Never Say Never Again

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

We don’t know.

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

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

The domestic four

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

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

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

Tess in the orphanage

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

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

Bowen and Joe

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

Becky kissing Tess

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

Kids Playing checkers

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

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

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

I called him selfish.

How unfair.

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

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

Cate Collage

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

Kids on the Beach

~Guest post by Full Plate Mom

A Birth Story

Motherhood always starts with a birth story.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Push, it’s supposed to hurt.

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

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

But after labor, a family is born.

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Land of the free

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



what we’re reading links: 5.23.2014

These past two weeks have been chock-full of news stories relevant to the China special needs adoption community! Here are some of our favorite articles and blog posts about parenting an adopted and/or 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.

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Heritage Hardcore at adoption.com highlights the importance of incorporating your child’s birth culture into family life, especially in the case of older child adoption.

Lori from IMMEASURABLY MORE shares her heart in a recent and very personal devotional called waiting…

Tammy from Casting a Stone talks about a recent conversation she had with a child living in an orphanage in “My life would be so different…”

At Unto Adoption, Mia shares details about navigating life with a child who has an unrepaired cleft palate in Cleft in the Rock.

A recent experience caring for a friend’s infant twins sparks thoughts of orphanage life from Amy Eldridge, the CEO of Love Without Boundaries.

On his blog, Jason Johnson makes a case for Killing the Orphan Care Hero Complex.

Mary Evelyn of What Do You Do, Dear? hangs up her superhero cape in The Myth of the Special Needs Supermom.

At the Verge Network, Jamie Ivey shares Four Things to Do When Bringing Home a Child from Hard Places.

Occupational Therapist Heather answers the questions Does My Child Have Behavior Problems? Or Sensory Processing Issues? at Golden Reflections Blog.

Adoptee and Holt employee Courtney Young discusses family, culture and the complexities of adoption reunion at No Fairytale Ending on the Holt International blog.

Jane Samuel, a board member of the Attachment Trauma Network and former ex-pat in China, describes Asian attitudes surrounding adoption in Adoptive Moms and Mother’s Day at Mothering in the Middle.

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

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Today contributor Jacoba Urist writes about how HIV discrimination against children feels like ‘a punch in the gut’ for parents.

Several articles in recent weeks focused on how photography intersects with adoption and/or special needs:
‘Model’ children: Parents share beautiful photos of kids with special needs, disabilities on today.com
Photos capture special moments with adoptive parents and children in the Lifestyle section of the Lebanon Daily
News From China with love: mementos of adoption at The Telegraph

Several news organizations shared special Mother’s Day tributes, including Channel News Asia, that highlighted the work of Dale Edmonds, adoptive mom and founder of Riverkids; and CBS in the Bay Area, that highlighted the work of Jenny Bowen, adoptive mom and founder of Half the Sky.

In the Health & Science section of The Washington Post, Caitlyn Dewey tells the story of Lacey Phipps: In pain and forced to use a wheelchair, a young woman opts to amputate her clubfeet.

Lantern Vision shares its video about Project Hopeful entitled Adoption is Redemption: Considering Children with Special Needs.

Sandra Upson of The Scientific American shares just one of many results of China’s one-child policy in Health Care Crisis Looms as China Faces Elderly Dementia Upsurge.

At Gazillion Voices, David Amarel, a transracial adoptive dad to teens, shares his recent encounter with a stranger on a train in The Unbearable Whiteness of Being.

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Kate, whose mama blogs at The Trusty Family, just home from China

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In China now to bring home their child…

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

Just Home from China…

The Trusty Family
Hearts Set on Pilgrimage
September Sweeties
Becoming Home

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

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


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.