrong ones. Yikes!

I was ready to give up. I was reading the writing on the wall: Don't go down this road. But now that we had started, it was hard to stop. Especially for Jon. When he would get burned out at the office and need a break (He was a workaholic who often stayed at the office until 2:00 or 3:00 in the morning, only to return by 7:30 or 8:00.), he would search online for anything that might help.

And that's how we got our big break. He somehow came across a messageboard for people searching people who had been in the military. (Did ya follow that?) And do you know what he found? A message from a woman named Jan searching for a man named Frank (with the same last name as my birth father) who had been in the Air Force in the 70s and 80s. He knew that the woman was not my birth mom, but it seemed like more than a coincidence. He used her profile to contact her and explain what little we knew of my birth father (without disclosing why we were looking for him), and asked if it was possible that we were seeking the same person.

We were.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

On the Road Again

Greetings from the Akron-Canton Airport! I am officially on my way to Texas—and with it, freedom from all responsibility for the next FIVE DAYS. Freedom, people. I have no children with me, no dishes or laundry, no roles or obligations. I can do ANYTHING I WANT from now until Sunday. And I am choosing to blog with YOU. Now that's sayin' somethin'. I don't know what, but something.

As I sit here, alone with my thoughts and the other mid-week travelers who were thinkin' Arby's (I don't know why I've suddenly dropped my "g's" in my writing, but I'm havin' fun with it.), I am reflecting on my week. I won't lie to you, it's not been a good one. A lot has happened in the last few days, and this trip is MUCH needed. But God is good, and here are the lessons He has laid on my heart…

  • Forgiveness is not a dot, it's a line. Just two days ago I gave this advice to a friend. I had no idea at the time that it was about to become very applicable to my own life. Forgiveness is essential to any human relationship—we are, after all, human. But because we're human, forgiveness is often not a one-time decision. Our hurt feelings don't just turn off. New issues and thoughts come up, new hurts remind us of old ones, negative interactions with someone we care about can impact the way we relate in the future. Forgiveness may have to be given—at least inside our minds and hearts—again… and again… and again. It is a conscious choice to say, "I'm giving up my right to hurt you because you hurt me." And sometimes that choice has to be made multiple times, in biting our tongues, in not allowing our minds to dwell on past hurts or "what I should've saids" or things like that. (Don't get me wrong, there are times that issues need to be readdressed. But that's a separate issue from just hanging onto hurt.)
  • If you deal with the little leaks, you won't have big ones. I have shared before that I am a people pleaser. I don't like for people to be mad at me, to bring up things that are potentially uncomfortable or awkward. I don't like confrontation—but then again, who really does? But I have learned over the years that being upfront and honest in the short run can prevent a LOT of awkwardness and hurt feelings in the long run. Yes, there are times when we have to just let things go. But if something is bothering you and you are ignoring it, not letting it go, it will grow and grow and will eventually come out and be a MUCH bigger deal than if you handle it from the beginning. I would much rather someone be honest with me and hurt my feelings a little bit than allow something to fester and potentially destroy a relationship.
  • We all fall short. I mentioned it before: We are all human. We are all sinners. We are all fallible. Everyone in life will at some point let us down—our friends, our parents, our children, even our spouses. So if we are hurting because of one human relationship, why do we think that another human is the place to go for comfort and solace and support? Yes, I know, it is important to be able to talk through your feelings with someone… but why aren't we quicker to turn to the One who will never let us down? The One who is perfect, who is always there, who loves us and guides us and comforts us the way that no person ever can? If I want to teach my children to not follow in my people-pleasing footsteps, then they need to see me go to my knees in times of trouble, not to the phone.
  • We serve the same God. I heard the testimony of an amazing man named Stanley Tam over the weekend. I highly encourage you to check him out—he is unbelievable! The link I have given you is just one of many you will find if you Google him. ANYWAY, during his testimony he said that he had always admired a man named George Muller, who spent his life working with orphans. Muller would never ask anyone for money—if he had a need, he would shut himself in a room and pray for God to provide, and He always did. After sharing that tidbit, Stanley said, "Then I realized—I serve the same God that George Muller did. There's no reason I can't do the same thing." I'd never thought of it that way. The point is… it's not people who are great, it is GOD. We all have different roles in the body, but God can work just as powerfully in my life and your life as He does in Stanley Tam's or Billy Graham's or fill-in-the-blank-with-someone-whose-spiritual-walk-you-admire. It's not a matter of what you can do, but what you allow Him to do through you.
  • Following God's will does not mean life is easy. This is the crux of my friend Leigh-Ann's ministry, but it is something that I am still learning. God has opened some tremendous doors for me in the past year or so, and I have eagerly followed. I haven't always made every right decision along the way, but I truly believe my heart is pure before Him. And you know what? Sometimes I still fail. Sometimes others disagree. Sometimes I still get hurt and struggle and worry. And sometimes that is not in spite of following God, sometimes it's just a part of the journey.

So there's my heart this morning. Wow, God's really working on even more than I realized in me. Have you ever read Max Lucado's book On the Anvil? I think that's where I am right now. God's hammering away, and sometimes it hurts, but it's shaping me into who He would have me to be. Amen, Lord. Have Your way in me.

Well, I'm down to a mere 1 ½ hours before my flight, and I have a full 20 feet or so to walk to my gate, so I suppose I should rush right over there. J By the way, the Akron-Canton Airport has a really nice kids' play area full of Step 2 stuff! It's so cool, I almost wish my kids were here to play with it. Almost.

I'll be working on my next Family Forest post on my day o' travel, too, so you'll be hearing more from me soon.

God bless.