Bonding Goes Both Ways

The literature on children bonding to their new parents is plentiful but it falls short when it comes to the parents bonding with the child.

With our first adoption I didn’t even consider it an issue. After all she was 16 months old and completely helpless. I had bonded to her before I had ever met her and once we were together it was all so natural. It is often like this when adopting a younger child.

As we continued to adopt we sometimes found it more challenging to bond with our children. It wasn’t spontaneous or instant. It took effort, prayer and time. As I have said before some kids are just simply easy to love. They are the ones that do not test your patience, they exhibit less frequent irritating behavior and they are simply a joy to be around. If only everything in life was “that easy”!

But the truth is, it’s not… and sometimes it’s the ones that we work the hardest for that are the most rewarding. We feel that God has put these challenges in our life for a reason. He has entrusted delightful, special and challenging children to our care and it’s our job to love and nurture them into adulthood.

Actually, it’s these children that send me “straight into prayer” as I am answering the same question for the umpteenth time and trying to smile through the answer. “They” keep me closer to Him. It’s not the “easy life” that sends me into prayer, it’s the challenging times that keep me on my knees.

So how does a new parent attach and love a “hard to bond with child”?

Here are some ideas that have helped us.

1. We don’t expect to love our new child right away. If we do, alleluia! However, often times we have found that it takes time. Give yourselves permission to take the time you need to bond. Be nice to yourselves and to each other during the preliminary bonding stage.

2. We know that it is a process and that there is no set time that “love begins”. It starts small and grows. It comes from knowing how much God loves us and if we are worthy of his love certainly we can love HIS children.

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3. We try to understand our child and their past. Why they respond the way they do to the world around them. We try to appreciate the fact that they have survived so much already and that they should be celebrated for their accomplishments. Sometimes it goes a little deeper and we need to understand the learning challenges that our new child may have. It really helps to have this information so you can better understand them and how they think.

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4. Our new child needs to fit into their new life. We are not going to rearrange our whole family to fit around their desires. They need to obey the rules of the house and learn how to be part of a family. We all need to work together to make it work. Everyone is happier when we all work together!

5. We try to find common interests. I refuse to play Barbies but I will happily do a puzzle! I think it is so nice to share a common interest, it is bonding when both of you are enjoying your time together! Have fun with your new child!

6. I really like it when my child begins to speak English. Sometimes charades, sign language and pointing is all you need but it becomes so much more of a relationship when you speak the same language. In many ways that is selfish of me. Had I known we were going to adopt 13 children I would have put more effort into learning Mandarin.

7. Time together is key! Think of all the time they have spent away from you… the only way to really know your child, is to be with them as much as possible.

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8. Try not to compare your “hard to bond with child” to your other children We are all so different and we will all manage these difficult times in our own way. I do keep in mind what worked and didn’t work with the other children but I try my hardest not to compare them. I remember after our first birth child I felt so confident! This parenting thing is easy! I got it down! I can do this! And then came child #2, she was COMPLETELY different than our first child. What an awakening!

9. Whatever cares your child needs, you should do them. It is bonding changing a colostomy bag, helping an older child change his diaper, handing them their daily dose of medicine or combing your older daughter’s hair.

10. It’s a choice, chose to love your child.

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11. Pray about it. Give it to God and fast if you can.

12. It is also nice to have someone trustworthy to talk to such as your social worker or another adoptive mom. It helps to process your feelings and to get yourself back on track.

I hope these suggestions will help you.
Blessings,
Jean



wounded heart

Character band-aids. They seemed to me like a colorful slice of a pacifier that we ever so gently stick on our children’s wounds…sometimes they even actually even cover blood. I have in the past had what you could call a ‘love/hate relationship’ with character band-aids.

That is until a Mother’s Day tea in one of my children’s kindergarten classrooms.
I sat that morning cramped in my child’s classroom chair, sipping weak tea and eating store bought butter cookies along with a bunch of other women I recognize by face but not by name. My child’s beaming face made the awkwardness worthwhile…that and the promise that we were going to hear our children read their writer’s workshop masterpieces.

The prompt they were given for this particular assignment was, “I love my mother because…”

Yes, predictable.

And many of the answers that were given were rather predictable.

I smiled along with the other moms as they heard their child sing their praises with:

“I love my mommy because she takes me to the pool.”

or

“I love my mommy because she lets me do karate.”

and

“I love my mommy because she cooks good food.”

Sweet for sure, each declaration brought smiles from all of us. As I listened I wondered what accolade I would be assigned by my soon to be kindergarten grad.

Finally it was my turn to hear why that particular child of mine loved me.

“I love my mommy because when I fall she comes to the rescue and she gives me a band-aid. And I love her because she helps us when we get hurt and I love her just because.”

It hit home to me right then that an often overlooked “special need” is that of the wounded heart.

Hearts that suffer an early betrayal. Hearts that become trained not to expect their needs to be met when they were one of many in their institutions. Hearts that find trust difficult.

And this child of mine with a wounded heart…over time…this child believed in me.

At first I held my breath, trying not to react in front of those other moms I didn’t really know. Then the tears began to fall as I sat reaching for everything within me to prevent the ugly cry from happening right there in my child’s classroom. It was in that moment that I realized those character band-aids were actually so, SO much more than just a pacifier.

Those band-aids were a symbol to my child–my beautiful, precious, tender, tough, wounded-heart child–that I do care. They serve as a tangible picture of my love for my child. A reassurance that someone, particularly me, will be there to care for my child’s needs. That child may have had their heart broken more than once before they came to know me as Mama.

But I’m here now. So are the character band-aids. And now? Well, I’ll apply them with a smile instead of a sigh.

 

 

the greatest special need of all

Welcome to Amy, mom to Grace adopted from China 8 months ago, and our newest contributor at No Hands But Ours. Amy blogs at Stops Along the Journey.

Special needs.

We hear those words so often in so many places; schools, adoption agencies, the work place, fast food restaurants, and facebook. Adoptive parents who choose to love and seek after and bring home a child diagnosed as having “special needs” are inundated with all sorts of language and ideas and methods to succeed at parenting a child who has “special needs”.

I remember searching this website for answers on what different “special needs” meant. Everything from blood disorders to orthopedic issues to cardiac defects. Many words linked to blogs linked to stories of family after family who was living with “special needs” and how they managed to live with them and in spite of them. I would go from this site to our medical check list of what we would “accept” and sometimes things I assumed were scary turned out to seem not so scary after reading about them on this site. I am forever grateful.

I remember checking the line for “cardiac defects”, “GI defects”, “blood disorders”…imagining what it would be like to morph from a family with zero “special needs” into a family with them. Unknown special needs, in fact. What if there was more than one…more than two…good heavens – more than three? No…that would be too much to handle. I could never be that mom. I don’t have what it takes to be that mom.

Today I am that mom. Today our youngest daughter, home just 8 months exactly, has rocked our non-special-needs family into one with special needs galore. Although, it’s not how I imagined special needs to look. At all.

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Her medical information listed: tetralogy of fallot, repaired tracheo-esophageal fistula, possible hyrdonephrosis, and hospitalizations for chronic pneumonia. As we researched these “special needs” we felt confident this was something we could handle, help heal, and provide for. Today those special needs aren’t really part of our daily life; not really. Her heart is repaired and has been for 6 months. We monitor how fast she eats and what she eats because her esophagus isn’t as efficient as it should be. Her kidneys are normal. The needs we discovered after meeting her are barely noticeable as well. Her crooked spine has improved some and her tracheomalacia (a result of her repaired fistula) is unnoticeable most days.

There is one special need, however that is noticeable most days. No doctor can prescribe a procedure or a prescription to heal or to help. It wasn’t listed in her referral information, nor is it something you would notice in a photo or physical exam.

There isn’t a school, or drug or teacher that will be of help, and there isn’t anything I can do to speed along the healing.

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The need to feel attached, secure, loved…those are the special needs we notice always with Grace. They surface in the first waking moments. They are revealed when I leave her side at times to throw something in the garbage or use the bathroom. They color the way we do nap-times and bedtimes and doctor visits. They are displayed in the joy she feels when all of our family is together in the same room and no one is missing. They are obvious in the middle of the night when she wakes and cries and instantly relaxes at the warmth of her hand in mine. The process of attaching isn’t complete once your plane arrives or six or twelve months later. There is no alarm to sound when the magic number of days have come and gone. There’s no graduation day, completion ceremony or degree. It may be a life long process with continuous testing even after we think “we’re good”.

We read about it, we studied it, we did the work and imagined the scenarios and grieved over the reasons, the many reasons why children like Grace, live with this “special need”. It’s the part of adoption that we work at long after the paperwork we completed has expired and long after we are home and unpacked. Years of gotcha day anniversaries later we will look back and remember how far we have come. I look back after 8 months and marvel at how she panics less when she wakes from a nap alone in her room. I give thanks and praise when I can go use the bathroom alone because she isn’t a puddle of tears on the ground in the fetal position after I walk ten feet from her into the bathroom. It is a marathon, not a sprint and every mile of this marathon is sprinkled with victories to be won.

Why? Why is it that these children we have sought after, fought to bring home, wanted and traveled the world for test and question our love and loyalty and devotion? I don’t know; but then again I’ve never been abandoned. I’ve never dealt with chronic loss. How many times was she abandoned? On paper – once. In her reality – dozens and dozens of times. Every time she lay in hospital bed, left in a room alone and strapped to a bed, perhaps just when she was used to one nurse there was an inevitable shift change and it translated to loss. How about the time she was left with a stranger only to a few hours later be given to new strangers, us. Strangers who hugged her and love her like crazy… only she wonders if we might leave her too.

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Attachment might be the greatest special need of all; and the most challenging need to meet because to us, it doesn’t always make sense, and it isn’t always convenient. You won’t find it on your referral paperwork when you adopt, but make no mistake – it’s there. The signs of attachment, the progress, the celebrations of smiles where there used to be tears and peace where there once was fear…there’s nothing quite like it. We are not alone in this process. The Healer, the Great Healer promises to equip us for every good work. Our daughter came to us with a very broken physical heart, but as it turns out – that was only a minor and short-term special need. Healing her emotionally broken heart, teaching her to trust and love with reckless abandon and security is a life long special need and one we work at every day.

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It is so worth it, it is such a privilege to be the one who will never leave her.

It’s an amazing honor to be the one who gets to teach her to trust, to love, and to be secure in the love of her family and most importantly – her Creator. What an amazing work He does in the hearts of His children. He heals what is broken, He even knows the stars by name, He is almighty, and He understands.

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“He heals the brokenhearted And binds up their wounds. He counts the number of the stars; He calls them all by name. Great is our Lord, and mighty in power; His understanding is infinite.” — Psalm 147:3-5



Holidays and Celebrations

I’m not exactly what you’d call a “holiday” person. I know people who have decorations ranging from Christmas trees to pumpkins to shamrocks to pink and red hearts that they put up as the seasons rotate. Bu I’m not one of them. I’m a minimalist. The only holiday I decorate for is Christmas and that’s typically limited to our tree and stockings…though we did add an Elf on the Shelf to our traditions a few years back. And believe me, that’s a much bigger deal than it sounds for this simple mama!

Being the mother of three children from China, though, I’ve felt the need to add Chinese New Year to our family list of family holidays. Once again, I don’t go to extremes…no decorations, traditional foods, or even silk attire. Every year we simply head to the local Chinatown with some of our friends from our local adoption group. There is a big celebration in the morning at the Chinese Community Center that includes a lion dance, martial arts performance, singing/musical performances, and various other parts of the Chinese heritage and culture. Then we all go to lunch at an authentic Chinese restaurant and the kids get their red envelopes containing their “lucky money” once we come home.

I’ve always worried that I don’t make a big enough of a fuss over Chinese New Year. After all, it’s really the only part of our kids’ birth culture that we celebrate. We don’t attend Chinese School, and I only have one painting from China hanging in my house. I constantly worry that I’m a “slacker” when it comes to preserving heritage. And this year, my worries escalated as we celebrated our teenage son’s first Chinese New Year since coming home. But I’ve become fond of our little family tradition and it’s something I look forward to every year.

Holidays can be hard when you’re away from your home and family. That’s one thing I learned during our years in the military. The old song “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” has brought tears to my eyes more than once. But aside from a few food-related episodes from our youngest son, Chinese New Year has been a happy time. Until this year.

My teenager just couldn’t get into our celebration. When we asked his opinion on our trip to Chinatown he declared it was “boring.” But we really didn’t need him to tell us that. His body language pretty much screamed it. We hoped being surrounded by Chinese people, hearing the language, and eating authentic food would make the holiday as special as it could be for him. Notsomuch. Epic fail on that one. I have a feeling this is one of those things that will never be as good as the real deal.

But even worse was our youngest son. We don’t know much about his time in China, but we do know that he often went hungry due to this cleft lip and palate. We’ve struggled with food-related issues since he came home just over three years ago, and as the Chinese New Year celebration comes to an end…right about lunchtime every year…he struggles. Something about being hungry and exposed to the Chinese language and culture sets off a trigger for him. There’s always a little bit of a meltdown, and last year I had to step out of the room with him to keep the distraction down for everyone else. Once he was calmed down and got to eat, he was fine. But this year, the impact lingered. The tears lasted all day, even after he had been fed. And we saw emotional regression combined with a reoccurrence of orphanage behaviors that lasted for days. Not to mention the nights he was back to sleeping with us. The past year has been such GOOD year for him, but the celebration triggered a hidden trauma that wasn’t as easy to recover from as it has been in years past. We even witnessed sheer terror from him by a group in authentic attire from a bygone Chinese era.

And then there was our sweet daughter. Unlike her brothers, she didn’t spend much time in an orphanage. She was with a precious foster family that adored her and would have no doubt adopted her if it had been an option. That little bit of China in Chinatown generated an extreme homesickness. To the point that she was telling us she wanted to go “home” to her “China house.” And when we explained that her home was with us now, she told us in no uncertain terms that we aren’t her family. She wanted her family in China. Her varying range of emotions settled quickly, but it was hard to watch her wrestle with her two worlds…the life she had in China was every bit as good and happy as her life here with us. She has much to miss from her “home” and we grieve with her in her losses.

At the end of a day full of “celebrating” I found myself questioning our Chinese New Year celebrations once again. But not because my girls weren’t wearing silk dresses and I don’t have a kitchen god on display in my home. No, I found myself wondering if it’s a good idea to make an annual tradition out of exposing my children to something that hurts so much. Something that triggers memories from a “former” life that they’re not quite sure how to deal with. And for the first time, I found myself wondering if maybe my holiday celebrations are a bit “over the top.” That maybe…just maybe…I might need to go more simply in the future.

Thankfully I’ve got another year to try and figure it out.

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The Tools of The Trade

If I had to do it all over again, I would have been a speech therapist. It’s funny how things work sometimes; I never expected to spend five years of my life in group and individual speech therapy with both of my biological boys for oral motor and articulation issues. Now my oldest boy competes in speech competitions and the other is almost finished with his time in speech. And along comes Grace, who will spend quite a bit of time in speech, likely into her elementary years. Thankfully, she loves speech therapy or as she calls it, “MY speech.” Thankfully I love speech therapists and have had a couple as close friends along the way. What they do is extraordinary and it does change the game for three of my four kiddos. It’s funny that when we began the adoption process, that was far from my mind. Yes, cleft lip/palate was on our list but from my perspective , it was pretty low on the list and not likely. Funny how things work and funny that spending portions of the week in speech therapy was already pretty comfortable for our family.

So, this post is specific to those considering adopting a cleft lip/palate special needs child. What would 2-14 procedures look like? What would speech therapy for around 4 or 5 years look like? It seems very daunting and overwhelming and is still for us sometimes like a big unknown. But sometimes it looks like this.

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Yes, that’s right. Smarties. Smarties to help teach sweet Grace how to use her muscular little tongue to position and hold a Smartie at the front of her newly acquired palate. Big fun when you are able to hold it there. Even more fun when you get to eat it afterward! That simple motion encouraged by candy is setting a foundation for specific sounds to be heard loud and clear. “Love” gets placed there, as does “Like.” These are important words to say and be understood in for a two year old! Sometimes speech therapy looks a bit like this…

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An alligator muscle stimulator and massager for lip rounding and closure!
If you’ve ever had surgery, you know that scar tissue can be a beast to untangle and loosen up and that muscles are weak. And sweet little cleft palate children have to relearn some strength and retraction and an entire list of things we take for granted. So Talk Tools has fun devices called Z Vibes and Jigglers to encourage massage with a sensory awareness brought on by the vibration of cute alligators or pink mice.

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Overwhelming medical terms in cleft lip/palate land can be just that. Overwhelming. But alligators and candy and jigglers are much more my language. I want to know the bottom line and what it will really look like. The truth is, the speech therapy part looks like fun. Like play. With candy! Tongue tip lateralization is just a bonus in my book.

The surgery and devices in cleft lip/palate land are also overwhelming. It was why I originally thought that we would not pick this special need. Says the mom who was just yesterday pulling chewed up chicken out of her biological eight year old’s palate expander newly placed by her orthodontist. Cranking it with a plier like tool, my hands all in her tiny mouth while she is almost upside down so I can see it. Turns out both of my girls have some palate needs. And we roll with it. In a couple of years, I will be both a speech therapy expert and an orthodontic device specialist. And it isn’t overwhelming. Funny how in all of our worry and feeling unprepared, we get prepared. We are prepared. Funny how things work.



“Not Now” Does Not Mean “Not Ever”

Guest post by Jennifer, who brought home her daughter from China as a single mom, and blogs at Journey to Olivia.

For as long as I can remember, I have dreamed of being a wife and a mom. I remember as a little girl planning what my wedding would look like and making lists (refined over the years) of what characteristics my husband should possess. On February 1, I will be 43 and I am still waiting for the man and wedding that I have dreamed of…

I have always been open to adoption, but figured it would be after I was married. Parenting can be tough enough when there are two actively engaged parents. Sometimes life results in single parent families, but I NEVER dreamed I would initiate single parenthood, and if two years ago you had told me I would now be fully immersed in it, I would have told you that you were crazy.

Nearly six years ago I left my job to launch a full time ministry that loves on, serves, and gives to others. This has afforded me the opportunity to travel to and serve in different countries. In June 2012, I was on my 6th trip to China. There, as I loved on the precious kiddos, I prayed for their forever families to come quickly – knowing that I was not them. And then it happened…I picked up a precious little one and had a strange sense that instead of praying for her family, that I was her family.

In my arms for the first time in June 2012...was God was starting something?...

In my arms for the first time in June 2012…was God starting something?…

Was I feeling smitten because I was getting older and wanted to be a mom? Was I simply being drawn to a beautiful little girl? Or was there something more going on? Was God finally saying, “Now. Now is the time that I will give you one of the dreams of your heart”?

“Really?” I’d ask. “It’s ‘just me’ and I have to fundraise for your ministry so I can live, and now You want me to come up with $35,000 to adopt, and to adopt a child that will have ongoing medical bills and expenses?” Through much prayer, affirmation, and ‘God winks’, I finally understood that was exactly what He was saying.

Seven months (and after a lot of paper work, home studies, and US approvals) later China confirmed that it was ok with them for me to be her mom. And 1 year and 9 days after I first held Olivia in my arms, she was placed in them forever.

This was taken right after landing on US soil, making Olivia officially a US citizen.

This was taken right after landing on US soil, making Olivia officially a US citizen.

One of the biggest lessons that I’ve been learning is that while it is easy to think that I’m “doing this alone”, I’m not. At all. What would I suggest to others who are in the same place I am/was and wondering if they are being called to open their hearts and lives to a child that needs a family?

1. Pray and Get Close with God. That isn’t meant to say that I wasn’t before, but throughout the entire adoption journey I can honestly say that I was much more intentional about my prayer and quiet time. I journaled my prayer requests, answered prayers, and praises. I found a couple of Bible studies that were specifically focused on adoption and used them to guide and focus. Open your heart in new ways and see what God will do.

Taken by Amy, a special friend who came into my life through this adoption journey and who is herself a China mommy.  This so perfectly captures the joy that fills Olivia and pours out to me and anyone blessed to be in her presence.

Taken by Amy, a special friend who came into my life through this adoption journey and who is herself a China mommy. This so perfectly captures the joy that fills Olivia and pours out to me and anyone blessed to be in her presence.

2. Lock Arms with an Amazing Agency that with Pray WITH and FOR you.  For me, this was Lifeline Children’s Services; For you, it might be someone else.  Regardless of what agency you work with, make sure that it is done through prayer and talk to others who have worked with them.  They will be your guide, your expert, your advocate, and your child’s champion through the process.

Born to be a Buckeye

Born to be a Buckeye

3.  Build a chandelier.  HUH?  Yep you read that right.  I have developed a tight group of girlfriends – several of whom I have yet to meet face-to-face (though that will be changing very soon! wooohooooo!!!) – with whom we are walking this road of life and adoption together.  We have had an ongoing “chat” on Facebook (or as one of their husbands calls it “our conferences”) since March of 2013.  We have called our team a “chandelier” because there are days when one of our “bulbs” may be flickering and seem to be on the verge of going out, but it is on those days that the rest of us can reflect light back to them and give strength…may sound a bit silly when reading about it, but we like our analogy.  But the point is get tight with a group of women with whom you can be open, transparent, real.  We have laughed, cried, travelled, prayed, sung, eaten, gone to battle, and many more things together.  Key: together.  For me, these ladies have been a lifeline for which I will never be able to adequately say thank you.  I don’t have a husband that I can share the tears (and joys) of my heart with, and these ladies have allowed me to do so with them.  God knew exactly who I needed and He gave me my 3/20 sisters!

As you've probably noticed, when we take our pictures, Olivia likes to put her face right next to mine, usually touching.  I kind of like it, too!

As you’ve probably noticed, when we take our pictures, Olivia likes to put her face right next to mine, usually touching. I kind of like it, too!

4.  Learn.  I believe that God is walking with each of us through this journey and will give us what we and He can handle together.  It is important to take some time to understand and learn about the special needs and health conditions that you’re going to welcome into your family.  Before I met Olivia, I don’t think that I had ever heard of Osteogenesis Imperfecta (OI).  I didn’t know about brittle bone disease, its 8 types, PAM, Zole, rodding, or any number of other issues and concerns that were about to enter my world.  What I have found is that there is not only a lot of information and resources available online and otherwise, but that within the adoption community there are people (both parents of children with your child’s conditions as well as individuals living with them) who are excited and willing to walk the road with you and share their wisdom and experiences openly.

*There is one caveat to the “learn” that I want to share…know what you’re able to handle and what you’re not.  I have found that I have to sometimes limit the amount of time that I am able to spend on some of the OI pages.  Because of great diversity of issues and severity of how OI effects lives and bodies, I sometimes found myself getting anxious when reading.  I know from talking to others who have children with different conditions that they have experienced the same thing.  Don’t feel like you have to know or learn it all.  Take what you need for your situation and then move on.  And when you’re able to give and help others, do that, too.  But don’t allow yourself to get paralyzed by all of the “maybes” that could come to be.  You’ll stress yourself out!

Laugh.  Know yourself.  Make faces.

Laugh. Know yourself. Make faces.

I truly believe that God doesn’t call the equipped, but rather equips the called.  There are still many days that I feel inadequate when it comes to “mom stuff” (like what do I do to help her get rid of her silly cold?), but I’m getting better.  Are there days when I wonder, “What have I done?  Am I really equipped to do this?”  Absolutely!  But then she will do something like say, “Mommy, I love you.  We are stuck together for ever and ever.”  And I’ll know it is going to be more than OK.

One last thing…something that I have said, believed, and signed off with for years, but that I believe with my whole heart, PRAY BIG…BELIEVE BIG…BIG THINGS HAPPEN!

God is good!

God is good!

Visit my adoption blog here.

Blogs featuring single moms:
Chosen and Dearly Loved
Expecting Something SO big From God
Kaylee’s Journey Home
My Winding Road

Single women can adopt children designated as Special Focus, see this article for more information. For questions about beginning the adoption journey as a single mom, contact the Advocacy Team or a Hague Accredited Adoption Agency.

Her Birth Heritage

I can remember our China trip to adopt Sunshine like it was yesterday. If I close my eyes, I can remember stepping off the plane, smelling “China,” and hearing people speak Mandarin everywhere. The food, oh the delicious food. Making a fool out of myself trying to eat with chopsticks. The hustle and bustle of everyday China going on around me. The young children following after their mamas in split pants. The food carts and street vendors. The sweet little stores. Chinese flute music. The stunning architecture. The lanterns hanging everywhere. People willing to help in any way they could. A country so beautifully alive and rich in culture. A country I fell in love with. The country where my precious daughter was born.

Before our adoption trip, I didn’t realize how naive I was about my understanding of China. I knew I was born in the year of the monkey on the zodiac calendar, but didn’t know anything about celebrating Spring Festival. I knew the basic things you learn in school about China, knowledge that is so limited and without a true appreciation of the country. I didn’t know much else about China except for how to say “nĭ hăo” and “zài jiàn” in an obvious American accent. I didn’t truly know the culture. The holidays. The traditions. The language. I didn’t know why I needed to know. I didn’t realize how important it was for me to embrace my daughter’s birth heritage. But being in China was the beginning of a transformation for me.

I fell in love with China. It has a beautiful culture to be celebrated. As Sunshine’s mama, I tried to learn everything I could about China while we were in country. I took thousands of pictures to help me remember. And through the years of being her mama, I have yearned to learn even more. To joyfully embrace the culture that my daughter was born in and came to us from. To find out about her beginnings as much as I can.

Why?

Because she needs to know who she is, where she came from. Her Chinese heritage is a vital part of who she is and should be honored. She is Chinese and American. Both cultures make up the person she is growing into. Neglecting to teach her about either one is a disservice, to her and to our family. In order for her to know herself, she needs to know China. Our family needs to know China. To joyfully embrace it. The holidays. The traditions. The language. The beautifully rich culture.

Her Chinese heritage has become a part of our family, and I’m so thankful for that. Although our household is American, China is very much alive also. Sunshine has blessed us by being our daughter and sister, and also by sharing a culture we didn’t know we’d adore so much. We have more reason to celebrate holidays and be with family because of her birth heritage. More reason to share traditional Chinese stories, learn the Mandarin tones, and sing “Liăng Zhī Láo Hŭ.” More reason to learn how to cook new foods, steam dumplings, and decorate for Spring Festival. More reason to be forever connected to the country that is my daughter’s birth heritage, to honor where she came from.

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I am thrilled that tomorrow is a dumpling-making day. All day long. And all the kids will join in on the fun, and we’re bringing a couple friends along for the ride too. It’s a family and friend affair, one that is sure to be enjoyed by everyone. We will be celebrating Spring Festival for the next 15 days in American Chinese fashion, with food, hóngbāo, music, crafts, and a very large FCC New Year party to round off the festivities. Xīn nián kuài lè! Mǎ nián dàjí, my friends! Let the celebration begin!

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An Advocate

It had been a rough few days. I had advocated for a little boy once. A family stepped forward for him, traveled to China for him, and came home without him. Then, there I was, advocating for him again in a post on a Friday afternoon, after which I spent the following several days dealing with the repercussions of my words. Many were sympathetic (the oh-that-poor-boy crowd). Some wondered if my heartfelt post meant something else (the maybe-you’re-his-mom crowd). Many more simply wanted to know more (the tell-me-the-real-story crowd) mostly fueled simply by curiosity. But, there was one voice louder than the rest whose sharp tongue and accusations of misleading others was draining my energy to advocate at all. By Tuesday morning, I was emotionally tired.

As I drove to the women’s Bible Study I was committed to leading that morning as a substitute for the regular leader, I prayed aloud with Lydia dancing in the backseat to Katy Perry’s “Firework” or some other deeply spiritual song, “God, you’ve gotta speak louder than the other voices I’m hearing and give me some very clear direction here because I really don’t know what my role is. Right now, I don’t even feel like I want to advocate any more for this kid or any other because I’m just tired of everything that goes with it. Lord, show me, please, what you want me to do.”

Zechariah’s visions. That’s what we were discussing that day, definitely not your typical Bible study. Think red horses, myrtle trees, horns, measuring lines. It’s deep (strange?) stuff, but the women, whom I didn’t know, were responsive, and we were moving right along with the lesson. I wasn’t expecting anything when we were directed to several different Scriptures and told to describe the benefits of God’s presence in the lives of His people.

We read John 14:26 – “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.”

Some women shared what the verse meant to them, and we were about to move on. And, then, it happened; God spoke through a woman whose name I don’t even know.

I like what my version has for that verse: “But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”

Did she just say “advocate”?

Here I was at a Bible Study no less, and I had essentially already forgotten the prayer I had prayed on my commute there. But, I remembered now, and He/she had my full attention.

I love that word advocate. It’s really such an emotionally laden word. I interpret it as meaning coming alongside, fighting for me, pleading my cause when I have no voice or no way to do it on my own. It’s active—He’s active so that I don’t have to be. It reminded me of Exodus 14:14 which says: “The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.” If He’s willing to advocate for me, it means I’m significant and I’m worth it even when everything else says I’m not.

And, STOP. Answered prayer in only….59 minutes and 45 seconds. There it was.

Yes, it’s tiring; it’s tiring by definition. Yes, it’s hard; if it were easy, there wouldn’t be a need for it. It’s messy and involved and time consuming and sometimes lands me in challenging conversations. I will sometimes want to do it and other times wanna forget all about it and put my head under a pillow and hide because I’m weak and selfish and easily blown and tossed by the wind. But, I was called to do it because that little boy on the other side of the world has no other voice, and he’s worth it simply because of who he is and who He is.

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Cheering section

Jubilee didn’t just get a mom and dad when she was adopted. She got three brothers, three grandparents, three uncles, one aunt, and three cousins.

But even though adoption brings children into extended families, church bodies, and communities, the most important thing adoption does is place children into immediate families. Not immediately families, mind you, for Chinese special-needs adoptions rarely see a child come home before toddlerhood. But slow as the process might be, when a child moves from a concrete building teeming with orphans to a family of her very own, that pesky wait becomes worth it!!

And the siblings who’ve been waiting for their new brother or sister to come home receive just as big of a blessing! In the same way that there are no substitutes for a mom or a dad, there are no substitutes for siblings. Who else can we lay our heads on and drool when the road-trip drags on and on? With whom else can we bare our souls without fear of judgement or punishment? Who else has seen us in our underwear, heard us sing in the shower, and lived with us through our teen years, and loves us anyway? Nobody but our siblings. They are there for us through the years, watching us grow, watching us fail, and watching us overcome.

My immediate family is my cheering section, my biggest fans, my confidants, and my favorite people in the world.

The old saying, “Blood is thicker than water,” is true, though we adoption folks know that “blood” is not always a literal term:) The immediate family, no matter how it comes together, is the backbone of life. And darn it, everybody needs one!

So here’s my plug: the more people who learn about, pray about, and go forward with adoption, the less people worldwide living without their cheering section.
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My Reflection

God works in mysterious ways… Sometimes I don’t always understand why HE does the things HE does BUT I do know how much HE loves me and just knowing that makes me want to trust HIM even more.

In the summer of 2010 God gave us a gift. It was an unexpected gift but nevertheless it was a gift. That is when we adopted Emma. A frightened, confused and cognitively disabled 10 yr old girl.

This was a new experience for Hubby and I. Emma came to us completely out of control. Her life was turned upside down and she could not process all the changes that were happening to her. She had no idea how to behave during this time of upheaval. After all, who were these people that claimed to want to be her parents? During our time in China Emma was mean, as mean as I have ever seen a child. She hit us, scratched us, grabbed our privates, shoved young children, laughed at inappropriate times and ran away from us. She broke the toys we brought her, yelled in our faces, cried, moaned and ranted on and on in Chinese.

It was only due to the grace of God that Emma came home with us.

The months went by and Emma adjusted to her new surroundings, to her new family, to the new language and to her new home.

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As time went by I began to notice something special about Emma. She was somehow connected to me. Whenever we were in the same room she would stare at me. No matter who else was in the room and no matter what I was doing. Sometimes it was tolerable and other times I had to ask her to stop staring. She studied my face and often took on my emotions. If I was happy she was happy, if I was not so happy she was not so happy. At first I couldn’t tell if she was mocking me or not? And it irritated me. As time went on and I got to know Emma better I could see that Emma is kind to the core. If she has an unkind moment it is because she thinks she is protecting herself or because she has been mistreated in some way. She not capable of and would not try to mock or make fun of anyone. Even when she laughs at inappropriate times- it is just a rudimentary response.

Sometimes it was hard for me to deal with especially when I was trying to adjust to something new and just needed to work though a situation or feelings I was having. I would pray and say “really God why is she doing this now? Why can’t she be just fine and let me deal with what I am dealing with… “ It felt like she was adding on more stress, just when I didn’t need it…

And the truth is… she was… because Emma mirrors me. Remember awhile back how I said she stares at me when I don’t want her to stare at me. She looks confused, sad and blank at times (maybe even a little angry). Emma can’t read words BUT Emma can read her mother. She knows when I am stressed, confused, bewildered, sad, scared and the list goes on. She may not be able to describe what is going on in words but she knows exactly how I am feeling. AND THEN she takes that feeling on and it becomes hers…

When I look at her face I see myself. I see how I am acting and what mood I am portraying. It is sometimes enlightening and it is sometimes a bit eerie .

But most importantly it is a huge responsibility.

We all have our emotions and sometimes I want to keep them private. But I can’t because she reads me and she exposes them whether I want them exposed or not. It is a gift and sometimes a curse. There are times I want to hide, feel what I need to feel and move on. But I am reminded that whatever I am feeling is affecting her and others.

I think of Emma as my barometer. She lets me know when I am off and she lets me know when I am on. The look on her face, the smile or the stress says it all.

I have noticed this about Emma for a very long time. I have wanted to post about it but in order to want to post about it I want to like what I am seeing because I am in essence seeing me.

It also feels like such a huge responsibility. It makes me aware of how I am affecting others around me, my children (big and little), my blessed treasures. It makes me realize how much I need GOD and how I am completely dependent on HIM. I am a servant and in my own right I am useless but if HE works through me, together we can love and care for the children. It truly puts me on my knees.

Emma is a gift. And even though it took me awhile to understand the gift that was given to me it is my responsibility to embrace it. To be thankful for the insight that she provides.

Emma asks very little of me. She asks that I unconditionally love her, care for her and she sure would like it if my only emotion was constant happiness- because if I am constantly happy than she is too! I guess that is not realistic but at least now I know when I am going astray… because my dear daughter lets me know.

I can see it in her face… as she can see it in my face.

I didn’t ask God for this “gift” but God gives us what we need not what we want.