111 Days — Thoughts on Seasons, Heartbreak, and Joy

Grand Haven, MI — 11/17/16

Yesterday was the most beautiful November day of my entire life. It was 70 degrees and sunny during a time of year that is usually snowing! I was able to get outside for a little while yesterday afternoon, sit on the beach and enjoy the last lingerings of summer. It’s interesting how we grasp onto something we love only this tightly the moment we realize it’s almost gone.

When we are surrounded by beauty, we expect to see beauty the next day, but when we are surrounded by gloom, a day of beauty is totally unexpected and drastically more appreciated. It makes sense that we would think like this, but I am not sure how to combat it. Why can’t we enjoy every moment of the summer while it’s here? Why is it that when something meets our expectations, it’s no where near as good as when it exceeds our expectations, even when the end result is the same?

I believe it’s all relative. If someone lives on a mountain their entire life, they won’t understand what a valley is. Their life on the mountain top is normal and most likely mundane. Yet one who has experienced valleys, plains, and mountains will be completely overwhelmed with the beauty of the mountain. Who is happier at this moment? Is that moment worth it? None of us enjoy the valleys, but it seems they are an integral part of experiencing the full beauty of this world. If we don’t reach those transcendent moments, are we really experiencing everything this life has to offer?

Seasons allow us to truly experience the fullness of joy.

Warmth is 111 days away. I always claim March 9 as the first day of warmth because it was warm on that day in ‘09…and then seemed to happen a couple years after that too. So now I cling to that date as a more reachable, palatable beacon of hope. I used to despise winter with all of my being…but then last year, Shawnna bought me a proper winter coat and now it’s not so bad. ;) Haha, I know it’s shallow…it’s just cold and snow, but I think I am built for the tropics. 90 and humid is my bliss.

This year feels different though. I’m really excited for winter. I’m excited to slow down, catch my breathe, and be present.

Here’s why:

My wife and I had the most volatile year of our entire lives. Last summer, we were chosen by a birth mom to parent her unborn son. We were elated. We stuck with her for months awaiting the moment of his birth. We visited her in Arizona and prepared our entire life for a new son. When we got the call in December, we flew down the next day, held him in our arms for almost an entire day, and with unbridled joy and relief we began to plan our future as a family of four. That entire day is so vivid in my mind.

Just as we were preparing for bed, we got a call that the birth mom had changed her mind about the adoption. Shawnna knew it the moment the phone rang. We spent our last hour with him, sobbing and cherishing everything about him. We still hold him dearly in our hearts. When the social worker came, we gave him up, and wept for the next few weeks. Shawnna struggled for months.

Our last moments with him — December 2015

Everything seemed meaningless.
Every problem seemed insignificant.

It was a death. It was the hardest thing to endure in our entire life. I may attempt to tell that story in greater detail on another day. The experience was beyond words.

Later in the year, we had yet another failed adoption. Luckily, this time we never met the baby. Of course, it was still heartbreaking all over again, but I think the previous experience was able to prepare us for the worst, and when it happened again, we didn’t completely fall apart. We actually made it.

Just a couple weeks later, suddenly another “drop-in” adoption situation came up. We had one hour to decide if we wanted to present. I was in the middle of a bunch of sales calls so when I got the call, I pulled into a gas station parking lot to go over all the details with Shawnna and the agency. It was a very financially risky situation, and after discussing it in detail, we had almost completely ruled it out…then I asked Shawnna to send me a photo of the birth mom.

As soon as I saw the photo of her, I was overcome with compassion and gratitude. There was something in her smile that instantly calmed all my fears about the situation. I knew she was carrying our future child. I told Shawnna we had to present, and I still vividly remember the reaction of shock and excitement coming from my beautiful wife’s voice when she responded with “Really!?” She had been through so much, and she wanted this baby boy more than anything in the world. Yet, she was ready to say no if I wasn’t comfortable with the situation. My wife is the most selfless person I know. I am brought to tears just thinking about it…

Sept 17 — Waiting for the papers to be signed. The night before we left for Texas.

We sent in our profile book along with a special letter. The very next day, we found out she chose us and the baby boy was already born. A couple days later, the papers were officially signed, and we flew down to Houston to meet our son. His birth mom named him Xavier. We instantly loved it.

He was so perfect.
His birth mom was so brave.
We were so in love…so relieved.
The First Photo with Xavier James Gunnink — 9/18/16, Houston, TX

I am so thankful for a wife that was on top of it and keeping an eye out for every situation that came up. I am so thankful I picked up my phone when she called. I am so thankful we took a second to look at her photo before saying no to all the risk. Most of all, I am so thankful for the courageous act of love by Xavier’s birth mom.

Sharing the news with my grandma!

The next 111 days are going to be cherished. We will not just be looking forward to spring, but we will be enjoying every winter moment with each other. We will naturally be more present, thankful, and joyful than ever before because of the tragedy we went through as a family. Christmas will be even more magical because of the Christmas we missed last year.

Tragedy and heartbreak give you a greater scope on life and the strength to navigate through it. They give you an unwavering appreciation for everything beautiful in this life. The joyful moments seem more joyful, and the sad moments don’t seem as sad.

Mya & Xavier

When tragedy hits, all you can do is feel it to your deepest core. No words can fix it, and most people will say the wrong things. At the time, it will seem like nothing else matters, but I promise you, life will be fuller because of it. It may take weeks, months, or even years, but you will be a better person because of your journey. And when something magical comes along, like Xavier, words won’t be able to describe your level of love, joy, and thankfulness for such a beautiful gift.

Justin Gunnink
Snap: @jgunnink2
Insta: @jgunnink2