Today marks 365 days from the moment that a judge in a North Carolina courtroom took her pen and legally added a sixth member to the Franks family. It was just under a year ago that I grabbed the cutest co-host ever and posted this video announcing that my daughter Haven was forever a part of our household with all the rights and privileges thereof. Last name? Check. Unconditional lifetime love? Check. Sharing the vast Franks family fortune ($87.22) with her brothers? Check.

If you know our story, you know that we first met Haven in April of 2011 and she started living with us full time in May. But it was that piece of paper – delivered to us by our attorney across his dinner table – that sealed everything. It was that piece of paper that meant we could breathe again and rest confidently that our little girl wasn’t going anywhere. The next time she leaves our house will be when she gets married at 45 years old. (It’s in the contract.)

The last year has been eventful, to say the least. We’ve learned a tremendous amount about ourselves, our marriage, our three sons, and our new daughter. We’ve laughed and cried and worried and fretted and worried why we suddenly used words like “fretted.” This past year has been a learning lab for all six of us, adjusting to the new normal.

A few weeks ago I came across this incredible post by Jen Hatmaker, a mom of two adopted kids. (Go ahead. Take ten minutes and read it. I’ll wait.) She detailed in brutal honesty her family’s adoption journey. Granted, our stories are vastly different: their kids were much older when they adopted. They came from a different culture, a different continent, and they spoke a different language. But Merriem and I identified with so much that she wrote.

So what have we learned? Here are the highlights:

We’ve learned that it’s hard to start over when your other kids are pretty much grown and self-sufficient. We’ve had to readjust to diapers and car seats, to bath times and bed times. We’ve had to reincorporate the term “baby sitter” in our household. We’ve realized that we’re nearly a decade older than we were the last time we did this, and that folks in their late thirties don’t bounce back as quickly as folks in their late twenties. Ouch.

We’ve learned that adding personalities to the mix can be a tough road. If you look up “strong willed” in the dictionary, you should see a picture of Haven. You should, but you won’t, mainly because she grabbed that dictionary off the shelf, ran shrieking through the house with it, ripped that particular page out of the dictionary, and tried to stuff it down the toilet, making it overflow into the living room. Let me be clear: Haven is not strong willed because she’s adopted. She’s strong willed because…she just is. It’s not an “adoption issue,” it’s a sin issue. She was remarkably normal when she came to live with us, and I think we somehow made her this way.

We’ve learned that everyday life is – at least temporarily – no longer easy. When Haven is happy, she’s really really happy. When she’s mad, she’s really really mad. She doesn’t do anything quietly. Everything she does, she does big. For that reason, there are a growing number of restaurants and stores that we can no longer go to until she’s 16 or the statute of limitations runs out. Target employees go on break when they see us pull up. There’s not a shopping cart within a three state area that she hasn’t figured out how to climb out of, screaming as she goes. We’ve had to start tipping 40% in restaurants to cover the mental distress of the waitstaff.

We’ve learned that a two year old takes all the time you have…and then some. Nothing really works the same in our house anymore. Everything we do, we have to do with Haven in mind. There’s no more sleeping late on Saturdays, no more hopping in the car to run a quick errand, no more stepping out of the room for more than 3.5 seconds unless you want to see a Pop Tart go into the DVD player. From the moment she wakes up until the moment she goes to sleep, we belong to her and her incessant demands. Our hobbies are out the window. The year before we adopted her, I read over forty books and wrote dozens of blog posts. Since we met her, I’ve read less than 18 books (unless you count Brown Bear, Brown Bear, in which case the count goes to 4,912). And this blog – as you know – has been shot to heck.

“But Danny,” you say, “that’s so negative. You make adoption sound like a hard thing. I thought Christians are supposed to adopt. I thought when you adopted a child, that child rode in on a magical purple unicorn and their poop smelled like daisies and you got to send out adorable Christmas cards that makes your family look like a walking Benetton commercial.”

And yes, most of those statements are true. Christians are supposed to care for the fatherless. It is going to be hard. And there will be gloriously glorious times as well as gloriously hard times.

We know – at least we think we know – that we are not dealing with these issues because Haven is adopted. There was no emotional baggage she needed to unpack. There were no attachment issues she needed to work through. God was very gracious to our family in the fact that, since Haven came to live with us at eight months old, we are the only family she remembers. She knows nothing else.

We’re not dealing with any of these issues because she’s adopted, we’re dealing with these issues because we added another sinner into a family of sinners.

Adoption isn’t something you do because of romanticized notions of adding to your family. Adoption is something you do because you’re convinced that God called you to care for the orphan. It’s that calling that gives you strength. It’s that calling that helps you persevere. It’s that calling that helps you understand that you too are adopted, you too are strong willed, you too are a hot mess that God still loves unconditionally.

Before you think I’m a horrific ogre who sits in his room at night thinking up the negative issues around adoption, let me tell you the other things we’ve learned:

We’ve learned that love for our children is not limited by biology. Like you, I’ve read the horror stories of families who “return” their adopted children because bonding never took place. That simply has not been our experience. From the first weeks of knowing Haven, she has been our daughter. Far before a judge declared her to be so, she was her daddy’s princess. There hasn’t been a nanosecond that we’ve looked back, second-guessed ourselves, or wondered if we made the right decision. Haven belongs to us, and we belong to her. There is not a speck of difference between her role in our family and that of our three sons.

We’ve learned that one little girl can bring tremendous joy to a family. I can’t possibly encapsulate the fun things she says and does into a single paragraph. She sings “Call Me Maybe” (I hate whoever taught her that). She eats gummy bears like there’s no tomorrow. She sees beauty in sunsets and mountains and rainbows and rivers like the rest of us never have.  She lights up a room when she walks in to it. And she’s also a diva: she loves her shoes, loves her dresses, loves to get dolled up and then run around the house to everybody saying, “Look! Look! Preeeeetyyyy…” Her constant sidekicks are “Puppy” and “Baby,” two ratty old toys that have seen better days but find themselves wrapped up in her arms at night. She adores her brothers, imitates her mama, and has her daddy wrapped around her chubby little fingers.

We’ve learned that God has expanded our hearts through this process. I cannot imagine loving someone more than I do my little girl. I look forward to our time together every night where we sit in her bedroom floor and read books and pray while she snuggles up with her daddy. I revel in seeing her grow and learn and come up with such off the wall phrases that there’s no doubt she’s a part of our insane family. (“Austin! You STOLE MY BABY!”)

We’ve learned that God loves our daughter more than we ever could. Are we the perfect family for Haven? Not a chance. Perfect families don’t lose their cool or lose their religion when things don’t go just right. But for some unknown reason, we are the family that God sovereignly chose for her. And that choosing comes with a mandate: we have a responsibility to raise her to fear and love Jesus with all her heart, soul, mind, and strength. God gave her to us not so we could show her how much we love her, but how much he does. And in the middle of that, we’ve learned a little bit more about how much he loves us as well.

One year in? It’s been heart-wrenching and heart-filling. It’s been one of the hardest things we’ve ever done and the only thing we could ever imagine doing.

It hasn’t just changed her life.

It’s changed all of us.

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