I was acutely aware of my lack of motherly connection to Daniel, as I watched him lying there with vacant eyes on the hospital bed.
“God, is it even possible for me to love this boy?”
My husband Charly was working on his PhD at Lanzhou University when we learned about our sons David and Daniel at the Lanzhou Orphanage. Because we were living in the same city, we were able to visit Daniel in the hospital after he awoke from his six day coma from viral encephalitis.
He was like a newborn in a seven year old body, weak and helpless, and completely unaware of the monstrous mountain of recovery that lay ahead. The doctor told us that the day before he came out of the coma, accompanied by high fever and seizures, he thought that Daniel had no hope. It was impossible to predict what kind of recovery he would make. His MRI showed scattered patches of damage throughout his brain, which had affected pretty much all of his abilities.
The shocking news of Daniel’s sudden and severe brain infection came just two days after our file was “locked” with his and our other son, David’s. Our family, and all those joining us in prayer, were rejoicing that the battle to adopt our two boys together was finally over. And then we were blindsided with news that we were not at all prepared for.
I thought about the description in 2 Samuel 6 of King David bringing the Ark into Jerusalem, when God brought an abrupt end to the Israelites’ victorious celebration with the completely unexpected death of Uzzah. And I could relate to how they must have felt, to be on the receiving end of such a harsh blow from out of the blue.
Stunned. Confused. Devastated.
We had not yet signed on the dotted line, so we still had the option to back out of the adoption. Or we could have decided to wait awhile to see what Daniel’s recovery might look like. Our family of five prayerfully considered these options, including our oldest who had already left for the US to start college. But just like our decision to pursue the adoption of two from Gansu had been unanimous, way back in 2008 (when our kids were 12, 11, and 9) so was this decision. How could we say no?
A friend in Australia (who I’ve never actually met) with two adopted daughters from China committed herself to prayer for our adoption and wrote timely messages of encouragement when we were in the thick of the paperwork battle to adopt our boys. This is part of a note she wrote with reference to the challenges of one of her adoption journeys:
“I believe that I needed to know that it was God who enabled her adoption and so it is His will and He is able to provide all that we need in wisdom and emotional strength to deal with the various challenges. So I believe that in the years ahead as you face the challenges of adoption, you too will be encouraged by the fact that God enabled this adoption – it is His miracle and He will provide…”
It is His miracle and He will provide.
When she wrote that to us, Daniel had not yet gotten sick. We would have faced adoption challenges, regardless of his encephalitis. But Daniel’s illness brought a unique set of challenges that we weren’t sure we could handle. Because it had been such a battle to get our boys, it was clear — beyond a doubt — that God had enabled our adoption of them.
In His sovereignty, He had made a way where there was no way. And in His sovereignty, He had allowed Daniel to experience a life-changing illness just before we adopted him. God would provide the wisdom and emotional strength for us to deal with all of the challenges ahead. We could trust Him, even when (especially when), we had no idea what kind of recovery Daniel would make.
When we visited Daniel in the Lanzhou Army Hospital, he was just a shell of the bright, slightly chubby, cute little seven year old we had met six weeks earlier in the orphanage director’s office. On that day, he had shyly entered the room along with David, a serious, handsome eight year old, who had appointed himself spokesperson for both of them when we asked questions about their interests and daily lives. The director instructed them to walk across his spacious office so that we could observe David’s club feet and Daniel’s limp from his mild case of spina bifida.
Their special needs were relatively minor, and did not appear to slow them down at all. But the provincial director had insisted on this meeting to be sure that we wanted them. Charly assured him on the phone as we rode the hour-long bus back to our apartment. “Yes, we want them.”
A few weeks earlier, Charly had shared about our adoption journey with a PSB office worker, who happened to be friends with the Gansu provincial director for international adoptions. So we “used the back door” and contacted him directly. Charly asked if he could help us check on the availability of two children we could adopt together, since we had renewed our adoption paperwork as many times as possible and our time was running out.
On July 15, 2013 God answered our prayers. Ding Yi Fan and Hua Ming An, who had grown up “like brothers” in the Lanzhou orphanage from the time they had been abandoned in two different hospitals as babies could be adopted together! Then later that same day we were told regretfully that it was actually impossible for us to adopt them together, and we should consider another match.
We refused to take a no. And God came through with a victorious yes.
Then He gave us a sharp turn in the path with Daniel’s illness on September 4.
On October 14, our first night with Daniel and David in our Lanzhou home, I wrestled with God as I stood beside Daniel’s bed and watched his flailing body, due to the athetoid movement disorder he had developed. I had no idea if he was in distress or if this activity was normal for him. I tried giving him some water, which he didn’t take. I worried about his only having had one wet diaper the day before.
We’re not getting enough liquid into him.
What if something is wrong with his kidneys too?
We don’t know how to care for him.
He can’t communicate with us.
What if he never can?
What if I am standing here looking at every night for the next 5, 10, 20 years?
This is too hard.
This doesn’t feel like a good plan.
I really don’t think I can do this.
And I whispered in the darkness, “God, I don’t understand what you’re doing.”
God gently reminded me not to allow worry…. to trust in His good plan, and not to project current problems into the future.
Take life and it’s challenges one day at a time. And rejoice in every step of progress. Which would come to include Daniel’s smile and laugh coming back. His learning to walk and talk again. His learning to feed himself. And dress himself, and use the bathroom on his own.
I’ve needed to be reminded of the lesson to take life one day at a time over and over again on this journey.
More in part two…