When it comes to finding the necessary motivation to forge ahead courageously in the world of adoption and fostering, sometimes all the facts and figures in the world can do nothing to trump a good story. In this two-part episode, hosts Lynette Ezell and Tera Melber have a great story with Lauren Pinkston who, along with husband Gavin, are the parents of one adopted daughter and two biological children. Lauren shares her journey from the whirlwind beginnings to the steps that led to entrepreneurship, while providing down-to-earth encouragement applicable to adoptive parents anywhere.
Find out how to give to the Ministry Adoption Fund by visiting sendrelief.org/foster-care-adoption/.
Announcer: Welcome to the Adopting and Fostering Home Podcast. Whether your family has been on this journey for years or you’re just getting started, we’re here to support and encourage you along the way. And now your hosts, Lynette Ezell and Tera Melber.
Lynette: Well, hey guys, welcome back. I have a sweet friend I want to introduce you to today. Lauren Pinkston and her husband Gavin are the parents of two beautiful girls, Hope and Eliza, and their cute little adorable son, Quinn. You got to look him up. He’s adorable. She’s the cofounder of Wearthy. That’s an online retail store source, an ethically made wearable goods from across the globe. Now, they’ve recently moved back to the states, so we’ll have to add to their story. She has a lot to share, and they have an amazing journey of perseverance that I can’t wait for you to hear. So welcome Lauren.
Lauren: Thank you. Thank you so much. I always feel like I sound better in an introduction than I do in real life.
Lynette: Tera and I say that quite a bit. Well Lauren, first of all, I’m so grateful the Lord chose to cross our past this side of heaven. I really am. And when I think of you and I’ve been reading things you’ve written and listened to some other things you’ve been on, two words come to mind. I don’t want to make you feel funny, but I have to tell you, sacrifice and just a fierce love for others. And so once our listeners hear your story, I think that they’re going to agree, Tera, that she is that – absolutely sold out.
Tera: I love it.
Lauren: Thank you.
Lynette: Well, Lauren, why don’t you just tell us about how your journey of adoption began?
Lauren: Sure. So, my husband and I had always planned to adopt. It was kind of my vetting process before we got married. And he was just the kind of man who I knew loved God so much more than he loved me, and I always found rest and that and comfort in that. But at that point, what we understood about adoption was the videos of people coming home from the airport or just these … It looks-
Lynette: The pretty picture.
Lauren: Yeah, the pretty pictures. And it looked like, “Well, sure. That’s an easy yes. We have love in our heart. There’s space in our home. It’s a no brainer,” right? And so, we started actually the domestic adoption process before we had biological children in South Carolina. And about the time that we started that process, I got pregnant with our first child that we added to the family, Eliza. We were working with DCS at the time in South Carolina, and the law was that you couldn’t bring home a child from DCS services or adopt out of the state with a child younger than one in the home. And so, we thought, “Well, that makes sense.” But we knew that we were on a trajectory to move overseas.
Lauren: This was 2013 and we were on our way to Southeast Asia. Eliza was born and we were like, “What are we going to do? Because we really feel passionate about this being part of our family’s makeup and the way we want to grow our family, but it doesn’t look like domestic adoption as an option for us living overseas.” And so, we found an agency that specialized in ex-pat adoption, so ex-pats are people who live abroad. And so we decided to work with that agency, and they were equipped to fly social workers and case managers to us where we work and actually do our home studies abroad.
Tera: That’s a nice little nugget of a resource right there.
Lauren: Yes. So Small World Adoption in Mount Juliet, Tennessee is who we worked through, and they were great to work with. They have case workers actually stationed all over the world, and we were able to fly. We had to do two home studies while we were living in Southeast Asia. And so two different caseworkers who lived in China, they were missionaries in China and they worked for Small World part-time because they were social workers in the US when they were here. So they flew and did our home studies in the country where we were living, and that was such a blessing to not have to fly somebody all the way from the United States. It was a lot more affordable for us.
Lauren: So we decided to go with the international adoption route, and there’s, of course, a long story to it. But the short story is we landed with our dossier in Uganda and we, I guess, three years after we started the process, found ourselves with a court date in Uganda and we lived there for four months while we processed Hope’s guardianship documents and got her all of her legal documents squared up and just kind of tried to do things the Ugandan way. And it was a really sweet time to be there. Those four months were not long enough at all to learn enough of the language and the culture to bring that richness into our home in the way that it deserved. But it at least gave us some context to her childhood and her homeland and her heritage that we could continue to connect with her over those things.
Lauren: And so we lived in Uganda for four months and then we had to come to the United States and do a re-adoption and finalize her citizenship here. And I, surprise, got pregnant with Quinn. And so we moved back to Laos. I was seven months pregnant. We were moving the kids back to where all of our things were, all our belongings were. We’d been away from what was our home at that point for nine months, trying to finalize legally all of the paperwork we needed to have to make sure everything was squared away. And then we had to move over to Thailand so that I could have Quinn in a safe place. And in the first year of our adoption, we lived in four countries together, which I don’t recommend for anybody.
Tera: I don’t want us to gloss over the fact, though, because I think so many people get so weary in the wait, that it was three years later before you went to Uganda, and then all of the consecutive, not just like a move across the state line, but different countries and places and having a baby overseas, and my goodness, that’s a lot.
Lauren: It was a lot. I remember at one point kind of just staring at the wall. We were dealing with culture shock coming back to the United States. Asia and Africa are very different and the United States is very different from that. And so yeah, just swirling in kind of a fog of culture shock. And we had some really great advice from someone. I’m sure someone has shared this on your podcast before, that when you first adopt, it’s like going underwater for six months. Has anyone ever shared that?
Lynette: Yeah, it’s great. Yeah.
Lauren: It was so true. It was almost like six months to the day before I felt like we really took a deep breath, and learning each other and understanding, I don’t know, all of a sudden these crazy, white people are making me use a fork every time and sit at the table. There were so many things that we were asking Hope to do that were new to her and challenging to her. And so yeah, she didn’t speak English when she joined our family and she was six. And so we had adopted out of birth order and she was older and there was just so much heartbreak in joining our family, and we didn’t want to push her and force her into feeling like we were a gelled family, because at that point we weren’t.
Lauren: And so it’s just a process of trust and gaining trust and adoption, that attachment is lifelong. And so that’s what I’m believing now. And so, yeah, there was so much then that I didn’t know and there’s still so much now that I don’t know. But I wish that I had given myself a lot more grace in the beginning to just be present and let things kind of flow. I think I over-parented for the first few years of our adoption.
Lynette: I love how you share about the awkwardness that comes, because this is so true, with the early season of adoption. Tera even had a friend call and say, “I feel like I’m babysitting someone else’s kid.”
Lauren: Right. It’s true.
Tera: And even when you were saying that about Hope using a fork, one of ours had a total meltdown, believe it or not, that we actually ate there, at Kentucky Fried Chicken because this child was not allowed just to dig the mashed potatoes out of the bowl with fingers. And so that was interesting. So, there is a lot of awkwardness, especially when you bring home a little bit older kid and you’re trying to get to know one another. So, what advice do you have for moms, though, who are feeling kind of awkward, either feeling like they’re babysitting or you’ve got an older child and you don’t know each other? There’s a lot of dynamic there. What advice do you have for moms in that season?
Lauren: Know that all of us feel that way.
Tera: Exactly. So true.
Lauren: I remember the first week that we had brought her home, we were at the swimming pool down the road from where we were staying in Uganda and we were just trying to do fun things, like, “How do we just make this fun and keep these kids entertained?” And I looked at my husband and I asked him, “This is going to feel normal one day, right?” And it was probably the next week when we were sitting in a restaurant, like you said, and Hope, she always asks me to tell this story because she thinks it’s hilarious now. But she had eaten the entire bottle of ketchup that was on the table. She just kept dumping it out and scooping it up their hands. And honestly, as a woman from the southeastern United States, as a Christian woman, there is this code of conduct we have to adhere to and my parenting-
Lynette: That’s not it. Yeah.
Lauren: No, my parenting was on point for the first few years as a mom, I thought, and I was ready to write my parenting book, and my first child was like a robochild.. And then all of a sudden, we weren’t playing by any of the rules, and I struggled so badly not to use that as a measuring tool for my character or as a measuring tool for my quality as a mother, or I don’t know. It was strangely a struggle to not watch how much we were struggling as a family and allow that to become an identifier for who I was as a mother and as a person. At some point you just give up trying to be who you think everybody wants and expects you to be and your crazy just becomes normal. You really don’t even notice the stares anymore.
Tera: But you do have to embrace the embarrassing moments because there was one time that the Ezell family in the Melber family-
Lynette: I was just about to tell that story. This is going to make you feel great, Lauren.
Lauren: I can’t wait.
Tera: We basically went on all kids eat free night at a pizza place. So y’all had all six of yours. We had five of ours at the time. So we had 11 kids.
Lauren: Brilliant. Oh my goodness.
Tera: So we basically took up this small pizza joint, and our son had not been home a super long time. He was shaking the parmesan cheese shaker from the pizza place and it wouldn’t come out well, so he decided he’d just lick the whole top. The manager was walking by and he said, “You can just keep that.”
Lauren: Oh my goodness.
Lynette: Oh my word. I’m dying here.
Tera: But that’s so normal because, well, we left the restaurant that day. Kevin left a $20 bill on the table and we had already tipped and everything and went, “Oh, you left another 20. That’s really nice.” He went, “Well, that’s to pay for the parmesan shakers.” Thankfully, we were with people who got us and we could all just die laughing together and think, “We’re just going to embrace the crazy and what’s going on in our family.”
Lynette: Yeah. That community, it’s just so incredibly helpful because y’all weren’t embarrassed in front of us. And Lauren, you’re so right. Everything we’d been taught, like one hand in the lap, one hand pick up the fork, well, my child ate with Injira.
Lynette: She didn’t use a fork. And so yeah, it was just a lot of adjustment.
Lauren: And we have to normalize-
Tera: We do.
Lauren: We have to normalize what other cultures find normal, and while we want to set our kids up for success and being able to mesh in with their new culture and where they’re living now with international adoption, I don’t know, I love what you said. Embrace the awkwardness because it’s not an indicator of anyone’s character. It’s just what it is.
Tera: Well, when you and Gavin were doing all of this jaunting around the world, I’m sure it was super easy on your marriage, right?
Lauren: Oh yeah, easy peasy. We’ve never paid for counseling. That was a joke.
Lynette: One that you shared about, you had a date night go south. So many moms, friends share with us like, “Well, we set this night aside and it was going to be all that,” and you’ve set up these expectations and it just-
Lauren: Yes, it’s terrible.
Lynette: It goes terrible, even a trip away together because you’re just carrying so much weight, but you actually posted that it was a terrible night.
Tera: Which I love because you are real. That’s fantastic.
Lauren: Well, we don’t have time to fake about it. I’m fighting for my family’s health. I’m fighting for my marriage. I’m fighting for the health of my family and I don’t have time to fabricate stories of how great things are when we’re in the trenches.
Lynette: So how do you and Gavin keep connection in your marriage with three children and interrupting birth order and then an infant comes when you brought your daughter home? How do you do that?
Lauren: One thing we do is every Sunday night we sit down and we have just a meeting, the two of us where we kind of connect over our calendar. And it’s not just who’s going to this practice and who has this event, but especially when we were living overseas, and it’s a little bit trickier now being here with full-time jobs, but we say, “Where are you going to get your life-giving time this week? So where are you going to get your 30 minutes away?” When we were living in Asia it was, “When are you going to have your half a day to just sit in a coffee shop and fill back up?” because we were literally, we were there without resources and we were fighting against a lot of culture stress at the time too, so just protecting that time for one another to say, “I’ve got the kids, you go do your thing.” And that was important for us, especially in that season.
Lauren: And honestly, my husband went through an enneagram coach. He’s a personal life coach apart from his day job, and he went through this enneagram training. And I know we’ve probably beat the enneagram to death, but my goodness, it revolutionized-
Lynette: We haven’t on here.
Lauren: Okay. It revolutionized our marriage just because understanding each other that much better and not just our personality types, but what motivates us.
Tera: That’s the thing, yeah.
Lauren: Yeah. What’s your core motivation and what’s the way that you really connect with God, and understanding that about each other has really changed so much about how we have conversations in our marriage and kind of work through conflict.
Tera: Oh, that’s awesome. Well, Lauren, I know for us, the Melbers and the Ezells, that we have daughters. Lynette has four and we have two of our six a piece. And I know that it can be challenging to have a daughter or two in the home, and then when you interrupt birth order and not adopt another girl, we did the exact same thing except our daughter was older than our youngest son. But we have two girls kind right very close together. So how would you describe the season of relationship your girls are at now? How old are they? And then how do you combat the comparison game at your house? Because our girls are vastly different.
Lauren: Oh my goodness. What a great question. Just to be able to normalize that comparison doesn’t just creep in when you’re in high school or as an adult.
Tera: That’s right.
Lauren: It starts so young. And my daughters are 9 and 6 and they are constantly comparing each other against one another. And we have had to have so many talks in our home of, just because we give one person a compliment in the home doesn’t mean that the other person doesn’t have good traits as well. So if I say to my 9-year old, “Wow, you did such a great job with that writing,” and my 6-year old says, “I’m not a good writer,” I’m like, just because I’m looking at one person in the eyes and celebrating what God put in her does not mean that God has not put the same thing or something else unique inside of you as well.
Lauren: And so we’ve been having a lot of that talk right now of. Honestly, this is something that my kids actually ask for when we’re pulling into the school. In the mornings, we started this last year and I just never want them to question that God made them with a purpose. And so we kind of go through this thing back and forth where I say, “Girls, who made you?” and then they repeat, “God,” and I ask them, “Does God make mistakes?” And they repeat, “No,” and just want to dig deep into their hearts and say, “God did not make a mistake when he made you. He doesn’t make mistakes. And so the person that you are and what he’s put in you, there’s nothing about that that was not intentional.”
Lauren: And we had not done that for probably six months because we’d been over the summer and then moving back to the US, and a few weeks ago, my nine year old looks at me and says, “Mom.” We were pulling up to school. She said, “Can we start that back again? Can we say our thing?” And I thought, the fact that she knows to ask for that and that she needs that truth to just plant her feet in some truth before she walks into the doors of the school and is comparing herself against other kids as well, spoke volumes to me.
Lynette: It does. And we have to combat that because we’re hearing lies from the enemy every single day.
Tera: Every day, yeah.
Lauren: Every day.
Lynette: Yeah. And the enemy so wants to, if you look different or if you’re not the majority, it so wants to fill our children’s minds with unworthiness or shame or-
Lynette: And so just continue to combat that. My girls, our youngest two, they’re both teenagers now. We said, “Lord, would you just” … When we knew we were bringing home a daughter from Ethiopia, we had a daughter from China … “Lord, they’re not going to look alike. Their mannerisms” … just because, Lauren, as you know, the culture’s so different from those two countries, and they both had had time there. So you take on those things.
Lynette: And we said, “Lord, would you just bind their hearts like sisters?” And Lauren, people stop us and talk about how close our girls are, and they could not be more different. Their gifts, the way they approach to life, the way they respond to others, how they interact with their friends, how they serve the Lord, totally different, but only he can do that. But it can be hard on the comparison thing because to one I can say something about grades while to another, it’s her athletics and what she’s accomplished as a runner, so those kinds of things. So it really can be a challenge.
Lauren: And it is a God-given miracle when these hearts are bound together with a familial type of love. And before Hope joined our family, Eliza was three and she would always want to pray for sister Hope. And I was like, “We’re praying for an old lady at church.” It was so funny, but, “Sister Hope, sister Hope.” But ever since Hope joined our family, it was like Eliza was made to be a middle child and she has just had this incredible amount of compassion to be able to reach through whatever the pain is in our home and be able to love and accept that reality. It’s a God given miracle.
Lynette: It really is. Lauren, we love hearing your story. You have so much more to share. So if you would just continue recording with us so we can finish hearing your family’s journey, hearing how God began to build a business from this journey, from these experiences, we would just love for you to hang with us and then we can do a part two with you so our listeners can also be as blessed as Tera and I are today from having time with you.
Announcer: You have been listening to the Adopting and Fostering Home, a resource of the North American Mission Board. For more information about today’s podcast and other relevant resources, visit SendRelief.org.