whatever it takes

Before there was a picture, my heart held an image of you. I penned my name on the adoption application, and your life was written into my heart. “Whatever it takes”, took on new meaning. The forms, the hoop jumping, the check writing, the calls, the fingerprints, the background check, the study of our home, and the steady push toward a hundred unknowns. A list was given of what it would take to be your family, and we checked it off.

Soon, a picture of little you appeared, and oh how I knew. I’d do whatever it took to get to you.

Whatever the obstacles. Whatever the red tape. Whatever the wait. Whatever.

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In China, “whatever it takes” was all new once again. My arms felt the weight of you with your sad eyes, raging fever, infection, no appetite, terrified sobbing, list of medical needs, bag of medical supplies, and wall around your heart. No idea what being your mommy would take, or IF I could do what it would take, I could only do whatever the moment, whatever the trip agenda, required.

Now home, we’ll trek forward with “whatever it takes”, minus the handy checklist.

I’ll simply take care of you. I’ll adjust my days, learn nursing techniques and juggle your appointments with your siblings’ schedules. I’ll creatively battle your veggie aversion and sneak probiotics into your sippy cup. Trusting new instinct, I’ll call the nurse when a low fever feels like something more.

I’ll research and fill my notebook with questions for the doctor, seek specialists, and humbly ask friends to babysit. I’ll check my watch in waiting rooms as I fill out more new patient paperwork, marking “unknown” under family history. I’ll drive to another state for an expert. I’ll add edema (swelling) and febrile (fever) to my widening dictionary of medical jargon. I’ll do pre-op, post-op and listen to discharge instructions. I’ll fill and refill those prescriptions.

I’ll wake another day and let you follow me from room to room because you feel safer with me in sight.

I’ll hold you a bit longer than my arm wants to. At the sound of your cry, I’ll stumble into your bedroom at 1AM. I’ll hold you during another church service because you panic at the sight of a childcare worker.

I’ll do a daily “lovie” wash so comfort awaits. I’ll smile at you and pull you into my lap when I’d rather have a moment to myself.

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No doubt I’ll falter. Selfishness will win daily. I’ll raise my voice and grumble. Hopefully though, my heart will refocus and submit to the gift of being your mommy.

If it is what it takes, I’ll remodel my world again around naptime and strollers, tantrums and diapers, board books and fat Crayolas.

With every new hospital ID bracelet, every IV insertion, and every scan or x-ray, tears might roll and my knees might tremble, but your little hand can rest in mine. When that operating room door closes with your daddy and I on one side and you on the other, you’ll still not be alone. I’ll stay on my knees for you, surrendering you over and over, always hopeful. And when “over it” is how you feel, I’ll feel it too.

You’ll need me medically, academically, emotionally, spiritually, physically, and behaviorally. It’s too much for busy, fragile, small faith me. My head spins trying to plan. Likely though, God will keep requiring me to release my grip. I’ll want to take control and He’ll remind me that it’s not mine to take.

My passport has a China stamp now, but I’m still searching our adoption journey suitcase for an elusive next steps checklist. Probably for the best, because if I could glimpse ahead, fear would spill in, I’d take my eyes off today and retighten my grip. So, I’ll grasp only for whatever it takes to love you best on THIS day.

At every intersection, I’ve learned that the Lord will meet us on the path, holding a lamp that usually shines ahead just enough, handing out peace that surpasses understanding and providing immeasurably more than I knew to ask for. Whatever it has taken, He has provided.

So, girl, with a heavy dose of faith in a sovereign over all things God, again, I’ll fight for you. I’ll fight with you. I’ll hope. I’ll blow bubbles for a smile. I’ll sing “Jesus Loves Me” in your ear at doctors’ offices. I’ll find a band aid. I’ll press cookie cutters into Play-Doh.

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I’ll submit to a stretching of my faith, my pride, the capacity of my heart, and the limits of my strength. It turns out that doing “whatever it takes” for you, means taking my life apart and rebuilding it, refined. Better.

I’ll advocate. I’ll be your voice. I’ll love you with all that I am. I’m all in. One day at a time.

Whatever it takes.



Bamboo Project Update

Today is a very special day… in a few short hours, the first of the Bamboo Project children will be in the arms of her FOREVER family! I’ve gotten to walk along side this lovely family from Georgia from nearly the start of their journey. Let me tell you, they are MORE than in love with their little one! God has truly ordained this precious heart and her extra chromosome into this amazing family. I’m SO STINKING EXCITED for them today and all the days that lay ahead.

This story will be repeated this time next week too, as a second Bamboo family just got word they are traveling this Wednesday! (Super short notice, just like with us!) This Michigan family is an experienced adoptive home, but this is their first chromosomally enhanced child… oh, what an adventure lays before them!! This little girl is already so VERY loved and wanted.

Please be praying for these families and their new daughters as they bond, and navigate the cultural, developmental, & medical waters that are before them now. Also for the children that are waiting at home in Georgia & in Michigan; that their hearts will overflow with love for their new sister and their own transition will be seamless with their growing family.

God is so VERY good. He is setting the lonely into families just as He promised. (Psalms 68:6). Thank you to all that have been praying & supporting this incredible project! (Please continue to contend for the five handsome boys still waiting for their new Forever). Four more Bamboo families are due to travel before the end of the summer… let’s get these kids HOME!!

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what we’re reading links: 6.18.2014

From the last few weeks, some good stuff we’ve read that relates to adoption and/or parenting a special needs child.

As always, if you’ve read or written something you think would be a good addition to a future What We’re Reading post, we’d love to hear about it.

To share a blog post or news article go here.
To share your blog with our readers, as a soon-to-be traveling to China family go here.

Gia

Gia, just days after meeting her new forever family

blogs

Several bloggers tackled the topic of racism against Asian-Americans, including Dami Obaro’s piece outlining the model minority myth entitled “Why Can’t You Be More Like Them?;” Tara Vanderwoude’s piece I’m Not an Exotic Asian; and Don Lee’s account of a recent encounter with a waiter in That’s Kind of Racist, Dude.

Kasi Pruit shares her journey as she processed the Death of the Picture Perfect Family at her husband’s blog i already am.

Kelly the Overthinker shares a list of 20 key things you need to know about China travel in #ohChina.

At Two Vandalgrads and Three “G’s,” Amy describes their visit to their new daughter’s orphanage in Journey to Gia, Day Four: Brokenness Before Redemption.

Several parents received great news in recent weeks, including Jamie from Hearts Set on Pilgrimage in She Hears! And other exciting news! and Lisa of Pursuing Miracles in God’s Got It!

Margie Perscheid, adoptive mom to two adult Korean adoptees, acknowledges her non-adoptive privilege.

High school graduate Christine, adopted from China, shares her college essay about growing up Asian in a Caucasian culture and having a brother with autism.

Ellen Stumbo ponders the question “what if she lives with us forever?” in regards to her second daughter, born with Down Syndrome.

Maureen of Finding Mei Mei discusses the effects of early trauma on a child in The Past is Not in the Past.

Chris of Apricot Lane Farms proves that being born with limb difference can’t stop you from anything, even one of the most physically demanding jobs in the world – farming!

At My Life in God’s Garden, Diane moved us to tears with her recent post Suffering.

Adoptive dad Jim describes the victories that count at Lanterns, Ladybugs and a Whole Lotta Love.

inthenews

Several Chinese newspapers ran articles about their country’s adoption program in recent weeks, including Chinese parents compete with foreign applicants to adopt health babies, Adopted American Girl in Quest for Her Chinese Birth Parents and International and Domestic Adoption in China.

Researcher ChangFu Chang, creator of the documentary Long Wait for Home, shares the synopsis of his current documentary project Ricki’s Promise and its kickstarter campaign.

In Yahoo! News, ANI reports that a New discovery could soon make epilepsy history.

Chicagoan Lily Born, an eleven-year-old Chinese adoptee, invented an unbreakable, hard to spill cup for her grandfather, who suffers from Parkinson’s Disease.

Yosemite National Park shared the story of Gabriel, an eight-year-old diagnosed with Ehler Danlos Syndrome, whose Make-A-Wish request involved the park in a huge way.

The Guardian shared a book review about the new book “Leftover Women,” written by Leta Hong Fincher, which details the “toxic vitality of sexism in China today.”

Read something inspiring lately? Informative? Encouraging? Share the link HERE.

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In China now to bring home their child…

Everything Beautiful
Adding One Morh
Impossible, Difficult, Done
Our Jones Clan

Just Home from China…

Two Vandalgrads and Two “G”s
The Layers of Life
Stop for Flowers
My Life Song
Lanterns, Ladybugs and a Whole Lot of Love
One More Thing
Bringing Home Andi
Homework, Hotdogs and Valium
Love Makes a Family
The Collected Hord
Team Willie Goes To China

Getting close to travel for your little one in China? Share the link HERE.

P.S. A big thank you to Amy for sharing a photo of her lovely daughter, and another to those who helped compile this week’s post.


Stamp of Glory

As a medical mom, I went into a special needs adoption with eyes wide open. I dusted off old medical journals, updated myself on the current care guidelines for Down syndrome, consulted with colleagues, and scheduled with trusted specialists. I understood the ramifications of a spectrum disorder like DS and felt prepared for whatever ribbon my new little human came packaged in. I was eager and ready.

On our first morning together, I counted his ten little fingers and ten little toes. I found his two tiny freckles and memorized the color of his chocolate eyes. I inhaled his soft (sweaty) smell and rubbed my nose in his sweet skinny thighs. He was a perfect little boy and I was finally his Momma.

As I explored him I also snuck in his first well child check, jotting notes in the corners of our adoption paperwork:

HEAD: normocephalic
EYES: mild R strabismus
EARS: stenotic canals
HEART: blowing 4/6 murmur
LUNGS: clear throughout
ABDOMEN: small ventral hernia
MUSCULOSKELETAL: hyperflexic, low tone
DEVELOPMENTAL: approx 9months
SKIN: 1cm scar posterior neck…??

Um...mom? We just met.

Um…mom? We just met.

There were several findings that hadn’t been noted in his referral, but expected with Down syndrome. I had prepared for them & wasn’t worried so I mentally scheduled the speciality appointments we would need in order of importance for when we got home. But the scar…where did the scar come from?? There was no medical reason for the scar. The placement, the size, the angulation. In all my medical travels, I couldn’t think of one procedure in any culture that would have left a scar like this. Which only meant one thing…there had been injury…and pain…

My baby had been hurt. Whether by accident or intention, there had been damage. When did it happen?! With his birth parents? Did they have access to medical care while our child was bleeding? Did someone try to hurt him?! Was it with his foster mother? Did she know what to do? Was the orphanage notified right away? Did my little boy cry? Who dried his tears and held him close? Did anyone care that he was in pain??

Intellectually, I knew that pain, emotional & sometimes physical, were-ARE- an inherent part of adoption. It was in my head; I had read all the books, blogs and posts before leaving for China (seriously, ALL the books). But it’s easy to romanticize adoption, especially with a young child who can’t articulate or even consciously remember life before their new Forever. That scar changed everything; my medical brain couldn’t explain it & my momma’s heart was crushed by it.

The scar screamed at me: there was a life that included pain before you arrived and there is nothing you can do about that.

I know my Lord has a deep understanding of scars. In His perfection, He still bares the ugly marks of my redemption. I also know He takes special care for those that have been wounded… “He heals the brokenhearted, binding up their wounds..” (Psalms 147:3). Oddly enough, there is no mention of a lack of scars; I assume they are implicitly implied? Often, I’ll tell my patients before a procedure, “when we are done, you’ll probably have a bit of a scar, but that’ll be the only reminder of what was causing your pain.”

But I wonder if that is really what the Lord sees in His scars? Not a reminder of the pain, but a stamp of His glory: I am both your Great Physician and Heavenly Father. There was brokenness and I healed it. You were hurt and I comforted you. What was, will be no more. MY scars are proof of your adoption.

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It’s been nearly two years and those words are still bringing healing to me and the pain I carry on behalf of my son. When he is playing quietly, I often catch myself staring at that little scar. His sun-kissed neck highlights the mark even more now, but it’s a reminder of how healthy he is; not of where he was, but where he is now.

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In those times my mind wanders to what possibly happened, the Holy Spirit reminds me of His miracle in our lives and His constant hand of protection over us both. A physical scar may remain, but it can now be a testimony of God’s redemptive story…what was, is no more…we have our own stamp of His Glory.

Loaves, Fishes, and Bedrooms

As a dad, one of the most common concerns from prospective adoptive fathers is on the finances relative to adoption and larger families. This provides some perspective on our experience:

This month will be the 10th anniversary of when we moved into our current house. We built this house, and it was the perfect size for our family of four. (I should clarify when I say “we built” that I did not wield a hammer or screwdriver at any point during the construction process… which is probably why this house is still standing. My main job was to check my spreadsheets each night and explain to Anne why we could not afford any of the upgrades she suggested… ridiculous and superfluous requests like a 5th bedroom.)

When we decided to adopt our daughter Mia a few years later, we knew we would have to make some compromises. So with apologies to our parents who might visit, we moved an old futon into the basement and converted the guest room into Mia’s. It wasn’t ideal, but it worked.

When we started talking about a second adoption two years later, we immediately assumed that we would need to move. With our suburban bias that every kid needed to have their own bedroom, a fourth child would never fit in a four bedroom house.

But after some prayer and consideration, we identified that there was a loft area that could be converted into a very small bedroom. (I use the term “bedroom” with some reservation. A realtor would probably list it as a “small walk-in closet.”) We had the loft converted, purchased another twin mattress, and went to China to bring home Will.

When we started to talk about a third adoption, moving seemed both obvious and inevitable. But when we started looking, we quickly realized that there are two kinds of houses – ones that can comfortably accommodate a family of seven and very different ones that we can afford. This led to a frustrating conclusion… we could fit a fifth child into our budget or into our house… but not both.

After some prayerful consideration, we challenged our assumption that every kid needed their own bedroom. We determined that a family would be more important to a new son or daughter than having their own bedroom. So with this shift, we found a bit more room (if not an additional bedroom) in our four bedroom house.

The great poet TobyMac, quoting his mama, said, “it’s a matter of fact that when love is in the house the house is packed.”

The great poet TobyMac, quoting his mama, said, “it’s a matter of fact that when love is in the house the house is packed.”

Our brilliant solution began to erode a few months later when our agency called to ask us about potentially adopting twins. After a bit of research, I concluded that there are no “2 for 1” coupons on adoption. Our $30,000 expense was about to become nearly $60,000. When I put these new numbers into my spreadsheet, I stopped worrying about being able to afford enough bedrooms and started worrying about being able to afford enough beds.

As is probably obvious by now, I am anal, I am cheap, and I really like my spreadsheets. (I would also tell you that I am an engineer, but that would be redundant at this point.)

In fact, I have a spreadsheet for every important decision I’ve ever made… from marrying Anne to buying a used 1997 Honda Accord. (Both required more regular maintenance than I predicted, but both have also proven to be excellent investments.)

When I do make a “life” spreadsheet, I use color to help me. When a decision makes sense, the spreadsheet cells starts to turn green. When it doesn’t make sense, the cells start to turn red.

And the tab for “adopt twins” was completely crimson. Other than a small green cell for “What Jesus would do”, every other indicator suggested that this was a bad idea. Not enough money. Not enough time. Not enough bedrooms. Not enough seats in the Accord… or any vehicle other than those white utility vans used by kidnappers. Red. Red. Red.

But when we prayed, we felt like God wanted us to do it. That stupid green cell simply would not go away. And so, facing a sea of red cells, we said “yes.”

And when we did, I picture that He started to smile. Smiling at our realization that we could not do it on our own. Smiling at the gap between what we had and what we needed… and his extraordinary ability to close that gap. As he watched me struggle over my spreadsheets, perhaps He smiled because this was not the first time his people stood before a Sea of Red waiting for a miracle.

And then He showed up… big time. Within weeks, a couple of anonymous checks arrived in the mail. My company’s stock hit a seasonal high, and I made more than expected from a bonus. With each day and week, the red cells turned to yellow and then to green. By the time we stepped on the plane for China, we had all of the money we needed to bring home Sam and Ellie. No coupon required.

And the bedrooms, they seemed to multiply as well. We saw the power of bunk beds to make two beds where there used to be one. And we saw the power of love when Will and Adam agreed to share a room, Abby crammed her teenaged life into a severely downsized space, and Mia agreed to move into the closet… all joyful downgrades in order to upgrade our family.

The most beautiful closet in the world... courtesy of a beautiful girl who traded her “normal” bedroom for two incredible siblings last year.

The most beautiful closet in the world… courtesy of a beautiful girl who traded her “normal” bedroom for two incredible siblings last year.

Incredibly, we even found an extra leaf in the basement for our kitchen table. A leaf wrapped in bubble wrap that neither Anne or I remembered from when we purchased the table. A leaf that turned our table for six into a table for eight.

As I reflect upon it, I am reminded of the gospel story from Mark 6 where the disciples are worried that there is not enough food to feed the thousands of people who have followed Jesus out into a remote location.

35 By this time it was late in the day, so his disciples came to him. “This is a remote place,” they said, “and it’s already very late. 36 Send the people away so that they can go to the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat.”
37 But he answered, “You give them something to eat.” They said to him, “That would take more than half a year’s wages! Are we to go and spend that much on bread and give it to them to eat?”
38 “How many loaves do you have?” he asked. “Go and see.” When they found out, they said, “Five—and two fish.”…
41 Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to his disciples to distribute to the people. He also divided the two fish among them all. 42 They all ate and were satisfied, 43 and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces of bread and fish.

Perhaps my favorite part of this passage (other than the guy doing the math about how many months of wages it would cost… I like that guy… he even did that without a spreadsheet), is how Jesus responds to the request from the disciples.

When it is clear to them that they do not have enough, Jesus challenges their assumption and says, “How many loaves do you have? Go and see.”

And in the end, he takes what they have and shows them that it is more than enough. All are satisfied and there is extra to spare.

That’s how Jesus works some times. Sometimes he does it with five loaves, sometimes he does it with two fish, and sometimes he does it with four bedrooms.

Psalm 133:1 “How wonderful and pleasant it is when brothers live together in harmony.” (And I assume that this does not exclude the occasional brotherly noogie or wedgie...)

Psalm 133:1 “How wonderful and pleasant it is when brothers live together in harmony.” (And I assume that this does not exclude the occasional brotherly noogie or wedgie…)

If you had told me 10 years ago that eight people would be living in this house, my first response would be, “Where did our family move?” But the truth is that it works. We have everything we need and there’s even some extra to spare… but not enough for a 9th person… right, God?



Taking Care of Personal Business

In other words this is a poop and potty post!

Many of the children that sit and sit and sit on the waiting child list are there because they are incontinent. Which means they cannot control their bowels and bladder.

We have brought 2 children home that were in “that situation.” One was diagnosed with Anal Atresia (or Imperforate Anus and came home with a colostomy) and the other was diagnosed with Spinal Bifida and came home in diapers.

Each time, when I saw our child on the waiting child list I said, “I can’t do this.” But God encouraged us to step out in faith, so we did. At times we felt like it was too big for us but we knew it wasn’t too big for Him. NOTHING is too big for Him.

Somehow, God always works out all the details. I don’t worry about things as much as I used too because I know it is in HIS hands and HE is in control. There is no one more capable to be in control and worrying gets me nowhere. I used to want to have control but not any more.

As we have brought our children with incontinence home we have learned a lot.
The keyword for us right now is “social continence.” That is the goal for both of our children. Social continence means that the child/adult does not wear diapers and can care for their bowel and bladder needs independently. They are able to be in social settings and able to live a normal active life just like anyone else.

When our children came to us… they smelled. It wasn’t a good smell- it was of urine and poop. They needed love, a bath and a new plan to care for this issue. Both of them are incredible kids. We cannot imagine our lives without them. Within hours of them being ours- they didn’t smell any longer. They were clean, happy and actually a bit appreciative- they knew they were being cared for properly. There is NOTHING more bonding than caring for a child when it involves private issues such as potty and poop. I have seen it happen both times for us. The bond between the child and parent is accelerated.

The nannies do all they can for the children and they try to care for them but they do not have access to the supplies and medical care like we do. One of our sons was using a plastic baggy and a cloth tied over it, for his colostomy. It didn’t take long for this energetic little boy to dislodge the contraption and soil his clothes. The director tried to clean him up for us but she was a bit irritated that this had happened. I just wanted to scoop him up and get him back to the hotel to give him a bath. The very first time I cared for him he looked right into my eyes and said, “thank you Momma” in Mandarin. He had my heart right then and there…

Our second little guy came to us in a very soggy and very small diaper (not his size). His clothes were wet and he wreaked of urine. Although he was adorable it was hard at first to see beyond the smell. This little guy was from one of the best orphanage in the country. When hubby got him back to the hotel he immediately gave him a shower and a diaper that fit. This time my hubby was the recipient of “Thank you Daddy” in Mandarin. When they came home I could see right away that Daddy and son had a special bond.

One of our boys has reached social continence and truthfully it’s wonderful for him and for us! Once home he was able to have surgery to “replumb” his intestines and it was hooked up with his “new rectum.” Then 2 months later they took down the colostomy. We followed the Dr.’s instructions and within 4 months after that he was out of diapers!

Our other son is “in process.” His situation is a bit more complicated as he does not feel the potty and poop due to spinal bifida. Our goal and our doctor’s goal is for him to be out of diapers, also. Some children can be regulated through diet alone but we didn’t feel it could be adequately managed that way. So for him the first step is called an ACE procedure- simply put he has a little tiny opening from his belly button to his large colon and each morning we irrigate his bowels with water so we can get all the poop out. That way he can start fresh every day and doesn’t need to worry about poop. In time he will do all of this himself and he will continue to do this as an adult. It’s just part of his morning routine!

For the urine we are catheterizing him 4 times a day and emptying his bladder. He is on a medication that will allow his bladder to do a better job holding the urine. There are many other options for him and for other children. We will see how this works for us and if it does, great and if not, we will try something else. He just needs to bring his catheterizing supplies with him and he can cath himself in the bathroom where ever he is. If he is at school he goes to the nurses office to do this. If he is at the zoo he goes into the stall in the men’s room. Most likely you know someone that does this BUT you are unaware of it. It’s not something that others need to know and that people readily share unless it’s necessary. He will grow up just like any other little boy and have a normal life. As far as sexual function we know he can have children but his private life will remain between him and his spouse. We know it is our Doctor’s goal to be sure he is working that way too.

If your heart has been moved to adopt one of these special kiddos don’t let potty and poop scare you. It’s nothing to be afraid of and I know that now! Step out of your comfort zone and help a child. If you don’t… then who will?

 

 

making a difference

Making a difference is one of those things that everybody aspires to do. I sure want to be one of those people… someone who is dynamic and passionate and yet caring and sweet-and-happy-all-of-the-time, all at the same time. Don’t you?

It’s hard. It’s really, really hard. Sometimes I can hit three-out-of-four. I can be dynamic and passionate and caring. I navigate orphanage relationships, get kids into hospitals, teach a new nanny how to feed a baby with a cleft lip and palate, faithfully pray for the new sick ones, cry for the ones that don’t make it, inspire, equip, energize and advocate.

But it never is enough… no matter how fantastic I manage to be at all of this, I can never do it all, and I get kinda cranky and a bit not-so-sweet, and my joy starts withering. Such is humanity, we were not created to be All in All. But that’s another post for another time…

In July my family moved up to the province of Inner Mongolia, China. After spending nearly four years working with the incredible team at New Day Foster Home’s Beijing campus, it was time for us to go and start something new. A new branch, new projects, new relationships.

Ya’ll, it’s been the hardest ten months of my entire life.

Doing my favorite thing in the world, loving and caring for orphans; bringing them hope, finding them families… I almost gave up. I wanted to give up. It hurt too hard.

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Each and every week we would take a two-hour train ride to an orphanage. It was either me and my mom, or my dad and I. I was the translator, the liaison, the relationship. My parents were the experts, the teachers, the directors. So often, on the Wednesday night before our Thursday orphanage-trip, my mom and I would scurry about the house getting things ready. She’d finish the children’s goal sheets, based off of their assessments that we’d done the week before. I’d make sure my camera was charged and had an empty memory card inside, pack a bag with the stethoscope, pulse/oxometer, hand-knitted hats, headbands with flowers on them and a few packages of Pedialyte and Nuk bottles. It was a bulky bag.

And each night, midway during our scurries around the living room, one of us would start talking about what we had to do the next day. It wouldn’t take long until we were both in tears and at least one of us had insisted that I just can’t go this week. Why do we do this? Let’s just stay home. We would then go to bed, wake up before the crack of dawn the next morning and chase down our train after a nauseating taxi ride to the station.

Two hours later, as we step out of our taxi onto the orphanage grounds and my favorite nanny catches my eye through the window of the baby-room and then picks my little baby boy and holds him against the pane and waves his hand, the impossible task that we have – the job to step through those doors, to put one foot in front of the other – seems almost possible.

What is so hard about it? Why do we sob into our pillows the night before orphanage-trips?

Because despite the fact that we are in a position to do good and to make a change, it doesn’t always happen that way. Or, at least it doesn’t always happen our way.

We arrange for donations of baby dolls and a play kitchen so that the children will learn some creative play skills. Any play skills at all would be an improvement, actually. But a week after the celebration where all the staff came to help open the packages and watch the children pretend to cook and to feed and to cuddle… the kitchen is boxed up in the corner and the dolls are locked in the cabinet, and each is missing a limb, or a head. It’s not the children’s fault for playing a bit rough… what do you think would happen if you gave 18 toddlers six baby dolls? As their only playthings? And it’s not the nanny’s fault that keeping the kitchen upright and safe was impossible and they worried about it being damaged, or a child getting hurt, and so they boxed it back up because there are only two of them working with 18 love-hungry and hungry-in-general toddlers and do you mamas think that you could contain this sort of potential chaos?

We understand why the staff do things like this. But that doesn’t mean it hurts any less when we spend hours finding just the right kitchen set, only to see it become a burden and the children just as they were before.

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We understand that one mama cannot provide all that’s needed for 8 tiny little hearts and souls, but that doesn’t mean that it’s okay. It doesn’t mean that we can ever feel okay about it.

This should never ever, ever be something that I’m okay with.

So every night before our day at the orphanage we cry, but the next morning we press on. And the weeks tick by and we have an even bigger cry because it doesn’t seem like we’ve done anything until suddenly one day we’re signing a contract with the directors and hiring nannies and cringing as they paint giant dolls on the wall of our room. Our room.

Joy always comes in the morning, doesn’t it? But just like the Israelites couldn’t cross the Jordan until they took their first step… we have to get wet first. We have to get uncomfortable. And just like Elijah was commanded to dig ditches and trust that the rain would come, we must do the hard, the crazy, and the seemingly pointless before the rain comes. But the rain comes. And the river parts. And hope starts rising.



I like you be my mommy

“I like you be my mommy.”

Those six little words, spoken with a beaming smile no less, from my four year old nearly made me come undone recently.

Her heartfelt statement spoke volumes about the positive change in our relationship over the nine months we’ve known one another…because on September 2 of last year, things didn’t seem so promising.

Based on the experiences of our first four children, I went into the day fully prepared for her to grieve and be withdrawn. She did and she was. What I didn’t expect was complete and total aversion to me. Seriously. She did not like me. Not one bit. She let us know early on by hitting, scratching, kicking and biting, and then later by throwing a full-fledged temper tantrum anytime I got near her.

I used all the standard tactics, offering treats, attempting to paint her nails, modeling snuggles, hugs and kisses with my other kids, trying to hold her through the tantrums…

But she wasn’t buying it.

To the point that I clearly remember the first day my older kids went back to school and my husband returned to work. I sat on the kitchen floor and came close to tears as I wondered, “So it all comes down to this…now what?”

I’m not gonna lie, those first days, weeks, and even months were hard. She clearly didn’t like being left at home with me during the weekdays. I was more thankful than ever we had decided not to send our youngest son on to kindergarten this year because he at least provided a distraction and buffer. And in the moments they’d play together, I would madly flip through my worn out copy of The Connected Child (Dr. Karyn Purvis) to find pointers and just be encouraged that we would find our way out of the fog someday.

The constant barrage of visits to see specialists, outpatient surgeries, and what seemed to be 50 million eye drops post glaucoma surgery didn’t seem to be helping the cause.

But slowly, ever so slowly, my often clumsy lead was picked up by the little one watching. I celebrated every milestone as she went from totally distrusting me to tolerating my presence to actually initiating interaction from time to time.

And then the day came that we were side by side in the kitchen, me chopping vegetables and her stirring a sauce when our elbows bumped, she turned to me and said, “I like you be my mommy.”

My soul danced a bit in that moment. Not only has she come to understand the concept of what a mommy is, she likes that I am hers!

And that? Totally makes the months we struggled worth the effort. Totally!

So if anyone out there is still deep in the trenches of the seemingly never ending re-adjustment period, chin up. Keep reaching out to those who have gone before you, keep reading your copy of The Connected Child, keep extending yourself to your child who shuns you. Better days are bound to be coming…

 

 

More than I could bear

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Sometimes I forget that we have a child who is a “heart baby”, a lifelong cardiac patient, a survivor. I see her scars everyday. Scars from a surgery I wasn’t present for, scars from one I was; and, I have come to love what they represent. They are a daily reminder of healing, a unique tattoo of her miraculous-ness, and evidence that she is a living breathing answer to prayer – to many prayers. She was ours for only a month without her scar from heart surgery and I actually don’t remember what her chest looked like without it. Those early days of jetlag and adjusting with a new child with multiple health concerns are such foggy memories to me now. Once Gotcha day happened we kicked into survival mode and camped there for those few short weeks between returning home, heart surgery and returning home again to discover our “new normal”.

This month marks a year since we had the first visits with the cardiologist, the echocardiogram, got the call saying when surgery would be, and prepared as best we could for those days of repair and recovery. I’ve come to believe that God must carry us through hard things in such a delicate way so that He protects us from absorbing the magnitude of the scariest things we endure. He provides us the strength to survive it, like manna from heaven, enough for the exact moment we need it. Not a moment late, He brings strength and the peace that passes understanding. Apart from that core belief, I don’t know how we each survived those first 8 weeks with Grace, or the months prior, praying that she would hang on until we could bring her home.

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I prayed many times that God would open doors for Grace to have surgery in China so that she could recover with the New Day family that she knew instead of us – the family that would feel like strangers. I was afraid we wouldn’t get to her in time because she was deteriorating. I didn’t want to travel throughout China with a cyanotic and medically fragile baby, never-mind the 14 hour flight home not how the in-flight altitude would affect her. Truth be told, I didn’t want to have to say good-bye and kiss her one last time before watching them carry her off to crack her chest. I didn’t want to endure excruciating hours in the waiting room. I didn’t want to suffer like that. My one comfort while we waited to meet Grace, was that perhaps I could only love her “so much” so that it wouldn’t be “so hard” to let her go.

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Those first hours into Gotcha Day wrecked that theory. It was obliterated, actually, and once she was in my arms, I knew for sure that there was no going back. There would be no threshold of protection for my heart, no holding back from loving her fully until surgery was complete. There would be no robotic Mama who could go through the motions until it was safe for me to love her. The things we survived as a family, I believe, were deliberate answers to prayers we had prayed long before Gotcha day. They were answers to prayers birthed from questions that every adoptive parent wonders one time or another: “What if I don’t feel the love for this child as much as I should…What if I do, but she doesn’t love me back?”

How deeply we loved her even before we laid eyes on her produced just enough instinct to protect her, to fight for her, and to battle airlines for oxygen for her. How much we loved her generated just enough patience and compassion to weather the challenging moments when she grieved or felt awful but couldn’t communicate it – so she hit us instead. How securely she became a part of me was necessary so that through the very hardest moments of saying good-bye before surgery, and blowing tear-filled kisses until she disappeared through the double doors – I could feel my heart aching affirming over and over again that she.is.my.daughter. After only 31 days home, we loved her so deeply, so fiercely, and so completely it was as if throughout the trials, the hard moments, the scary moments – We made up for 19 months of lost time. It is as if she has always been ours.

I believe only God weaves hearts together like that, and for some it may take weeks or months. For me, I believe, He knew it had to happen in a hurry. He knew that Grace didn’t need a stranger or an arm’s length Mama with her in the hospital. She didn’t deserve a woman holding back on loving her until she was well. She needed her Mother. She needed all of me.

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Open heart surgery is common. It happens in most every hospital, most every day. It happens to both the newborn and the elderly. When it happened to my child, though, it was an extraordinary kind of restlessness mixed with relief. It simultaneously felt as though my skin was crawling, and that I was about to reach a finish line all at once. Grace had a substantial VSD (ventricular septal defect). There was an opening between her ventricles which allowed oxygenated and un-oxygenated blood to mix before heading out through her body. This caused her poor oxygen saturation and for her a normal day had her sitting in the 70′s. You and I are probably around 99% most days. Her tiny body adapted well and she lived almost 18 months without daily TET spells. These TET spells would be moments, just about every morning, where her oxygen stats would drop and she would lean a little to the right, her eyes would roll back a little, her eyelids would close a bit and she would cry. There was no comforting her. Her knees instinctively retracted to her chest and I would hold her on her side. After a few minutes it would pass. On the day before her surgery we celebrated the passing of her very last TET spell. It seemed strange to celebrate once it was finally time for surgery. I alternated between feeling grateful it was happening, and terrified from knowing too much about the risks. When you have tetralogy of fallot there isn’t a choice. Surgery saves your life.

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On the eve of surgery day, it weighed heavy what an honor and privilege it was to be with her for surgery. It nearly happened while she was in China without us, but the doctors said it was “too risky” and refused to operate. Once here in the US for two weeks, surgery was scheduled. It was happening and I got to be her person. I got to experience her healing alongside her and not just read about it in a report. As I rocked her to sleep that last night before surgery, I sang “Healer” by Kari Jobe, as I had many times before. It was more like blubbering than singing and some of the words weren’t more than a squeak. I remembered in those moments how I had once prayed, before we traveled to China, that God would just let me hold her and tell her how much we love her so that she would know she had a Mama and a Daddy and a Sister and Brother who loved her. All of the things from the travel drama, to TET spells and tests were necessary trials and each one of them shaped me into her Mama on a deeper and deeper level. It was as if her having surgery here fostered a faster attachment, a faster bonding of her to us and us to her. The morning we said good-bye to her we took our time. We sang, we played, we told her that we loved her and kissed her 1000 times. Grace’s Daddy and I waved and said “see you soon” and we held back our heavy tears until she was gone from our sight. Once she was through the doors we collapsed into each other’s arms and bawled our eyes out.

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Once the we learned the surgery was over, her heart was beating again on it’s own after bypass, and her oxygen saturation was in the upper 90′s it felt like everything in me exhaled after a long day of holding my breath, and many weeks of praying for that moment. Seeing her pink fingers, toes, and lips after a month of bluish gray fingers, toes, and lips is something I will never forget. The transformation in 8 hours was life changing, for all of us. I wouldn’t have missed it for anything in the world, and yet…

many times prior I begged God to let it happen without me. Many times I asked Him, “Why?” Why are you closing the door to this? Why aren’t you healing her in China so that we can bring her home well? Why are you slow in bringing about her healing, Lord?”

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I now know it was a blessing. I would have it no other way. It provided me a unique opportunity to grow and become the mother she needed to survive and recover and thrive. More importantly, it provided many opportunities for her to see me be there for her during the time when she was most needy. God knew I needed to experience her transformation with her, and He knew I needed to have some transformation myself. For the 10 days Grace was hospitalized I was there 10 days. I was there when she declined and her lungs filled with fluid. I was there when she had not one, but two weird allergic reactions and had to convince the doctors that, yes, it really was an allergic reaction and they needed to take action (glory to God). I was there singing over her and praying over her and massaging her abdomen to help try to avoid being re-catheterized (ahem). I was there to advocate on her behalf for pain meds (the kind that work), and lay next to her smooshed in a tiny hospital bed because it seemed to matter to her that I was as close as could be. I was there to diagnose thrush (seriously). I was there with her as her mother – but I had once prayed to not be there. I would have missed out on so much.

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My point in telling you this is to highlight the very real truth that sometimes we do not get that which we pray hardest for, because it won’t produce that which we need most. We pray for our children to be healthy, or at the very least, have the needs we expect based on our referral information. Of course we pray for that – everyone does! Everyone hopes for a healthy child. For example, how about the classic line before an ultra-sound: “boy or girl, it doesn’t matter as long as they’re healthy. Except it doesn’t always work out that way. Ultrasounds don’t show everything, and neither do referral papers. Many a child has been revealed to have more needs than what was shown on their referral documents – my child had several more.

And yet, nothing that surprises us surprises God. What a comfort that is to me daily, because the truth is that God does allow more than we can handle. We like to believe that God says in scripture, that He won’t give us more than we can handle. It says in Scripture that He won’t allow us to be tempted more than we can bear (1 Corinthians 10:13); but I promise you, He often allows into our lives more than we can handle because if we could “handle” all that comes our way – we wouldn’t need Him very much – would we? (Psalm 68:19). He promises to never leave or forsake us. In the moments when it is too much for me to bear alone, those are the moments when I have no choice but to press into Him and rely on His faithfulness and His strength. I am chronically carried away by waves of fear – but when I look back I so clearly see His providence, His grace, His wisdom, His presence, and His promises fulfilled. There is truly very little I can handle without Him. The truth is that we can only handle the hard things of this life, and become better instead of bitter, because He provides the strength when we need it. He provided it for me, He will provide it for you, too. If He leads you on this journey of adoption you can trust that He will guide you to the child He already knows is your child; and in the moments when it is more than you think you can handle alone, He will carry you through. You can even give it to Him because He does promise to carry us (Isaiah 46:3-4).

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I didn’t want to endure open heart surgery with my daughter. I wanted to travel to China and bring home a healed, well, easy child. Perhaps you do too. Let me encourage you that sometimes the very best stories aren’t born from words like: healed, well, easy, or normal. Maybe you are waiting for a referral and hoping for something “easy and repaired”, like I did. Maybe you have your referral and you are waiting to find out an update, hoping that everything in the oh-so-outdated file is “better now” or “fixed”. Maybe you’ve just returned home with a child you expected to have a minor correctable need, only to be surprised with a diagnosis which includes surgeries, procedures, medicines; and now, the picture of what you thought your life would be has been shattered. Whatever your story, you are not alone and if you let Him, God will weave a redemptive story from the seemingly “unanswered” prayers.

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Nothing about adoption is easy. Nothing about parenting a child with special needs, medical needs or attachment needs is easy, and most days it’s the attachment needs that scream (quite literally) the loudest. If you, like I and many others before you, are here educating yourself about a variety of needs so that you can navigate your adoption paperwork, a referral, or a new diagnosis; let me encourage you:I knew as much as I needed to know at the time, to say “I will” to our daughter. I’m grateful I didn’t know about all of the things on referral day because, like everyone, I have moments of cowardice and I fear and I could have easily been scared out of one of the most profound blessings of my entire life. Adopting a precious little girl has been a blessing; but even more was growing to know Her creator on a deeper level and trusting His heart and faithfulness in a way I could not have unless He allowed more into my life than I can bear alone.

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“He tends His flock like a shepherd; He gathers His lambs in His arms and carries them close to His heart; He gently leads those that have young”
— Isaiah 40:11



Then and Now

As an adoptive parent there is definitely one thing that I stress over more than anything else. One might think it would have something to do with doctor’s appointments, hospital visits, surgeries, or something else of that nature. But those things come easily to me. I’m usually sipping my cup of coffee and enjoying my book by the time I get the call from the operating room that the procedure has begun. No, what I struggle with most is the balance of preserving my children’s pasts while escorting them into their futures.

Every adoptive parent views their situation differently. I love adoption, and I encourage adoption. But it breaks my heart that my children had to lose so much in order to join our family. I also love China. I ache for “the land of my heart” on a daily basis. It makes me sad that my children had to leave it behind. One of my more poignant memories from my China trips happened in my daughter’s home city just a couple of days after I had adopted her. We were out for one of our daily walks, and as we were waiting to cross the street, a young couple on a small motorcycle turned around the corner where we were standing. Their laughter echoed through the air as she wrapped her arms around him a little more tightly. In that instant, I realized that was my daughter’s birthright. To grow up in that city, to be a young woman on the back of a motorcycle with the jokes on her lips in Mandarin. And I hurt that she would never have it. Both then and now. Yet, I’m so very thankful she’s here with me.

I feel like I owe it to my Chinese kids to honor their roots. However, I also want them to know that they are fully a part of us. Like so many other adoptive families ours consists of both biological and adopted children, and I am very conscientious about not having an “us” and “them” divide between the two. Birth stories and adoption stories are woven interchangeably into our lives. Red Envelopes full of “lucky” money at Chinese New Year are just as much a part of us as our Christmas stockings and Easter baskets. But I’m always looking for new ways to improve upon the delicate balance I strive to maintain.

So recently when I “coincidentally” stumbled across the website for an American photographer that used to live in China while re-decorating my entryway I was thrilled. My search for the perfect piece ended when I discovered a picture from the small village where my daughter lived with her foster parents before coming to be with us. A little bit of her past, right here in her home where she can see it every day. To anybody else it just looks like a picture of simple, tree-lined stream. But she recognized the location immediately. Once upon a time, she passed it every day. And she’s the one that counts. I’m way out of my area of expertise when it comes to this whole adoptive parenting thing. But this one I got exactly right. She is so proud of “her” picture, not because of the scenery but because of what it says. That photo in my entryway is a reminder that I cherish every part of her. That every, single bit of my baby girl’s life is precious to me…even the parts that came before I did. I am her “now” but I also hold the memories of her “then” very close to my heart.
Qingyundian