365 Project – Day 267 – An Introduction to My Story

As a child writing my first story, I always dreamed that one day I would be a writer. I imagined myself the author of dozens of stories and books, each with characters and plots more complex and intriguing than the one before. People would wait impatiently and then rush out to buy my newest masterpiece, and I would smile when my name topped the New York Times Bestseller List.

Yet, not once during all those years of dreaming did I ever imagine that I would be the central character, or that my mundane life would be the inspiration for the plot. Not once did I think that the story I would one day be so passionate about writing would be my own, but when I reunited with my birthfamily in the fall of 2002, I knew that I finally had the story of stories to tell.

I must admit I was almost scared to try and write it. I’ve been starting and stopping this project for the past three years, unable to get myself motivated enough to really let go and dive in. Don’t get me wrong, I think it is a great story, one that certainly deserves to be told, but I sometimes wonder if I have the words to tell it. There is a division between words and emotions, a chasm that is sometimes impossible to overcome. The human soul is so complex, the human heart so intricate that I believe there are some emotions that are truly too complicated to be accurately explained. And mine is a story full of emotions.

A lot of time has passed since I first learned I was adopted at the age of 12 and then reunited with my birthfamily 10 years later, and I am sometimes still taken aback at how utterly unbelievable it all is. These days, I am no longer pinching myself and thinking that I will wake up and discover that it has all been just a crazy dream. I guess I have finally learned to accept it as reality. After all this time, I am no longer searching, and that has taken some getting used to. After so many years of vigilance, so many years spent with eyes wide open, searching for something familiar in the sea of strangers around me, I have had to learn how to sit back and relax and accept the fact that everything I ever wanted, everything I ever dreamed of and prayed for, is right here in my hands. It nearly drove me crazy at first, learning to unwind.

I have spent the past eight years watching with dumbstruck fascination as my adopted and biological families blended seamlessly into one. But that is only half of the story. The other half is a story of a girl conflicted, struggling to piece together her broken identity and overcome a pattern of unhealthy relationships, eating disorders, substance abuse, suicide attempts and self-loathing. My story is a story of rock bottom and second chances, of chance encounters and extraordinary odds. And, above all, it is a story of hope.

Over 60% of Americans have had a personal experience with adoption, and that number is growing. As adoption continues to break free from its bonds of secrecy and become a much more mainstream issue, books and memoirs about foster care and adoption should finally gain some much-needed notariety. Like me, many adoptees struggle with emotional and identity issues during their adolescence and young adulthood, faced with the daunting challenge of trying to establish their identities, without truly understanding who they are or where they came from. More than anything, I hope that my memoir, In a Sea of Strangers, can provide an honest and introspective account of my own adoption as a 2-day-old infant and the long, hard road to the reunion with my birthfamily 22 years later and maybe, just maybe, help someone else navigate the journey.

I’ve been trying to get myself motivated to get the old manuscript, dust it off, and get started working on it again, so I figured maybe my blog was just the place to give myself a jumpstart. For tonight’s 365 Project entry, I’d like to share what I currently see as the Prologue to the story. Crazy as it may sound, it all started with a dream…



“It is in our idleness, in our dreams, that the
submerged truth sometimes comes to the top.”
– Virginia Woolf

 “A dream is an answer to a question we haven’t yet
learned how to ask.” –
Fox Mulder, X-Files

I stood at the back door gazing into the darkness. A million blades of dewy grass sparkled silver, like a blanket made of stars. The full moon had begun its descent in the early morning hour, but still gave off so much light that I could see almost as well as if it had been daytime. Inside, the house was cool and silent.

I stood at the back door, my nightgown (one of my dad’s old t-shirts) hanging
down to my ankles. My bare feet sunk into the knotted cotton rug just inside
the door. It was soft beneath my toes. Across the yard, our red Chevy Blazer was parked under the carport that stood to the left of the garage. In front of it sat two wooden deck chairs. At one time, the chairs were painted a dark reddish-brown, but the sun and the rain had wore them down and chipped away the varnish to a dull dirt color.

There, in the moonlight, I first saw her.

She was dressed all in white—the fabric of her skirt loose and flowing, the bottom of it brushing against her bare feet. Her sand-colored hair shone under the bright August moon, falling just below her shoulders. From that distance, in the darkness, I could not clearly see her face.

As she walked, she seemed to be studying the ground at her feet, gliding slowly through the half-light like a restless apparition. When she reached the first chair, she ran her fingers along its arm. Then, I watched as she bent down and looked beneath it, her cheek just inches from the pavement.

What is she doing? I wondered.

I pressed my nose to the cool glass window while the woman continued on her way, her eyes still roaming over the ground as she walked. Every now and then, she would pause and turn to look behind her, as if expecting someone else to be there. When she reached the second chair and stopped to look beneath it, the thought erupted in my brain. I heard it, as if I had actually spoken it aloud.

My mother is looking for me.

I reached for the lock on the door and turned the deadbolt with a snap.

I tried desperately to call out to her, Mom! Mom, I’m here!” but my jaws seemed welded shut.

I was overwhelmed by a sudden wave of urgent desperation. My stomach churned. I fumbled with the handle of the screen door, my clumsy four-year-old fingers unable to release the stubborn latch. Clutching it with both hands, I squeezed with all my might, grinding my teeth together in panic. Suddenly, there was a loud click, and the door popped open.

I watched the woman turn and begin to walk away from me.

My heart thumped wildly in my chest and my breath came in short, choked gasps. I still could not speak, though in my mind I was screaming.

I stepped into the still August morning. There was not a sound, not even a whisper as the world slumbered. The pavement was rough and cool beneath my feet.

Suddenly, a hand grabbed me firmly by the shoulder and spun me around.

“Lori, honey? What are you doing?”

I stared at my mom’s face, blinking in confusion. Her old green bathrobe was tied hastily over her cotton nightgown. Her short brown hair stood crazily on her head where she slept. Behind her round glasses, her eyes looked worried and tired.

“Come on,” she said, ushering me back inside and locking the door behind us. “Let’s get you back in bed.”

I turned and looked out the window, but the woman was gone.

Mom tucked me back into bed and kissed my forehead. On the bunk above me, Lindy rolled over with a sigh.

“Good night, sweetheart,” Mom said. She turned out the light and retreated to her
bedroom where I could hear my dad snoring loudly.

Lying in the darkness, hot tears burned my eyes as the thought played itself over and over in my mind.

She’s gone. My mother is gone.

365 Project – Day 256 – In My Shoes

So there is a whole lot of debate over this Nature vs. Nurture business, and the arguments for both sides are pretty evenly divided. Do genetics determine everything from our eye color to our addiction to Husker football and chocolate coconut doughnuts? Or are we shaped into who we are as a result of our immediate environment?

Sure, we obviously inherit our physical features from the genetic pool we emerge from, but the answer is not so cut and dry when we start talking about things like personality, sense of humor, emotional health, etc. So, what is the true magic formula that manages to connect us with our families and make us unique?

Before reuniting with my birthfamily in 2002, I’m not even sure what my stance would have been on the subject. In all honesty, I probably believed that the environment a child was raised in was a much bigger factor in all areas except physical traits. But, after meeting my birthparents and my large extended family, I began to realize that an individual’s personality development is actually a very complex mixture of both inherited genetic traits and outside environmental influences.

Meeting Momma Dawn for the first time, it was immediately obvious where I got my looks. I stood in the lobby of the Lincoln airport, thinking that it must be some sort of optical illusion as I stared at a woman who could have been my blonde-haired twin. Even stranger was how we walked the same, talked the same, shared many of the same mannerisms, and even mispronounced words like “measure” exactly the same way. Yeah, we both say “MAY-shure”. I can’t help it. I blame my mother.

Meeting Papa Shawn was even more of a shock, as I quickly realized that I had inherited his easygoing, practical joker, yet somehow still introverted personality. We’re both extremely laidback. We laugh easily and often. We love to read and can sit down and finish an entire book (and sometimes more than one) in a day. And we both tend to say as far from the spotlight as we can. We fell in sync with each other immediately, and I marveled at the way he folded me as comfortably into his life as he folded me into into his arms.

Yet, for as much as I have apparently inherited from my my biological family, it is my adopted family that molded and shaped me into the woman I am today. Papa Shawn passed along some natural skill and talent for sports, while Duane spent countless hours playing catch in the backyard and shooting hoops in the driveway. I inherited Momma Dawn’s love of horses and artistic eye, and it was who Jayne taught me to saddle a horse and ride and barrel race, and encouraged my pursuit of music and photography and writing. I’m amazed every day when I think about how it all came together.

I’m even more amazed as I see it in my daughter.

The moment Cadence was born, it was obvious that she got her Momma’s looks. Line up Cadence’s baby photos, my baby photos, my brother Beau’s baby photos, and Momma Dawn’s baby photos all in a row, and you’d be hardpressed to tell any of them apart. Yet, as much as my baby girl looks like me, her expressions and her personality are emerging to be all Daddy’s, even now at just 19 1/2 months. She’s sweet, full of energy, a little joker, and a total ham. Add all of her aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents, and great-grandparents into the mix, and I can’t wait to see how my little girl turns out.

If nothing else, she’s sure got her Momma’s sense of style.

Tonight’s 365 Project entry is dedicated to all the amazing men and women who have made me into who I am today.

365 Project – Day 254 – Family Ties

I’ve always been a little bit on the shy side–well, maybe not shy, but certainly reserved. Introverted. I’ve never been one that enjoyed the being in the spotlight, or the center of attention, yet that’s exactly where I found myself when I first reunited with my birthparents in the winter of 2002. I went from being a wallflower to being the main attraction at the three-ring circus virtually overnight.

Luckily, my reunion was a good one. To be honest, the story reads like something out of a fairytale. I still pinch myself regularly to make sure I’m not dreaming, because I can’t for the life of me figure out how one girl can be so blessed. Not only did I grow up in an amazing adopted family, but in 2002, that family more than tripled in size.

It’s funny how, even now, nearly 10 years after that initial reunion, I am still meeting members of my biological family for the first time. I’d be lying if I said it didn’t make me a little nervous. I think it always will. But each time, it gets a little easier as I add another name to the long list of genuinely beautiful and down-to-earth people that I am blessed to call my kin.

After spending a wonderful week with Momma Dawn, Poppa Mark, Kassie, Jeremy, Beau, and Eddie in Florence, I headed to Aunt Jen’s house in Phoenix to finish up my Arizona tour. Aunt Jen grilled some burgers and I got to meet my sweet cousin Bailey, her daughter Sophia, her Mom Mary and her sister Madison. I’d heard Bailey’s name so many times over the years, and always looked forward to meeting her, yet our paths just never seemed to cross. Finally, tonight, we were able to get together and spend a little time and boy, let me tell you, it was worth the wait.

Cadence had a blast playing with Madison. The girls hopped, skipped, twirled, danced, jumped, giggled and chased each other all over Aunt Jen’s house. Except, of course, when Cadence took a short break to fawn over baby Sophia. Bailey, Mary, Jen, and I spent the evening talking and laughing and having fun. Before we said goodbye, I certainly had to get a few shots of my newest cousins. Here are a few of my favorites…

Bailey and Sophia
Bailey, Sophia, Me and Miss Cadence
Aunt Jen and Sophia--She looks like a natural! Don't you think?
Bailey, Aunt Jen and Sophia
Ooooh! Such a beautiful girl!
Miss Sophia looks pretty darn comfortable in Aunt Jen's lap!
Now those are two beautiful girls!
Kisses from Momma
Miss Cadence has a hard time keeping her hands off baby Sophia
Just one last snuggle before we say bye-bye.

Tonight’s 365 Project entry is dedicated Bailey, Sophia, Mary and Madison. Thank you so much for spending the evening with us!!

365 Project – Day 194 – Everything I Asked For

Most people who know me know that I am adopted. It’s not a secret, and that little tidbit of information helps people understand how it can be possible for me to have three sets of parents and eleven siblings. Sure, it still sometimes takes an intricately illustrated playbook for most people to figure out just exactly how I am related to everyone in my extremely extended family, but at least they get the gist of it.

What most people don’t know is how difficult it was for me to come to terms with being an adopted child. Author Alex Haley once said, “In all of us there is a hunger, marrow deep, to know our heritage, to know who we are, and where we have come from. Without this enriching knowledge, there is a hollow yearning, no matter what our attainments in life, there is the most disquieting loneliness.” I think that pretty much sums up the way I felt about my adoption back before I reunited with my birthfamily. In spite of having amazing parents, a great family, and a wonderful childhood, there was just always something missing.

I used to sit in front of the mirror and try to imagine what my birthparents looked like. I used to wonder if I would know them immediately if I bumped into them on the street. I used to study every line and every curve in my face, trying to memorize my features so I could search the faces of strangers on the street. For some reason, it was so important that I looked like someone, and it left me feeling alone and invisible when I didn’t.

Sometimes, even now,  when I think about the reunion with my birthfamily and how quickly and seamlessly my three families blended into one, I think that it is all too good to really be true.  I mean, really, how can one girl be this lucky? Three sets of amazing parents–heck, four counting my in-laws. Brothers, sisters, cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparents, great-grandparents, neices and nephews. It is everything I dreamed about, everything I ever asked for, and so much more.

Some days, I still find it hard to believe that I am a mother. I mean, wasn’t it just yesterday that I was a little girl myself? It doesn’t seem that long ago that I got my driver’s license or graduated high school or left everything and everyone I knew behind to move to New York and start college. Now, here I am, happily married, pushing 31, and every morning when I wake, there is a little girl that calls me from her crib, a little girl with my face looking up at me and smiling and holding out her arms to be held.

Funny how things turn out.

Tonight’s 365 Project entry is dedicated to my little Mini Me, and to all of my amazing family and friends. Without all of you, I certainly wouldn’t be where I am today. One of these days, I promise I will finish my book about it, because it is certainly one story that deserves to be told.

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