New life began. A new husband. New children. A family of three was now a family of six. Life was busy from the moment we hit the ground running. I dated this man for a little over a year and we married. Life was challenging learning to balance pre-teen children and an entire house, especially at 21 years old. We settled into a new home and kept busy schedules with school activities, church activities and sports.
Within 2 years life began to change quickly. The announcement came that the shuttle program would be down-sized and many jobs would be lost. We decided to move to Alabama and get a fresh start. The plan was to help with a family owned business and all of the kids to be in a small town school. The move was seamless and rather easy. We soon built a home and life in Alabama was full swing ahead. Helping with the family business was short-lived. Life went from busy to a much slower pace. In many ways it was nice. We knew every kid in the school – the teachers were all on a first named basis and a house was built for each of our needs. The house we built was constructed on land that belonged to my family – my grandparents homesteaded there decades before so it was extra special.
Getting the kids into school was rather easy. The decision was made to ask Luke to sign over all of his rights so that we could enroll Haley with the same name as her new older sisters. The adoption was easy and seemed to be the right move at the time. Haley would not be asked why her name was different or who her dad is. As I begin sharing this part of the journey I weep. God is a good and gracious God. He gave us what we thought we needed and we were so grateful.
Haley has always been a momma’s girl. She clung to me like a leach from day one. Only mommy could hold her and fix her boo-boo’s and tummy aches. Only mommy could tuck her in. Only mommy could brush her hair, wash her face and make her plate. She literally clung to me in every way. I loved it – she was such a loving child towards me. She sang and danced all the time with me. She would lay down with me and tell me how much she loved me. Precious memories – how they linger. She also connected with her older step-sisters. She loved them and appreciated their need to “mother her”.
As Haley grew she would say the funniest things. Her blue eyes would become lighter as she aged. Her hair stayed dirty blonde. Her smile would fill any room. Her athletic ability was out of this world. Her need to always be talking made me shake my head often. Her personality was nothing like anyone else in the house. Every single day, in those small things, I saw Luke. Deep down his memory went from hard to soft. In her was love and that love was pure and perfect.
We talked about her dad Luke. It was no secret to her that she was adopted – she was 5 years old when it took place. When she would do something that reminded me of him, I would tell her. We would sit down and talk about “when mommy was pregnant with her and married to her dad Luke”. She loved doing that. One day when she was about 7 years old, my then husband and I sat her down and opened a box of her baby things. In that box was her adoption paperwork. We told her to ask us questions and she did.
Haley: “What does he look like?”Me: “Well, he looks like you”
Haley: “He looks like a girl?”
Me: laughing “no, but you look like him.”
Haley: “Can I talk to him?”
Me: “One day, yes you can”
Haley: “Ok” And off to play she went.
Truthfully, those words hurt. They stung like venom. I wasn’t sure how to answer that. She was still so little and it was obvious her love for him was pure – there was no hesitation in asking questions nor was there doubt that he loved her. God had really moved on me that day.
Each time I would tell her “girl you are too much”, she would reply “do I get that from my real dad, Luke?” With a smile I’d say “Yes, baby girl you do.” And she always was satisfied with that. It was if her imagination of him was whole and love filled. As I poured those words into her, I watched her become completely comfortable with herself. I never denied the love he had for her or she had for him.
Around the age of 10 she put in again to meet her dad. I gave her some generic answer of “I’ll see what your (adopted) dad says and maybe soon you can.” He and I talked about it and agreed that it wasn’t time for them to meet. It would create a whirlwind of emotions and complications for everyone and the timing didn’t feel right. I began praying for God to give me peace and to guide my thoughts in this entire situation.
Later, I sat down alone and opened up social media and found Luke. He was now married and had a little boy. This was one of those stinging moments – Luke had a son – a baby boy that would carry the legacy of the Day family. His name was Hunter Riley – after all of these years, he kept the original name had Haley been a boy. I would be lying if I said that didn’t hurt. I stared at the screen for what seemed like hours. Thoughts raced through my mind of that day in 2000 when our life abruptly ended. I didn’t feel malice or hate – I only felt pain and yet contentment.
Nonetheless, right there on the computer screen we both were living very different lives. He appeared to no longer be in the military. His look was different – lots of facial hair – pink hair – long hair – short hair – no smile. It seemed he was a professional or semi-professional fighter. His son looked so much like Haley I would cry looking at him. He still had that free spirit about him – that same spirit that was in Haley. That spirit that drew me even though I denied it.
The internal struggle was real. I wanted to scream at the top of my lungs to get Luke to see Haley. I wanted to watch Haley find that missing piece she didn’t even know was missing. For a while I would look online at least once a week just to see if a new picture had been uploaded. I wanted to print a picture of him to put in Haley’s room but never did. Some nights I couldn’t sleep thinking about their reunion.
At the age of 13 Haley asked again about meeting Luke. (You can read this whole story HERE)
Before the end of her freshman year, at the age of 15, contact was made with Luke – and he reached out to me through my step-daughter and now friend. The day was May 9, 2016.
The first words exchanged between us in 16 years read, “Once upon a time in a land far, far away in Cocoa Florida you met a handsome charismatic guy…guess who?”
My. Heart. Sank. My pulse raced. My eyes watered. My thoughts went into a million directions. This text proved that I had not failed Haley in knowing her real daddy – the one who gave her that hilarious charisma, charm and love of life.
That first day our text message exchanges were long and full of information about Haley. I could not stop smiling. He could not stop texting. As scared as I was to actually have to share her with him was overcome with emotion of peace and excitement.
He shared with me the void he had – I shared with him the love she had. He shared with me the nervousness he felt – I shared with him the excitement that awaited him. He shared his disappointment in leaving – I shared the satisfaction of a child’s innocent and untainted love. He shared the fear of her rejection – I shared the acceptance that awaited him. Some of his words stung my heart. We talked war and regrets. We talked what ifs and what not’s. We talked here and now. Deep in my mind I wanted to ask him questions about leaving but Haley's needs trumps that.
After 2 days of texting I asked if he would call me. He put it off and said texting was better for him. One night at midnight I still wasn’t asleep. During this season of my life I worked on average 60 hours a week – exhaustion came easy for me and each night sleep was my favorite thing. On this particular night I was unable to sleep because Luke said he couldn’t wait until school was out to come and meet Haley he wanted to meet her as soon as possible. My eyes would not shut that night. I had been face down on the floor singing and praying to God. I needed emotional strength. His return was fast approaching and I was ready but doubted myself. My recent divorce had left an emotional strain on me – I was dealing with a toxic relationship and was physically, mentally and emotionally exhausted. Fear crept in for a moment so I went directly to the source.
Here is where I poured my heart out once again – “God, I’ve prayed for this door opening for a long time. All these years I’ve waited for this opportunity. It is upon us and now I’m fearful. I don’t want to confuse my little girl – I don’t want to expose her to anything you don’t have for her. You know the struggle of our last 10 years. I trust that as this door opens it swings in the direction of Your will.” And with that I began to sing… “You're a Good, Good Father. It's who you are, it's who you are, it's who you are and I'm loved by you. It's who I am, it's who I am, it's who I am. Oh, and I've seen many searching for answers far and wide But I know we're all searching For answers only you provide 'Cause you know just what we need Before we say a word You're a Good, Good Father!” I sang this over and over – I don’t remember how many times but finally the tears stopped and I stood up and got in the bed. As I laid my head down, the phone rang.
With my heart racing a thousand beats a minute I looked at the screen and “Lucas” name was on my phone. This was the first time I was going to hear is voice in 16 years. Truthfully, I was scared to answer and all I kept thinking was “God is answering your prayer Rachel, just answer.” I said “hello” – or at least I think I did. My heart was beating so hard I couldn’t hear myself breathe. As he spoke I was in disbelief. He didn’t sound like I had remembered – maybe I dreamed of how he sounded and changed it over time so that the pain of losing him would be easier – whatever it was the sound of his voice was different and he was not from south Alabama. As I sat quietly and listened to him ramble for the first little while, I had no tears. I laughed and smiled until my face hurt. He almost spoke faster than my mind could comprehend. For 2 hours we talked, shared and laughed. He told me that he was ready to come and meet Haley and see me again after all these years. When those words came out of his mouth deep down I thought "he really wants to see me too?"
That night he asked me something that made my mind race, “Rachel, what are your expectations?” As I shared that I was only worried for Haley and wanted assurance that his presence would be what she needed and to fill a void in her life, I had no other expectations. What I also wanted to say was "have you missed me? Can we talk about what happened 16 years ago? What are your expectations?" But I didn't, I just spoke of Haley and the reality was, she was the only thing that mattered. As I shared that Haley was the priority he got quiet. I could feel emotion running through his voice, “Rachel, I have loved Haley from the moment I found out about her. I’ve let her down more than any one man could and I live with that regret every day. Do you think I could live up to her expectations?” My heart hurt for him. For the first time I realized that Luke was the gentle and loving giant I remembered. The choices and decisions that were made years ago haunted him as it did me. I ached as I heard him share his heart. He felt unworthy to even be coming but the thought of healing drove him. He was unsure how to even handle or process what was to come. He feared her rejection. He feared disappointing her and then said, “Rachel, I’m afraid of disappointing you too.” At that moment, tears streamed down my face. Disappointing me was something I also feared. He shared that for 16 years he had been missing something – and for the first time in those 16 years he felt life and hope and was afraid that he couldn’t handle it. He shared that he was in a place of being withdrawn because he never really knew happiness. I reassured him that even though he was scared it would be ok - that as soon as he met Haley he would know immediate happiness. She was after all the happiest child in the world - it melted off of her. Haley needed him more than he even realized, and as her mother, I needed his presence and help also.
Every single day that week we texted. We talked on the phone almost every night until Friday. I woke up early that Friday morning. Today was the day of reuniting. Again, Haley’s story is (HERE). But for me, every emotion that I had was in check – at least I had thought it was. I would not allow myself to get in my personal feelings. I would keep everything in me in perfect check - if we were talk about anything other than Haley the conversation would be redirected....yet deep down, I wanted to know and talk about "us". I left work early that day. As thoughts raced I kept thinking and reminding myself this was going to be everything Haley wanted – but that feeling of love for Luke crept to the surface and I would talk it down because I had surrendered to the thought of "that love was a teenage love and it wasn't real - that's why it didn't work." It at least helped me get through the day.
He texted me that morning and asked for my address. As I typed it in, he texted me back “ARE YOU SERIOUS?!” Me, “Yes.”. See when we met in 1999, we met at King Street Baptist Church. This day, May 9, 2016, we would meet again on King Street, which is the street I live on. I knew the smile on his face matched mine. Divine appointment!
The moment had arrived. Luke called and said he was almost there. I had been pacing the house for over an hour. I sat in the front room waiting for the car to pull up. What would I say first? Do I walk outside and meet him? Do I make him ring the doorbell? Words? Smile? Before I could make a definite plan, he pulled up, he got out and he began to walk up. In his flip-flops, shorts and shirt I watched him walk halfway up the walkway before I walked to the door to open it. His pace was slow – all I could feel and hear was my heartbeat. His eyes met mine and we both smiled. It was awkward. He came up the steps and into the house. As he walked into the foyer, he said “I guess a hug would be appropriate” and for what seemed like a lifetime we hugged.
I remember thinking that I fit perfectly in his arms. That his heart beat was loud and his hands were warm. I remember he smelled so good and his words were soft “gosh Rachel, thank you.” For the next few seconds (maybe minutes) we didn’t exchange any more words – only allowed the hug to speak for us. Feelings rushed over me like dam breaking in the middle of the night with no where to run. This was drowning yet not suffocating. He broke the silence by referencing “King Street” and we walked into the living room and sat down.
For the next few minutes our words were scattered. Conversation wasn’t hard but it wasn’t easy. He shared. I shared. He asked questions and I answered. I asked questions and he answered. I remember not being able to stare at him for long periods of time. I didn't want him to know my personal thoughts. He would talk about life and I would listen with my heart and ears but not look at him. To me the eyes are the ticket-booth to the soul and that's exactly where his imprints were. I can remember feeling him stare at me – and at one point he said “Haley sure gets her beauty from you.” Those words melted me. The stories he told of being hard and distant from people were hard to believe listening to him talk there in the living room. Whatever I was feeling was something I had no intentions of dealing with – we were at different places in our life and I wasn’t going to go down a romantic road.
The weekend was fun and happy. Ballgames and trips to the store for new supplies. Laughter and jokes. New smiles and deep love from a father to a daughter is all we shared that weekend. We all stayed up late talking – we all woke up early to talk some more. Sleep wasn’t easy for those few days. Haley wanted her dad to take her to school Monday morning and as I left for work that day I can remember feeling some sadness that this first encounter was almost over and life would resume.
We talked about him returning soon. However, it was very quickly he returned. Actually, the following weekend. He said he couldn’t wait for very long – he wanted to come back and stay a while. He felt like he had found a place in life he was supposed to be. His visits and time with us was great. He and Haley were amazing together – life was about her and him catching up. Haley met Hunter and instant love was there.
Upon one of his returns he and I began to talk more deeply. He would stand close enough to me that our shoulders would touch. He would hug me for what appeared to be no reason - I wouldn't fight it. Ballgames were fun and his gentleman ways of holding doors, helping make dinner and tidying up the house while I was at work was refreshing. We talked about what happened 16 years ago and how it affected us and the life paths we chose. In his eyes was self disgust and hatred. In my eyes he saw compassion and understanding. He truly loved us and with each passing day he showed us that. He raved at how wonderful both the kids were – teenagers and so respectful and loving. How I worked all the time but the kids didn’t seem to be missing a thing. He actually made me feel accomplished and proud. It wasn’t long before the conversation of his and my feelings finally came up.
This was by far the hardest part for me and I truthfully think for him also. I was so scared to even allow myself to feel anything other than the love a mom has for a child’s father. But the reality was, I felt so much more than that. The words to explain those feelings are still hard to put into words. Each time we talked my heart fluttered - my face hurt - my eyes didn't want to close. I remember sitting on the couch and he came and sat beside me – he looked at me and laid his head in my lap without saying a word. We stared at each other while time stood still – I stroked his soft thick beautiful dirty blonde hair while looking into his crystal blue eyes. My touch was soft and my heartbeat was easy. My hands didn’t tremble nor did my eyes look away. His hands folded across his chest and a smile on his face. His eyes said everything I wanted to hear without either of us uttering a word. I felt in some ways he wanted to see my response at his gesture. The truth was I wanted him to stay there in that moment. I wanted to say "I love you Lucas"!! After a while he sat up and grabbed my hand to hold it. His hands were warm and big – I looked down at our hands - mine inside of his - and my internal fibers were firing in all directions. I was instantly overcome with emotions. This – this was a feeling I hadn’t known. I didn’t fight the thoughts or the questions – I allowed them to flood me. Something inside me woken in that moment and I didn’t want to move – I wanted time to stay just like this.
The silence was broken when Haley got home that day. By October we had really began connecting and expressing our feelings. I won’t bore you with the details of our exchanges, but they were amazing and much like a fairytale.
I will never forget the first time Luke told me he was in love with me. I was silent. It was if he had been waiting to say it. He had literally taken my breath with those 11 words "I'm in love with you Rachel and I always have been." His stare was deep into my soul. With palms sweating and heart racing I allowed him to kiss me. Every fiber of my being melted into a puddle. I had no anxiety nor any worry. I had peace and unexplainable contentment. His hands so gently cradled my face. His lips were sweet, moist and soft. His voice was pure love. His touch brought fire to the surface of my skin. He grabbed me close and squeezed me so hard I could feel and hear his heartbeat in my chest. For the first time we were in sync. If this was a dream, I didn’t want to wake up.
I had never seen the movie “The Notebook”. He said it was a classic and wanted to watch it with me. There was something about the movie that connected me to him. And so, one night the kids were gone and he and I sat on the couch and watched it. As the house was being built and I intently watched the love and detail that went into building that house and my physical body lost it. I wept. Haley had been exactly that – the house – and I had always built her to hold the love I had for her daddy, and to love this man who was now sitting there on my couch watching this movie. He had bottled up the love he had for me and went on about life all while in the back of his mind thinking back to the times we were together and this precious daughter he helped create. That movie, that night, the words “I love you” rang from one side of my soul to the other. I knew I loved Luke – actually, I knew he was built for me and I was built for him.
I remember a time when I would say to myself “I’m homesick for a place I’ve never even been before.” With Lucas that feeling went away. I can’t wait to wake up each morning to talk to him and tell him about my dreams. I can’t wait to come home from work to see him and get a hug from him. I can’t check my phone enough times just to talk to him. I can’t kiss him enough. Literally there are no words to describe the love I have for him.
I can’t say bringing our life back together has been seamless. There is so much more to write about – but these moments and this love was a fire that ignited me. So, I’ll close with this…
A blurb from my wedding vows….I’ll post that soon.
To know you is to love you. To touch you is to desire you. To hug you is to feel your soul. To kiss you is to see your heart. Being in love with you makes sense. It brings joy, happiness, peace, contentment and sound mind. It is beautiful and perfect. Being in love with you is more than just the simple I love or I miss you – it is fulfilling, breathtaking, perfect, true, pure and forever. It is the light in the morning and the goodnight’s rest each night. It is the reason to smile and laugh. It is the tears of joy and contentment.
You are an answer to a prayer I forgot how to pray. You have been a light to remind me that God still loves me and you help to show me that every day. And the truth is, I gave my heart away a long time ago, my whole heart, and I never really got it back. I love you baby and I’ll love you tomorrow and every day after that! I know that I was created to love you and be loved by you!