Stepping Up to Adoption/Orphan Ministry

Amidst piling documents into our first dossier, we sensed that our adoption journey was to be a wider stretching. Beyond becoming mommy and daddy to three beloved gifts from China, God nudged us further. Our hearts enlarged for more kids than those to be in our family. We stood in our daughter’s social welfare institute in Chengdu, China, surrounded by 500 orphaned children, and the game changed. Like so many other adoptive families, James 1:27 became marching orders.

Orphans are easier to ignore before you know their names. They are easier to ignore before you see their faces. It is easier to pretend they’re not real before you hold them in your arms. But once you do, everything changes. ~ David Platt.

Platt resonates with those of us with hearts for orphans, because we’ve walked the halls of orphanages, looking into the solemn eyes of babies filling row after row of cribs. We’ve watched our own adopted children blossom, fueled by family love. We’ve seen and we’ve held, and we were moved to action.

No longer were we indifferent, nor were the adoptive families that we connected with. We believe the church and its people are charged with orphan care, and have expectations for how our home church should be carrying this out. We loved our church, but had our list of “shoulds”. We thought it should support adoptive families, should serve in foster homes, should raise awareness.
Then it hit us.

We WERE the church.

If we wanted the church to serve orphans, WE were the servants that needed to step up. So, a group of us met to dream, pray and plan, and an adoption ministry was born. Three years later, we are two busy adoptive moms, who said yes to a leading.

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Neither of us felt ready, has time, or is exceptional qualified. The good news is that this is God’s thing. Our only claims are that we long to empty out the world’s orphanages, have hearts for adoption and foster care and have sought Him. We fail, cancel events and always have to keep our desire to do MORE or LESS in check. But, He has come through month after month, project after project. And when things failed in our eyes? Our guess is that it was an idea of our own making.

Heart Check: If adoption and orphan care ministry stirs your heart, first pray through whether this is something YOU want to do, or something God wants you to do. Be mindful first of stepping before God directs it. Being parents to your adopted child is a high calling. Are you being asked for more, or do you just desire more? Is this the right season?

Or consider, is God stirring your heart toward such work, but you aren’t feeling ready or adequate? We get it, but you’ll have to get over it. Never will you be ready. This is God-sized. He just wants you to show up.

If you made it past the caution statements, here is a practical glimpse into our group. We are ACT 24:12 based on Proverbs 24:12.

“Once our eyes are opened, we can’t pretend we don’t know what to do. God who weighs our hearts and keeps our souls knows that we know and holds us responsible to ACT…”

We are Spirit-Led: We plan, but are flexible and open to HIS leading. We are organizers. If you’re reading this closely, you probably are too. Our prayer is to boldly step where led, but not beyond.

We are Prayerful: Our top priority is prayer. Prayer for orphans, adoptions, foster families and orphan care projects. At meetings, families share their stories and then we circle up to pray for them. The sharing of prayer requests is top priority in all communication.

We Meet: While we once met monthly, we now meet every other month, which works best for our group of over-extended families. Meeting attendance is not our goal, so this removes pressure from the core group, and makes meeting months special. People sign-up on FB to bring snacks and drinks, and a volunteer offers child care for $5 per family. Our agenda includes family sharing, updates, and explanation of service projects, and is sometimes topical (foster care, the wait, etc.)

We Connect: We are intentional about relationships. Questions get answered, and new adoption families find inspiration from experienced adoption families, over potluck at our quarterly socials. On non-meeting months, mentoring happens around tables at women’s dinners.

Our desire is to walk alongside families navigating the hard adoption/foster journey. We want to show up with tissues and chocolate when obstacles arise, organize meal trains for newly home families, and stand at the airport and cheer as a child arrives home. Sometimes meeting for coffee with families with questions about adoption can be the needed nudge toward one less orphan.

We Serve: We organize monthly “orphan serves”, as often as possible, family friendly, with a mix of local and global projects. We step forward boldly with what we feel led to do, and then trust for provision. These are planned around church mission teams, foster home/agency needs and traveling adoptive families.

Our past projects include Easter baskets for a foster home, medicine and PJ packed suitcase for Love Without Boundaries’ Heartbridge Healing Home, meals for newly home adoptive families, Valentine bags and backpacks for foster kids, a Both Hands orphan/widow project, school supplies and toiletry bags for mission trips to a Haitian orphanage, decorated photos/cards for orphans in Ghana, formula drive for Brighton Their World, races for orphans, kid made bracelets for mission teams, and a clothing drive for foster families.

Twice a year we create “Say Grace” bags, our prayer based project. We compile 31 prayer requests, regarding family adoptions/fostering, orphan care ministries and general orphan related prayer requests. These are then cut into strips and bagged. Families are asked to pull out a request each night and include the need when they “say grace” before dinner.

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We Communicate: We share information via monthly emailed updates and on our group’s Facebook page. Sign-Up Genius helps us coordinate donation drives.

We Offer Financial Support: If a family is hosting a fundraiser, we try to rally for them. We also encouraged our church to set up a Lifesong for Orphans matching grant.

We Open Our Doors: One of the big goals of our ministry is to host two seminars per year, focused on adoption and foster care. We simply invite agencies, provide some snacks and advertise. How amazing that open doors might unite families.

Why do these? They build families: “Years ago, my husband and I attended a seminar led by a Christian adoption agency.  We chose to attend, literally, at the last minute and walked through the doors of the church unsure if we should be there. Our hearts raw and hurting from years spent struggling with infertility. But oh, how thankful we are we took those steps into that church! God did an amazing and beautiful work in our hearts. Our view of adoption was completely changed during those 2 hours. We now have 3 children through adoption and are incredibly thankful for that day and God’s beautiful plan for our family.” ~ Angela

An answer of yes. That is all that is needed to begin an adoption ministry. The rest will come if you are open to it. We started in a living room, and are still a small group of people, connected by heartbeats for orphans. We are an adoption support and orphan care team, and have stood in awe of how God has done immeasurably more than we even knew to ask for. Be encouraged to act. There is work to be done, awareness to be raised, families who need community, and orphanages to empty out.

Please leave a comment or contact me if you have further questions, we’d love to support you.



Joy

Overwhelmingly, the number one word used to describe my son and the majority of those rocking an extra chromosome like him is…HAPPY. This is seriously not a bad reputation to have! In fact, there is a great YouTube video going around with groups of people with Down syndrome gleefully shaking what God gave them to the hit song Happy. You can’t help but tap your toes and grin ear to ear. Who wouldn’t?!

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But the more I hear the word ‘happy’ being used to describe children & adults with Down syndrome, the more I don’t like it. Not in a weird, over sensitive I’m-a-mom-of-a-child-with-special-needs-and-I-need-to-defend-him-from-the-world kind of way. (We all know those types!) But, I think I have two pretty solid reasons to not totally love the word in describing my boy:

First, I believe it robs my son, and those like him, the opportunity to be human. It is true, overall, Isaac is a pretty happy kid…except when he is not. *wink* (This is usually my semi-flippant response when people coo over ‘what a happy boy he is!’) My son is human. He has good days. He has bad days. Some days he is just plain mad, I mean truly & royally NOT happy. And he deserves the right to feel those emotions and learn how to react to them appropriately. He gets selfish and jealous and rebellious and frustrated and angry. He is a toddler for Pete’s sake; his emotions are ALL over the place — it’s like beta testing for puberty! And, just like you & me, he is a sinful creature of this broken earth in need of God’s grace. It’s my job as his parent to teach him to both acknowledge how he is feeling and be accountable for how he responds to his emotions–happiness, anger and everything equally in between. It’s not about just being happy, it’s about the Fruits of the Spirit.

Second, I simply don’t think ‘happy’ is an accurate word. In my mind, what people describe as happy is really misinterpreted JOY. Happiness is a fleeting emotion, but joy is a gift of character, given by our Creator to enjoy His presence and ALL that is in it. “My joy in you will make your joy complete” (John 15:11). People feel happiness but ARE joyous, even with the occasional bad day. This is why dancing with your whole person to a catchy tune in the middle of the street isn’t happy…it’s joyful! Feeling it from your toes, moving, breathing & finding your being in Christ (Acts 17:28). The Psalmist said “You fill me with JOY in your presence” (Psalms 16:10). David would know…he danced for joy before the Lord…naked! There is no anxiety in joy because true joy grows out of faith, hope, thankfulness & love; it is aware of the abundance of Grace in our lives and delights in serving others. Joy is simple and born out of a deep response to our Maker. I honestly don’ t know if the Lord knit this gift into my son via his extra chromosome or the simplicity of my son’s heart isn’t hindered in receiving what has been readily given to us all. Either way, THIS is what I believe people are seeing in Isaac and all of his chromosomal buddies. A contagious, I-want-some-of-what-he’s-got JOY in the Lord!

When the voiceless break into song (from Isaiah 35)

As a dad of six, I know that I am not objective in assessing my own kids. Often, I see them in too favorable of a light, and I find myself measuring our family room mantle to see if it will hold six Nobel Prizes, six Olympic medals, and six Academy Awards at the same time.

But sometimes the opposite is true. Sometimes I am too conservative in my assessment of possibilities… not bold enough in my vision for what my kids can become. Sometimes God needs to remind me that His plans for my kids will often exceed my wildest dreams for them.

Our daughter Mia has bilateral microtia – meaning that neither of her ears formed properly. She has working inner ears, but underdeveloped external ears and no ear canals for the sound to travel. Like a person plugging their ears tightly with a finger, she can hear loud sounds but that is about all. (There are days when it seems like our other kids have a similar condition… often when there are chores or homework that need to be done.)

As a result of her condition, Mia had no language skills when we met her in China. And from that very first day, we (and I use the word “we” in a very generous sense since Anne did the vast majority of the work) began the journey to teach Mia how to speak.This involved countless visits to the otolaryngologist (which is a fancy word for “ear doctor”), the audiologist, the speech therapist, the hearing therapist (didn’t even know that existed), and daily practice at home. For perspective on the gravity of her condition, we visited two deaf schools, concerned that she might never become verbal. Our journey eventually involved a surgery to enable use of a BAHA hearing aid… a marvel of modern technology that has been key to restoring some sound for Mia.

It also involved countless hours of prayer. We prayed desperately that Mia would learn how to speak. We prayed over every consonant sound and the hours of therapy required to learn and master each one.

And it worked. Progress was slow at times, but there was progress. Mia began to understand others… and they began to understand her. Over time, Mia found her voice.

When I read the Bible, there are times when I really wish I could have seen Jesus perform a miracle up close. I tell myself that my faith would be so much stronger if I were there when He healed the blind or the lame or the deaf.

But I recognize now how foolish that wish must sound. For while it would be cool to have been there when the events of Mark 7 took place and the people exclaimed “He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak!”, why do I fail to recognize that same miracle in the life of my daughter Mia… because that is exactly what happened.

What we did not understand at the time is that He was only getting started.

With this as background, try to picture our family at the dinner table last December. We were asking each child about their day, and Mia made a comment about standing at the microphone during rehearsal for the school Christmas Show.

As background, you should know that our family members have never been invited to the microphone during a vocal concert. As I established earlier, our children have many gifts…but singing is not one of them. We are not good singers. Even “Happy Birthday” can be a surprisingly painful experience. (In high school, I was given the ONLY non-singing part in the Musical… and I am a much better singer than Anne.)

As a result, we do not tend to make a big deal about Christmas Shows. Our children wear their (probably hand-me-down) seasonal sweater and stand relatively still on one of the risers in the background as an anonymous member of the choir.

So you can imagine our surprise when Mia mentioned standing at the microphone.

Our first thought was that she must be reading a verse or an excerpt from the Christmas Story. Given our concerns that she would never speak, I made a mental note to invite the Grandparents and bring my videocamera.

With this assumption, we excitedly asked, “Are you reading something on the microphone, Mia?”

To which she responded, “No. I’m singing.”

Tip: When your child makes the varsity team or gets a part in the play or a solo in the Christmas Show, good parents do not tend to respond with a doubtful exclamation of “Really?” By this measure, Anne and I are not good parents.

Once we closed our gaping mouths, one of us was able to form a more appropriate question, “Mia… could you sing for us right now?”

To be totally honest, the question probably reeked of doubt. Maybe she was kidding?

Unfazed by our question, Mia licked her chili spoon clean, converted it into a microphone, and sang the opening chorus of her solo:

“In the beginning was the Word
And it was with God and was God
Before an eye had seen or ear had heard
There was the Word”

And it was beautiful. I don’t mean, “Isn’t it beautiful that our daughter with hearing loss is trying to sing?”

I mean, “Our daughter can sing!”

If you look closely, you can see Mia’s BAHA (Bone Anchored Hearing Aid) attached to the right side of her head. If you listen closely, you can hear the most beautiful second grade voice in the world…

If you look closely, you can see Mia’s BAHA (Bone Anchored Hearing Aid) attached to the right side of her head. If you listen closely, you can hear the most beautiful second grade voice in the world…

In all those years of praying that she would be able to speak, we never dreamed of praying that she would be able to sing. Fortunately, the size of God’s grace is not limited to the boldness of our prayers.

We wanted her to speak, but God wanted her to sing.

Good call, God. Good call.

And in that one moment, we became HUGE fans of the Christmas Show… and I made room on my mantle for a Grammy. :)

If you want to understand our life for the last 3 months, imagine the words “Let It Go” coming out of her mouth…

If you want to understand our life for the last 3 months, imagine the words “Let It Go” coming out of her mouth…

Isaiah 35:2-7 (Message)
Tell fearful souls,
“Courage! Take heart!
GOD is here, right here,
on his way to put things right
And redress all wrongs.
He’s on his way! He’ll save you!”
Blind eyes will be opened,
deaf ears unstopped,
Lame men and women will leap like deer,
the voiceless break into song.



You’re not in Kansas anymore

I’ve told the editors of this blog that I am running out of things to write about regarding the special need that Jubilee (that’s my daughter) has. It simply doesn’t matter to us any more that she has a skin deformity on her torso. It will matter to her one day, no doubt, but we haven’t reached that day yet, and so maybe this is just the eye of the storm.

But even so, I’ve asked the editors to leave me in the writing rotation because I care so deeply about China special needs adoptions. I want to help in any way I can.

One way that I can help, perhaps, is to offer a unique perspective. My family has lived here in China for the past six years. That’s something not everybody can say. And because we have lived here for the past six years, I might be able to offer a word of advice to those of you who are going to be adopting from China in the near future.

Here is what I would tell you: You’re not in Kansas anymore.

Because Americans and Chinese value such different things, we offend each other all the time. We think our ways are best, and they think their ways are best. Wars have been fought over this very thing. It’s dangerous to expect folks from another culture to be like you, think like you, and run adoption programs like you would. China is likely to frustrate the dickens out of you, but it doesn’t have to! Expect to be surprised – by the physical condition of your child, the money, the lack of punctuality, the lack of efficiency, and the utter confusion. Expect filthy bathrooms, diarrhea, and flippant traffic laws. Expect to find spit wads on the handrails, bloody swabs on the floor of the health clinic, and people walking backward in the park (it helps with circulation, don’t you know?)

Don’t expect China to be America, and you won’t be so rattled when China ends up being…well…China. Trust me, if they could come to America for a few weeks, they would be equally as appalled, by totally different things, of course. You can’t imagine it, but it’s true.

The point isn’t for you to love China. Nor is the point for you to love your Chinese adoption experience. The point is a little child to love. The sooner we can get over our differences, the better, don’t you think?

Maybe I’ll see you soon!

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A Silent Event… A Near Drowning

And it was awful… it still haunts me… I don’t think I will EVER forget about it… the image is forever ingrained in my mind…

In all of our 30 years of parenting it has happened just once. AND once is ENOUGH…

I am not going into specifics. It’s private and it will always be extremely painful. But if I can help just one other family and spare them from this horrible experience than it will be worth it.

It could have been worse… our child could have drowned. Praise God for His saving grace. Praise Him for his mercy and praise Him that our child survived.

It was called a near drowning.

We were all together swimming. We (the parents) were watching closely and being careful. Dad was in the pool with the kids and I was circling around the pool. Accomplished swimmers were allowed to be more independent. While other children that were new at swimming were instructed to follow our safety rules very carefully with included life jackets and pool bounaries. One child found a way to disobey. He/She didn’t intend to hurt anyone or get hurt himself/herself, it was an accident, a bad choice.

It wasn’t at all like the movies. There was no screaming or yelling for help. It was silent and it was almost unnoticed… gulp. It was also confusing because I thought the child was fine and then I watched just a little longer and then saw the almost lifeless body begin to sink… In my mind I still see it happening in slow motion.

We were able to get the unconscious child out immediately and call for help. The child was not breathing initially but by the time help arrived the child was breathing and eyes were open. I was holding my baby and crying – praising the Lord for His mercy.

It happened to us and I don’t want it to happen to you…

Please go to this link below and learn, so this does NOT happen to anyone in your family! It’s different than you think…

http://mariovittone.com/2010/05/154/



I know that she was loved

Over the past ten months I have watched baby after baby arrive at the orphanage we work in.

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In my first four years of orphan care work in China we were working with a foster home – a place of healing and hope, where orphans with medical needs that the orphanage could not handle arrived and were given the beautiful gifts of happiness and love.

Whenever a new baby would arrive it would be a time of excitement. Who would the little one be? How could we help them… would they be healthy enough for surgery soon? And hopefully they would find forever families quickly if their orphanages were on the ball in regards to adoption paperwork. I loved it when a new baby arrived, it meant that a child was about to be given a chance.

But in the last ten months, as I’ve watched more children arrive in ten months to an orphanage than a whole year at the foster home, my mind’s been on different things.

The new arrivals are not coming from somewhere not-so-great and into a loving environment. They’re not going from a place where they had no chance to a place where their opportunities are endless. And they’re certainly not going from “orphan” to “loved.”

No…. it’s the opposite. They’re going from “loved” to “orphan.”

You may wonder, how can we tell that a baby was loved? We can see it in their nutrition – full cheeks and roly-poly legs tell a whole lot. We can see it in their eyes – when they can make eye contact and follow motion, it’s easy to assume that they have been accepted members of a family. We can hear it in their voices – babbling? You will almost never hear an orphan babble before they’re twelve months old. Crying to be held? How many orphans-from-birth know how to do this unless they have been trained by loving arms who would scoop them out of bed at a whimper.

There is a six month old baby girl who just arrived. She’s petite and chubby in that adorable-baby sort of way. On each wrist she has a red bracelet. The day after she arrived they were still on… a week later, she was still wearing them… a month later and they were still tied snug around her little wrists.

“Where did they come from?”

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“Must have been her mother… she was wearing them when she arrived.”

What if I could tell her mama that she’ll be okay. She may not be “normal”, but what child ever is?

She may not make the honor roll… but does that really matter? She misses you, she doesn’t know where you are and sometimes she cries.

And you miss her too. I believe this, I see this, every single time I look at your little baby girl’s hands and see them clench and watch those two red chords shake and wiggle as she grasps toys and plays with her fingers.

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Hopefully, one day, this little baby girl will be adopted. She’ll no longer be an orphan. She’ll have a family forever. But while this hope encourages me, I can’t forget that she did have a family, she was loved.

Abandonment is a tragedy, and one that is happening for too many little babies at the orphanage these days. Today she is dreaming, dreaming of her mama and her baba… the ones she left and the ones to come. And I am dreaming of a day when this tragedy will no longer be a reality.



Bamboo Project Update: Five Boys

When I started down the Adoption Road I repeatedly refused to mark ‘preferred gender’ box on all the paperwork. I simply wasn’t going to make that decision: God would determine the gender of my child during a natural pregnancy, He could certainly do the same during a paper pregnancy. I didn’t have a real preference, but I did assume the Lord would give me a daughter. All children adopted from China are girls, right??? In fact, I went as far as to order a stunning porcelain doll of a Chinese girl to put in the nursery. My daughter would love it! (Someday. After she wasn’t allowed to touch it for many years *wink*). The day it arrived in the mail my heart KNEW I wouldn’t have a daughter. It would be several more weeks before I would matched with Isaac, but at that moment, tearing open a package in the driveway, the doll just made no sense; I was to prepare my heart for a SON.

The thought of raising a boy made me a bit nervous at the beginning. Cutesy nursery decorations declaring: “Boys are noise with dirt on them” didn’t help the cause. But let me tell you, having a son is AWESOME. You can totally get away with things that you couldn’t do if you were busy braiding hair or playing tea party! Wrestling and jumping and throwing and yelling loud in the backyard (not in the house – that’s not OK). There is eating dirt and collecting rocks and apparently, bodily noises, which I really haven’t gotten into yet, but that’s what uncles are for, right? The point is, I can’t imagine my life without my tiny little man in the house. And as he grows and we have conversations about becoming a strong man of integrity that loves the Lord, I get to be a part of my son learning to listen to the Holy Spirit’s leading, and seeking opportunities to serve others, and protecting those vulnerable around him. That is what is REALLY awesome.

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Historically, the greatest number of children waiting for their families in China has been young girls. I’m sure we’ve all heard of the cultural bias toward healthy boys in a single-child family home. It is heart breaking, but also changing. (Hallelujah!) But, as the heart of China is turning towards their daughters, the statistics are rapidly shifting towards more boys than girls needing forever homes. Even the tiniest of ‘defects’ can place a little boy into the orphan category: nystagmus (crossed eyes), cleft palate, poor weight gain, hypospadius (crooked plumbing), repairable heart defects, Down syndrome. These sweet boys aren’t given the chance to collect rocks and wrestle or to hear about the Lord’s incredible love for them. God has a Son. He LOVES sons and has incredible plans for them!

There are five handsome sweet boys remaining in the Bamboo Project. Five precious hearts ready to love and to be loved by their forever family. Five perfect little guys that NEED to build towers and to kick balls and to burp really loud right in the middle prayer at church. (…it happens…)

Bamboo May 2014

Please continue to pray for these sweet boys:

  • For their continued health & physical/emotional safety.
  • For wisdom and tenderness to be given to their caregivers.
  • For each of their forever families to step out in faith in bringing their SON home…forever.

Please continue to share this information. There may be a heart in your circle of friends ripe for God’s prompting through an email or post or water cooler conversation.

The first of the matched Bamboo families will be traveling soon to bring their sweet ones HOME. (Isn’t that exciting?!) I know they covet your continued prayer & financial support.

As always you can find more information or give directly to the Bamboo Project families via china@bethany.org

“Bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the ends of the earth” — Isaiah 43:6
 

 

what we’re reading: 5.8.2014

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

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

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

sandypuc1

blogs

Rob from tea in fairyland reflects on life and parenting after four months with his girls in Fridays With Father.

In Jasmine Flower, Lisa of Seriously Blessed shares about her daughter Jasmine’s positive attitude, medical challenges and memories of her life in China prior to adoption.

Momma at Joy Embraced asked are personal questions acceptable? in regards to transracial adoptive families.

Over at Parenting With Connection, moderators provide nine ideas in response to the reader question what activities can I do with my child that also promote connection?

John Simmons offers a Very Simple Explanation of Reactive Attachment Disorder to his then-teenage daughter, diagnosed with RAD and possessing an IQ in the high sixties.

Jim of Lanterns, Ladybugs and a Whole Lotta Love shares his conflicted thoughts about his child’s first parents in The Ghost at the Feast.

At Home Is Where the Heart Is, Andrea gives a comprehensive update on three of her children in No More Owies.

On its blog, Love Without Boundaries shares helpful information about the First Steps of the Adoption Process: What Happens in China.

Shannon at Here We Grow Again writes touchingly about her son’s first birthday home… at the age of eight.

Abigail Chuan-Ling Tuan MacLean guest-posts at Wordy Nerdy about her experiences as a biracial American in A Scrambled Egg — Not All Yellow, Not All White, Mixed.

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

inthenews

NBC Nightly News interviewed Professor Cole Galloway who, frustrated with inaccessible and expensive wheelchairs, created the Go Baby Go program which provides… Custom Cars With a Purpose.

Jeff Katz, executive director of Listening to Parents (a national organization that seeks to eliminate barriers to foster care adoption), ponders the question Why is it easier to adopt a child from overseas than from another state? in a Washington Post opinion piece.

Love Without Boundaries recaps the doctors final rounds for this year’s trip and shares a heart-felt thank you letter from Maureen Brogan, Director of Medical Exchanges, on Cleft Exchange Saturday.

#weneeddiversebooks goes viral. Created by several authors, including Asian-American author Ellen Oh, this campaign took social media by storm on Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr.

Max Pemberton, MD tells readers of The Spectator, As a doctor, I’d rather have HIV than diabetes.

Yahoo! News reports on The Lizzie Project, a kickstarter campaign created to fund an untitled Lizzie Velasquez documentary, in New Documentary from Woman With Rare Syndrome Aims to Curb Online Bullying.

An update on Mia, the daughter of Duck Dynasty stars Jase and Missy, who recently underwent her fifth surgery related to cleft lip-cleft palate.

May is Asian-American Heritage Month. Lots of good resources on this site.

Jeff Yang shares Why the ‘Fresh Off the Boat’ TV Series Could Change the Game in the Arts & Entertainment section of The Wall Street Journal.

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In China now to bring home their child…

Hearts Set on Pilgrimage
September Sweeties
Becoming Home

Just Home from China…

Love is the Answer
Miracles and Mudpies
Our Sunshine Days
To Tallulah

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

P.S. Thank you to Sandy Puc for sharing her beautiful photo, and thank you to those who helped compile this week’s post.


Surviving Gotcha Day

A year ago today we had spent only one day with our daughter. After arriving in China, we spent 3 days in Beijing, visited the place she called Home for almost a year and met the women she called “mama”. Then we traveled to XinJiang, her province, tried to sleep on Gotcha Day Eve, and made our way to the Civil Affairs office in Urumqi on a sunny Monday morning. I had seen dozens of gotcha day photos and videos prior to our day; first moments of forever families in the lobbies of hotels, in front of gold or red words indicating a government office, and others in rooms filled with soon-to-be parents holding their breath. All of that giving way to tears in the moment they finally see their child face to face.

That isn’t what our day looked like. At all.

It just so happened that one of the miracles that occurred on Gotcha Day was that we were fifteen minutes early for our Civil Affairs appointment. In fact we were so early, the office wasn’t even open yet so we waited inside the van with our guide. After a few minutes our guide looked our the window and said, “I think your baby just arrived”. Narrowly avoiding whiplash, I spun my head around in an instant, looked to the end of the lot near the alley, to see a Chinese woman holding a small child.

I vaguely remember scrambling and scurrying to get out of the van. It was as if my very life hung in the balance if even an additional two seconds dared to come between me and my child. Once outside the van we saw them only about 50 yards away. After all this time of waiting, paper-pushing, planning, and travel – it really was her, all bundled up in a zebra-print fleece sleeper, followed by a fleece jacket with hearts, and pink stretchy hat.

For the year and three months prior I imagined what this day would be like. I had decided to casually walk into the building where our child would be waiting, breathing evenly and smiling as we rode the elevator up to meet our daughter. I imagined waiting in a room with other adoptive families, near bursting with excitement. Finally the door would open. I wondered if our baby would be first. I had every intention of remaining calm when I finally laid eyes on her so that I wouldn’t scare her or smother her with all of my pent up affection. I was certain I would remember every learned psychological reason to let her come to us in her time and woo her into my arms slowly and gently. I resolved to resist dumping my mothering all over her because she will be the only person among us who doesn’t know that I am her mother, and what feels like organized borderline kidnapping is legit.

Can you even imagine?

Somehow we made our way to her. A small gang of white people accompanied by one Chinese translator. I don’t remember my feet touching the ground. It would not surprise me one bit if there was video evidence of me taking flight from the van to the spot where she stood with the woman who brought her. I remember being in front of her, my eyes locked on her face, my smile reaching my ears, whole body shaking, and my eyebrows into my hairline as I barely squeaked out, “Hi Grace! Hi baby”

…and the next thing I knew she was thrust into my arms by this sweet smiling woman, “Here is your baby!”

Gotcha

Then came the crying. The panic. The screaming and the blue lips, fingers, and toes.

We were in an alley, in the sunshine, surrounded by noisy traffic and a screaming cyanotic baby who had just been released from the hospital with pneumonia; and I could barely absorb that this child I had loved for almost a year – 5 of those months loving her as our daughter – was at last in my arms. I knew to expect her to cry because we were strangers. We didn’t look like people she was used to seeing, we didn’t smell like people she was used to smelling. We were all together different and unfamiliar. For the first time I heard her cry, panicked and distraught and then it turned into a scream. I still hear it when I remember that day. I hear her rattling, congested attempts at breathing, her tattered lungs from infection after infection after infection. I smelled the sweet but herbal scent of medicine. I see a terrified, traumatized, sick, confused, and oh so tiny 19 month-old. She was absolutely beside herself – and so was I. We were both terrified. She was afraid because she was losing everything she knew to be hers – and I was afraid that I was about to lose the daughter I just met but already so loved.

We had fear in common that day. We have fear in common a lot of days. The woman who handed her to me was from the orphanage that had not been home to Grace for almost a year. There was little to no chance of a relationship between them; and yet she clung to her as if she was her birthmother. Grace was desperate to be in her arms and once she turned a deeper shade of blue – I handed her back briefly to recover, for us both to recover. As she held Grace and tried to comfort her immediately Grace settled and stopped crying listening quietly as the woman said: “Why do you cry? This is your Mama and Daddy. It’s going to be ok” – all in Chinese.

confort

Those moments were loaded both with terror and joy intermixed in the strangest way. Somewhere inside my soul was crying out and begging God to comfort her in ways I couldn’t and be what she needed until we could be, until I could be. Praying through the business of adopting and red fingerprint signatures, that He who created her heart would keep her broken heart stable through it all. In those first moments I was begging God that she would calm and survive this trauma, this necessary trauma. She is the only one who didn’t know this was the worst moment giving way to the best moments of her life. Her noisy breathing scared us all, but she was breathing. I wouldn’t be surprised if I didn’t breathe at all in those first moments with Grace.

Alloncouch

Once we arrived to the civil affairs room in a tiny office with a desk and a couch the orphanage worker handed her back to us and the crying began again. We pulled out her bear from the foster home. No reaction. We pulled out toys and books. She didn’t care. Our teenaged daughter pulled out her ipad and the crying finally subsided. Flash card after flash card of pictures that she would recognize as babies or toys or fruits provided a common ground and she slowly began to accept us; a little bit here and a little bit there. I don’t even know if she accepted us in those moments, or tolerated our presence in order to have access to the ipad, to tell you the truth. I didn’t care what the reason. It was a start. It was the beginning, it was a step. After a very long day of steps forward and back and forward again, we returned to our hotel, a family of 5. We each survived Gotcha Day, and the days and weeks after.

sleeping

Families begin in many different ways, don’t they? Some bathed in joy and answered prayer and others bathed in scary circumstances, hard hours, tragedy and life changing loss. I want to be a truth teller of adoption. I want to be a voice that says: It’s not always shiny and bright on Gotcha Day: hour one. It’s not always shiny and bright at the airport when you come home, or the first Christmas, or on day 366. But I’m here to tell you that if it cannot be shiny and bright, it can still be precious and treasured and beautiful in it’s own way. In 366 days we have had our share of ups and downs, good days and hard days, moments when the joy is so overwhelming we can hardly stand it, and moments when it’s so much harder than we imagined or expected.

tears

That’s life. That’s earth. That’s the truth. It’s true about marriage, and biological children. It’s true about jobs and education, and aging parents. It’s true in times of tragic loss, and precious births, in answered prayer and funeral services. The things we live through that are the hardest, still hold opportunities for Joy. They can and often do produce treasured memories and reminders that we really can endure and heal from things that once seemed impossible.

One of the most healing things we can do for each other as we live our lives on this earth through joy and through hard things is to tell each other the truths about the hard things as much as we emphasize the joy. There’s power in admitting when things don’t always play out as they do in our imaginations. There’s comfort in a brave voice admitting, “Me too”. There’s healing in a hand resting on your shoulder that says, “I’ve been where you are and I know how it feels.”

snuggle

366 days later, by God’s grace, our Grace is thriving. Perfectly pink fingers, toes, and lips and a heart that beats beautifully. She is attaching and bonding with family and friends. She is spunky, and affectionate. She is sassy and adequately able to defend herself (ahem). She is curious and clever and so very brave. She is an over-comer, a survivor, a warrior princess who wears her battle scar with honor and pride because she is first the daughter of the King of Kings and He brought her a family who loves her like crazy. Then He brought about healing and continues to transform her daily restoring beauty from the ashes of her loss. I doubt she has vivid memories of those first hours of our new family so I will keep them alive for her so that one day she will know what I know – In the first moments there was pain and there were tears – just like every time a baby meets their Mama face to face.

In the first moments it was scary – because she was already so loved and so desperately wanted.
In the first moments it was hard to breathe for all of us – just like when her big brother and sister were born.
In the first moments, just as He does today, God was there bringing calm to each of our souls, healing to our fears, and bonding us so deeply that 366 days later it seems like it’s always been the 5 of us.

It’s not always shiny and bright on Gotcha Day. Sometimes the most beautiful part of Gotcha Day is the healing that comes in the 366 days of that first year.

shesmine

Healing is a beautiful thing to celebrate.



The Best Mama

I’ll never forget the first time it happened. She threw her arms around me and exclaimed, “I love you, Mama! You’re the best mama I’ve ever had!!!” And every time it’s happened since then is carved on my heart as well. Every. Single. Time.

Cora and Me

The day I met my sweet Cora…just over a year-and-a-half ago…was a hard day. She was blessed to live with a very loving foster family, and the idea of this new “foreigner” claiming to be her mama wasn’t going over too well. Because in her four year old little mind, she had a mama. And she had just left that mama behind to join me. It took her awhile before she even acknowledged me as mama…and for the first months, she preferred pretty much everyone to me. Including a construction worker we met at the barber shop while getting her brother a haircut.

I called and emailed our social worker I don’t know how many times during those early days. It was my second adoption, but with my son we had anxious attachment. I didn’t have to work at all to get him to like me…prying him off my neck was more of the problem. This struggle with attachment was an entirely new concept to me. At the guidance of my social worker (and the many, many books she lent me), my husband and I decided to “cocoon” our new daughter. She didn’t leave the house and was with one of us 24/7. We took turns going to church, we didn’t have guests over, we brought in take-out rather than going out to eat, I cut back on the number of school functions I attended for my other children. It was an exhausting few months, but it worked. Slowly but surely, Cora was able to grasp the idea that we were her new family and a deep level of trust began to be established.

We’ve never stopped talking about her foster parents. We look at pictures of them regularly, and Cora’s foster brother was actually adopted by a family here in our local community. We’ve been able to retain a little bit of her “previous” life. As she’s gotten older, though, Cora has come to the realization that she didn’t grow in her foster mama’s tummy…she had another “China mommy” before foster mama. We talk about “China mommy” too, but I don’t have a whole lot of information to share. I mostly just try to communicate positive feelings about the woman who brought her into this world and parented her for the first several months of Cora’s life. There’s so much she has yet to understand about the adoption process, but she does know that I’m mama number three. And in her opinion, the best.

I don’t know that I agree with that statement. I think about her first mama. The mama that grew her in her womb, gave her life, and held onto her for months…until the day came that Cora was just too sick to hold onto anymore. And on that day Cora was left in a warm, safe place where she would easily be found. I don’t know anything more than the stark details in a short paragraph from Cora’s adoption file, but I do know that Cora’s first mama saved her life by giving her up. That scores some pretty high points from me.

And then there was her second mama. The mama that took her in, knowing that one day she would have to say goodbye. The mama who took care of Cora for two years as if she were her own, then one day put her in her nicest clothes, fixed her hair, packed her a snack and sent her to me. The mama whose concern was not the broken heart she would endure when she said goodbye…but rather nurturing the heart of the little girl who was in her care only temporarily. I can’t think of a mother’s love more perfectly displayed.

I can’t even begin to compare myself with the mothers who loved Cora so sacrificially. I often say that adopting Cora was the most selfish thing I’ve ever done. We pursued her adoption for no other reason than simply loving her and wanting her. Our motive was not to “help” her, but to fill a void in our hearts that only she could fill. And we have been so incredibly blessed by the sweet little firecracker who finds new and creative ways to turn our world upside down on a daily basis. Yet…by a sovereign act of God’s grace I’m not only Cora’s third mama, but her forever mama. And in her opinion, the best. I’m glad she feels this way. I’m thankful that she has learned to love me so deeply. But in my opinion, that title belongs to someone else. The mamas who loved her more than they loved themselves. The mamas who put Cora’s heart before theirs…both her physical heart and the multiple complex heart defects she was born with, and her emotional heart…paving the way for her to be here with me. Happy, healthy. And rocking my world. Cora has become such a part of me that to think of losing her is unbearable. I’m not sure I love her enough to ever let her go. It would hurt me too much. But the mamas who did? They’re the best.