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.

IMG_8063

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.

IMG_1000

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

Gbath14-1769

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.

recovery

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.

closeup2

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.

mamagrace

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.

pinklips

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.

o2

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?”

pinkfingers

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.

awake

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).

daddyholding

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.

foldedhands

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.

thumbsup


“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



The Party Blower

You know the ones – the party blowers for birthdays with Hello Kitty or Batman on them. They make a loud noise and extend with airflow, sometimes with streamers and usually accompanied by delirious laughter from children and sometimes adults alike.

kids

We opened a package of these on a van ride home just for fun. Just for fun. But there are things in parenting a special needs child that should be fun but start as work first. Painful work to get somewhere normal. The places naturally taken for granted by most are worked for and inched towards on a daily basis. Grace took that party blower and painstakingly placed her lips around the mouthpiece and blew and blew to no avail. No extension of the party blower and no delirious laughter. In fact, the very opposite. A zero to ninety mile per hour build up of screaming, yelling and crying and the party blower is thrown on the ground. And she is mad and I am frustrated for her. There are days where nothing seems easy. Her siblings put their party blowers down in their lap and wait. I am amazed at their ability to grieve with their sister who grieves unexpectedly and without warning. That party blower is normal childhood fun, but for her, it is a speech therapy mountainous hurdle to leap over with lips that have scar tissue and the mechanics of a mouth not quite right. The truth is, she has every capacity in her to blow that party blower. She has the lungpower and the will, but just could not get things positioned right and that party blower is terribly hard.

Sometimes the hurdles she has to jump can really blow a party! She is angry and crying and the atmosphere has gone from celebratory to tense in a matter of seconds. It stinks to work that hard for joy.

I am reminded in that moment how I can strive for joy. I get frustrated in working for it, throw it down and feel defeated. How the capacity for joy is there at salvation but life sends it’s hurdles and the scar tissue on my heart can sometimes make it difficult to position that birthright of joy. For joy to project outward, there is a repositioning and restoring that has to take place. It can get stuck inside and only in my desperation and the throwing up of hands do things get loosened up enough for the capacity for joy to make its way upward and outward. An overflow in abundance is right there waiting. I have to acknowledge my need for it to be restored and placed right again.

2014-06-03 09.01.56

Grace finally has that desperation. She asks her sister with a teary raspy voice to pick up the party blower. Her older sister does, encouraging and desperately waiting too. There are some things we can’t give Grace as much as we want to. Joy is one of them. We can demonstrate it and model it, but that positioning of joy has to come from the Father and bubble up from within. So desperately, for a handful of seconds, Grace works for joy. And she finally gets the positioning correct and blows that party blower to full extension! We all rejoice in 5:00 traffic and she continues to blow the party blower and there is celebration. She has found the right position in her little cleft lip and palate to produce joy. That joy is contagious and covers over the grief just moments before. Joy restored in a party blower celebration and another piece of joy restored in her heart. And we learn as a family to ride the waves of grief and joy and marvel at the ways in which joy is more prevalent now and where grief is fleeting. So we celebrate in that van, the milestone of positioned joy, as we crawl baby steps home bumper to bumper.

2014-06-03 09.00.58



become a Mentoring Mom

I am so. excited.

This project has been in the *dream* stage for a long time. But with a website overhaul pending, and realizing our need for more organizational and informational supports to make NHBO all it can be, the time to turn this dream into reality is now.

Joining me on this adventure are Rebecca, Liberty, Becky, Amy and Sheryl. All moms of precious kiddos from China, who just happen to have special needs. All passionate advocates for the orphan. And all just as excited as I am to be working together to launch this crazy big idea.

And we want you, adoptive mama, to be in on this, too.

So just what is it we are doing? Well, I’m so glad you asked.

Our dream is to establish a network of Mentoring Moms (or Dads, as the case may be) to represent most, if not all, of the special needs that are seen in children coming home from China. Each need would be represented by two or more moms, depending on the amount of support a specific need might require and how many children are represented by that specific need. Each team would be lead by one mom who checks in regularly with the larger NHBO team.

Collectively, each team of Mentoring Moms would work together to 1) improve the resources available on NHBO and keep it updated with the most current and most accurate information available for that specific need 2) publish occasional posts on the NHBO blog and help raise awareness through social media 3) work together to help educate and inform those who are considering parenting a child with special needs 4) work together to support parents who are already home with a child and wondering what the best next steps in parenting a child with that specific need.

Individually, a Mentoring Mom would be someone who is parenting a child with a specific special need that they have become so familiar with, so knowledgeable about, that they’ve become something of a non-trained-but-eat-sleep-and-dream-about-it expert.

I know that parenting two children who came home from China with unrepaired bilateral clubfoot has pushed me to learn way more about clubfoot than I ever wanted to. I also know how much I love being able to share with other soon-to-be clubfoot moms about our experience. From the first traumatic look at Jude’s bruised and twisted feet in China, through 7 sets of casts, and then finally to tendon transfer surgery, we’ve been through a lot together. And I learned so much on the way.

MentoringMom

So here is what we’d want from you, expert mama:

– Mom to a child from China adopted through the SN program
– Commit to volunteering approximately one to two hours per week
– Be willing to work on a two to three person team for each individual need, as well as the larger Mentoring Mom team
– Be available to discuss via email or FB the project as well as ongoing needs for NHBO
– Organize/collect information for the NHBO site (resources and special needs pages) as well as links, blogs and available support
– Write up one post, at least quarterly, about real-life parenting of a child with that special need
– Seek out additional resources, blog links, and other moms with wisdom to share with NHBO readers
– Be willing to help spread the word about the NHBO Mentoring Mom program through social media
– Share with other moms who are considering a child with this special need and/or are already are parenting a child with this special need

Sounds fun, doesn’t it? We would love to have you on board.

Below is a Special Needs Checklist we’ve created to help organized the more common special needs seen in children adopted from China. But by no means is it exhaustive. Please review it to find the specific special need you are interested in being a Mentor for and select that need when you complete the form below. If you would like to be a Mentoring Mom and are parenting a child with a special need not listed, let us know by completing the form – you’ll have an opportunity to share more about your child’s specific need there.

snchecklist1

click checklist to enlarge

So, are you ready? All that’s left is this short questionnaire, designed to help us get to know you a little better. If you have questions, feel free to comment on this post or on the form below.



During the process

During the adoption process, there are few things more fierce than the determination of an adoptive mama (or baba) to get to her baby. She has a strange, indescribable love for her child that carries such intensity, it’s often overwhelming. The “my-claws-will-come-out-if-you-get-in-my-way” mama bear protective instincts kind-of-love are ferocious and very real. Anything that stands in the way of getting to her baby is met with aggressive determination to overcome. She is her child’s best earthly advocate and she knows it, so she fights with love for her baby in a way that may appear insane to bystanders. To have such powerful feelings for a child, sometimes living on the other side of the world who she has never met, is confusing for many people. It’s not logical and makes no sense. I know this. But love often doesn’t make sense, does it? And I am, once again, feeling these intense emotions as we wait to bring Dumpling home. Maya Angelou said, “Love recognizes no barriers. It jumps hurdles, leaps fences, penetrates walls to arrive at its destination full of hope.” Yes, that sweet Maya Angelou, whose poetry I so enjoyed reading when I was younger, knew a thing or two about love.

Knowing that my God is fighting even harder to bring him home to us makes the feelings even more intense and staggering. He is already moving mountains, and I am anticipating Him continuing to overcome barriers in amazing ways as the process continues. I am so grateful for the opportunity to bring a SON home through adoption, to experience God’s intense love for His children in a small earthly way. Knowing that we will bring Dumpling home at the end of this long process is what keeps me focused and pushing forward. He is waiting for us and doesn’t even know it. I think about him all the time. I look at the clock, factor the 12 hour difference, and wonder what he’s doing. I study his referral paperwork over and over to try to memorize his routine, realizing that it’s probably different because the information is a year old. I cling to the information I have nonetheless. I watch the few videos I have of him obsessively. I stare at his pictures, looking for any new piece of information I may not have noticed before. I wonder if he got enough to eat today, if he got to play with friends, and if his boo-boos were kissed. I wonder if someone loved him today, yesterday, last week, last month. I wonder if he knows he matters. I wonder if he knows what hope is. I wonder if he knows how much he’s loved, by us and his heavenly Father.

New Picture- August 2013- An Orphan's Wish

Despite all that I don’t know right now, I know that He knows. And that gives me peace. I know that the Father has His hand on our precious little guy and He loves Dumpling more than I can imagine. His love is stronger and greater and mightier. His love is deep and His love is wide. His love prevails and crosses all oceans. His love is all we need, and knowing that is so freeing.

I’ll finish with this sweet quote from the late Maya Angelou: “I am grateful to have been loved and to be loved now and to be able to love, because that liberates. Love liberates. It doesn’t just hold—that’s ego. Love liberates. It doesn’t bind. Love says, ‘I love you. I love you if you’re in China. I love you if you’re across town. I love you if you’re in Harlem. I love you. I would like to be near you. I’d like to have your arms around me. I’d like to hear your voice in my ear. But that’s not possible now, so I love you …’”



Never Say Never Again

My husband, Joe, and I never set out to be parents of this many kids. If there can be such a thing as accidental adoptions, we have experienced them. Now though, our adoptions are no longer accidental. This is the way we have chosen to live. The path that led us to this decision, at a rather young age, is long and winding. It’s also a source of curiosity for families with the average one to two children. We understand that, and that’s why we’re okay answering the questions ‘are you done now?!?’ and ‘how many more do you think you’ll have?’ We’re okay answering it now, because the answer comes easily these days.

We don’t know.

We have said we were done, both to each other, and to our friends and family, so many times that it has become ridiculous. Now, when people ask, we just smile and raise an eyebrow. People are so off put by the fact we won’t commit to an end point for our child rearing days that it bothered us at first. We felt pressure to know we were finished. Sadly, that pressure led to us feeling like we should be done. There is no should anymore, there is only watching and waiting to see what life has in store for us.

We started out knowing exactly how many children we wanted. We tried to have your typical American family, and when it didn’t work the typical way, we decided to forego infertility treatments of any kind because we thought that adoption would be ‘easier.’ We learned that lesson the hard way. It isn’t easier, but it’s beautiful. After adopting three little boys domestically, and then a treasured little princess, we declared ourselves done.

The domestic four

I felt sad about this, but comforted myself by working with children who had no parents and needed medical care that I could provide as a nurse. This led me to Ghana…and to our next three children.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

People asked, yet again, ‘you’re done NOW, right?’ And, we felt the pressure, so we caved and said ‘FOR SURE!’ We had seven kids, which is three to four times the national average. And, we had just dropped three older children into the middle of the children we had parented from day one, wouldn’t it be crazy to consider doing this again?

Yes, it would be, but we did. Having a medical background as a pediatric nurse makes me unafraid of special needs that scare most parents to their core. And, maybe I should be more afraid. Maybe I’m naïve. But, my naiveté led me to China and to our daughter who was dying in her orphanage of a Congenital Heart Defect that turned out to be much more complex then even we could have imagined.

Tess in the orphanage

We barely made it home with our baby girl. Her heart condition will require an untold amount of surgical intervention in the future. It may lead to the need for a new heart. But, I’m not kidding you, the girl is a miracle. And, watching that miracle happen, right in front of our eyes, has done something indescribable for our family. It has made us never say never.

And, we didn’t. We happily welcomed our ninth child to our home in November of 2013. We could never say never to him.

Bowen and Joe

The world around us says it a lot though. They wonder how it is EVER possible to give enough to the children in our home. How will they have enough one on one time? Won’t they suffer having so many brothers and sisters? How will we have time for each other? How will we have time for them? When will it be ENOUGH?!?

Becky kissing Tess

I feel terrible every time I hear this, like I’m the most selfish person in the world for bringing these children into our home and forcing them to live this way.

Kids Playing checkers

So, yet again, pride made us promise we were finished.

Then, we had a fight. Yes, my husband and I fought. Because, one evening, in a fit of anger over the children on the other side of the world who were suffering with diseases that could be fixed easily here in the U.S., who were experiencing neglect and dying alone with no family, I decided I didn’t care anymore. I don’t care what other people think. I know what I can handle, and if a Social Worker agrees with me, and the foreign government approves it, then I want to keep adopting.

Being honest over the fact that we fought over this is hard for me. Just like I don’t want to be a bad mother, I don’t want to be a bad wife. I don’t want to push Joe into living in a way he doesn’t want to live. And, I was. I still do to some extent. Joe would be happy being dad of a small family. He’s just happy wherever we are in life. I am the one who pushes to the future, and sometimes, the future on the horizon in front of him scares him a little. This time, it scared him a lot. While I see what could have been for the children in our home, he worries about what will be for the children in our home. How will we pay for college for all of them? Will we EVER get to retire?

I called him selfish.

How unfair.

After arguing, discussing, and then praying, we finally came together, to the same spot in this journey. We came to the place where we’re okay taking it one day, and one child, at a time. We came to the place where we could move forward hand in hand, one more time…well, maybe…to China.

We would like to introduce you to our daughter, Cate.

Cate Collage

She is the reason that we keep on saying yes to this adventure. Well, her and the nine other little people who continue to say to me “Mom! We could do this just one more time!!!”

Kids on the Beach

~Guest post by Full Plate Mom

A Birth Story

Motherhood always starts with a birth story.

Because no matter if you pull your baby out of a birthing pool with your own two hands, receive her from the arms of a social worker outside the hospital nursery, or pull him – screaming – from the arms of the orphanage worker who brought him halfway across the province and met you in a stuffy civil affairs room thick with the smell of stale smoke and fear, motherhood always starts in a monumental moment.

And you never feel ready. But in that monumental moment, a mother is born.

Cora came on a cold Beijing night. After waiting out part of my labor in a hot shower, we called our doctor and I couldn’t speak through the contractions so she told us to get to the hospital as fast as we could. Jacob and I loaded up in an old jeep, borrowed from a friend, with our nurse friend Joan. (It comforted me to think that if the baby came faster than we thought and I happened to have her on the side of a road somewhere between our village and Beijing, I’d be accompanied by a nurse.) Joan massaged my back as Jacob sped towards the hospital. 45 minutes and too many excruciating bumps to count later, we were there. The night passed in a blur of sleeplessness, monitors, and talk of heart-rates and meconium. After a few tense moments when they discussed an emergency C-section, and another few tense moments when I shouted at all the nurses to speak English instead of Chinese, Cora was born. “It’s a girl,” the doctor shouted. “What beautiful double eyelids,” the nurses murmured. “I’m so glad I’m not pregnant anymore,” I sighed.

And in that moment, our daughter was born. But to be perfectly honest, it isn’t when I feel like I fully became her mother.

That came later… weeks later, actually, when I was sore and bleeding from feeding her; when every two hours I would literally bite down on something to keep from crying out in pain. It came from the round-the-clock care of a newborn, and meeting the never-ending needs that I had no idea how to meet. From the tears and the frustration and the fears and the uncertainty and the utter exhaustion. Somehow, from all of that, I walked through and came out the other side beginning to really feel like her mama.

babymckean-9

Alea came on a warm Zhengzhou morning. Bundled in a thick pink snowsuit and groggy from a just-awakened morning nap, the orphanage worker thrust her into my arms at the bidding of an agency representative. Alea’s expression was stoic and calm – shocked to her core, I’m sure. She didn’t make eye contact, but she grabbed onto my necklace and wouldn’t let go. When we weren’t looking at her, she’d steal glances at us. But the instant we turned our eyes towards her, she’d look back at my necklace. We signed papers and took pictures and stared at each other in shock. We couldn’t believe that just like that we had another daughter. The only person who seemed unfazed by it all was Cora, who just kept cooing “Hi Sissy” as if getting a new sibling on the first floor of a stuffy Chinese government building was the most normal thing in the world.

DSC02290

And in that moment, our daughter joined our family. But to be perfectly honest, it isn’t when I feel like I fully became her mother.

That came later… weeks later, actually, when her mouth was sore and festering with a terrible virus that covered every surface of her mouth with painful ulcers. I felt utterly ill-equipped to take care of her. I’m not sure how we stayed out of the hospital… she didn’t eat solid foods for 4 days, and she’d only suck down the bare minimum of liquid requirements in a bottle slathered with Orajel. She’d cry out inconsolably every 30-40 minutes around the clock; it was like having a newborn for whom you have no comfort tricks. She didn’t trust me, and it seemed like I was always coming at her with some sort of syringe filled with medicine that I quite literally had to shove down her throat. She’d gurgle and spit out her medicine, and I’d clamp her jaws shut like our pediatrician had shown me while she clawed to get out from under me. My arms bled from her razor-sharp fingernails, and I cried as I worried about all the damage I was unintentionally doing to our fledgling attachment. But somehow, from the tears and the frustration and the fears and the uncertainty and the utter exhaustion… somehow, from all of that, I walked through and came out the other side beginning to really feel like her mama. And though I feared it would have the opposite effect, improbably her illness seemed to help her understand I was her mama, too. She’d cling to me moments after she fought me off, and she wanted me more than anyone else for the first time in our journey together.

In the thick of those days, my good friend Anne wrote me a note and in it she said something that settled deep in my heart and hasn’t left it. She said, “Don’t lose hope! God is doing a deep healing right now… And he is taking you through the labor pains your heart needs, too. He is making you a family, and in his great plan that process always requires pain and all-in sacrifice.”

And maybe that’s why motherhood always starts with a birth story. It always starts with pain and suffering and agony and this nearly-consuming fear that screams out of your most primal places that “I can’t do this” even as you’re DOING IT. And it doesn’t matter how you come into motherhood. It may not be physical labor – to be honest, I’m finding the “labor” of bringing Alea into my heart is much more all-consuming, exhausting, and painful than it was for Cora. I had an epidural when I gave birth to Cora, but there is no epidural for the labor of an adoption.

A few weeks before we traveled to meet Alea, I saw this post on my friend Tara Livesay’s blog. She featured a quote from Brene Brown that stopped my cold. “Faith isn’t an epidural. It is a midwife who stands next to me saying, ‘Push, it’s supposed to hurt.’”

Push, it’s supposed to hurt.

Making a family out of brokenness and tragedy isn’t for the faint of heart. It isn’t cute and pretty. It isn’t about what outfit the child is going to wear to their consulate appointment or when to get them their first haircut. Sure it can be beautiful in the midst of the pain, but it is supposed to hurt and you just keep pushing.

Some families come home with little ones who immediately need to be checked into hospitals for major cardiac surgeries. (And some of us wonder how they do it.) Some families come home with little ones who kick and claw and scream and fight to get away from them. (And some of us wonder how they do it.) Some families come home with little ones who get mouth viruses and won’t eat or drink. (I realize in the scheme of things, our little trial seems laughable.) Whatever the path our journeys take us on, one thing is a constant… Bringing a child into your family requires a lot of pushing through the pain; a lot of leaning into the pain and letting it do its work. It requires labor. It’s hard. It’s messy. It hurts like hell. You always think you can’t do it until you just do. (We are all capable of so much more than we think.) It hurts, you push and you push some more.

But after labor, a family is born.

IMG_8605



Land of the free

Memorial Day. Pools everywhere open for the season. Grills are fired up. Sparkles are sparkling. That’s what it’s always been—a day off and a homecoming party for our good friend summer. I wouldn’t say I grew up without a patriotic heart; I knew all the words to the national anthem and belt out the alto part with my sisters. But, Memorial Day was more about burgers and hammocks than the red, white, and blue.

This weekend marks my 37th Memorial Day. Along the journey of the last several, my heart swelled for those stars and stripes and all they represent.

Four years ago, when I rode those escalators up to the 5th floor of an office building in Guangzhou, I rose my right hand and took an oath of truth, the last step in a 3-year journey that started before the life of the little one I wore on my side started. Our Chinese translators were not allowed into the room with us, a room packed full of American citizens who all either cradled or held the little hands of Chinese children who were nearly American citizens too. Despite the nearly tangible fatigue of red tape in that room, I could almost hear the sound of the national anthem in my heart as I saw the freedom I have in a new way.

Memorial-Day-post-pic-2

I’ve never been more grateful for the sacrifice of the brave before me as I am now. I have never felt as indebted to those who have fought the fight and continue to do so to protect the freedom that I live everyday as a wife and mother of four — one of whom was not born to me within these borders but who now calls it her home too.

I don’t agree with all American policies. There are all sorts of things awry here, I know, but politics and patriotism are not the same thing. And, perhaps international adoptive parents should be the most patriotic of all, not in an egocentric or arrogant sort of way at all but with deep gratitude for those who have paid the greatest price for our peace and freedom, a freedom that allows our family to be a family.

The sun is shining today, and the air is just warm enough to tease us to go to the pool and try taking a dip in the water that still feels like spring. We’ll grill cheeseburgers, and my husband and I will sit together out back while the kids ride scooters in our driveway. Traditions are sweet especially when they help us celebrate a day that means more now to me than it did before. The freedom so many people have given their lives for is what has made our family what it is.

Blest with victory and peace, may the heav’n rescued land
Praise the Power that hath made and preserved us a nation.
Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,
And this be our motto: “In God is our trust.”
And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave!