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.



Happy To Fail

This past week, Grace was evaluated in speech therapy. She took a standardized speech assessment test and she failed it. And we rejoiced! High fives all around from her speech therapist and myself! Up high, down low and even some that were too slow but managed to hit the hand anyway! Because up until this point, Grace didn’t have enough sounds, words or phrases to even start there. But vowels are beautiful, consonants are increasing and she has phrases and words that are on age level. So, she was able to take a real speech assessment that had not been a possibility until now! And she failed. And that was a good thing.

I am happy for her to fail because in reality, it is a huge success. Similar to when she fails at things that she knows she could succeed in. She is in a season of what seems to be “on purpose” failure, so that she can turn right around and apologize, receive forgiveness and support and move on. Granted, there are consequences to throwing a toy in a fit of rage that involve some time with her mom away from the conflict but consequences can still be safe. That it is a safe place to “test the waters” and fail at something she knows how to do, simply to be brought back into acceptance and the knowledge that no matter what, we love you and you don’t have to do this, but if you do, you are always “in.” In our family, in our hearts, in our love and we love you no matter what.

So testing the limits of love, even if it looks messy or much like a failure is actually a success. That she is “on the charts” so to speak in knowing that there is something to lose and something to gain. Much like that speech assessment – it is progress just to fail. Grace’s speech therapist, in the midst of the rejoicing at a failure, commented that she is obviously thriving and gaining ground and very smart and very loved. Grace then articulated clear as day the word LEMONADE. L’s and M’s beautifully clear and a hard three-syllable word out on the table for everyone to hear. Because that girl knows what she wants. LEMONADE. GATORADE. I’M SORRY MOMMY. “It’s ok, you don’t have to throw a fit or scream. I always love you.” OK MOMMY. (head on shoulder, arms wrapped around my neck and that sigh of relief and safety). Failure that is really success.

Sort of like when Grace adeptly called her brother a “poopy head.” So crystal clear in articulation, I heard it over the music in the van. A failure in appropriate polite conversation among family but a huge success in speech improvement. Good articulation in the plosive “p” sound, nice ending consonants and used very skillfully in a sentence. The context was right on.

Happy to fail….



I had a plan

I have a personal problem. You know, one of those personality deficiencies that are just part of your makeup, part of who you are? This particular problem, though I’d still contest is a strength for the average Joe, pops up during the most inopportune times and throws me for a loop.

I’m a planner.

I married a perfectionist {albeit adorable and Godly and generous} planner.

I birthed a cutie patootie planner fourteen years ago.

You can see where this is going, yes? Plans are GOOD {said the nut job mama who likes to plan} and walking by faith is HARD {said the same nut job}.

The thing is, I/we plan like mad. We pray. We seek. We run numbers. We take notes {both mentally and for real!}. We research. And then we JUMP! It’s no surprise, this planning blows up in my face more times than I care to admit.

Take three years ago, for example, when we saved and bought a used Honda van because our ever growing family wouldn’t fit in our vehicle. Yeah, I had a plan to drive the wheels off of that dependable Honda. It was lovely {for a van, come on} and it was paid for and it fit us well.

Ooooh, I had a plan for that van.

And I had a plan to save enough money for next year’s entire school tuition {we private school 2 days/homeschool 3 days} before this summer ends. It was lofty. But hey, I had a plan. We were rocking and rolling with that plan.

Until the septic system needed major servicing {sorry for that visual} and the hot water heater, you guessed it…and yes, even our beloved “Hondassey” decided to leave hubby and our pastor stranded on the side of the interstate, in another state, at 10pm one night a couple of weeks ago.

Dead. That Honda, the vehicle that was supposed to outlive us all, was sporting an irreparable engine with no warning. It would cost more money than we had any hope of making to make it usable again.

And so, what about that plan? My great plan that would lead to financial responsibility and easy living next year?

It was superseded by His plan. His BETTER plan. Where He is glorified and I am walking humbly. Not in the dark, but where the path is lit right in front of me only. The one where He leads and we follow rather than doing it all ourselves, in our own power. The plan where you can’t even see the unbelievable blessing that awaits until you’re on the other side of it.

Adoption is no different.

Special needs adoption is especially no different. I wanted to provide the funds for our fourth child by working hard {and I did work hard}…but His plan was to use others way more than using my own abilities or talents. My plan was to bring home a little boy with extensive urological needs {among a few others and some pretty big unknowns} but ones that, God willing, could be corrected in a couple of surgeries. My plan was for him to not endure things head on and boldly as a toddler that grown men would weep and wail over had they endured them instead. My plan was to meet the insurance deductible and complete the needed surgeries {1 cardiac, 2 urological} in a single year. Ba-Bam. Done.

Can I just say, my plan stunk? It wreaked of self-sufficiency and selfishness. It had SELF written all over it.

Oh, y’all. I’ve learned this lesson so many times in my life. You’d think that I’d be done learning it. I’m stubborn and hard headed and so far from where I should be. Walking by faith is exponentially harder on many levels…but simplistically easier on most others.

It’s easier to let Him carry the weight and the burden. I’ve said before, I tend to gravitate toward “easy and light” way more than “hard and heavy” anyway.

Some of you are planning how to fund your adoption.

Some of your are making a plan to decide which needs you can feasibly consider or which agency to partner with.

Others are planning upcoming surgeries and appointments and therapies for children who are home.

Still others are just now making plans on how to even broach the subject of special needs adoption with their spouse.

I still believe planning is good. Even necessary to a degree. But letting go of unrealistic expectations while yielding to a plan higher and better is always the best option. I’m not at all comparing adoption to buying a van. Or the heartbreak that adopting can bring to the loss of a vehicle that you wanted to keep driving. Let me encourage you by saying that there’s a whole lot of grace to be found in the letting go. Except for the pain and suffering of 7 surgeries over a 14 month period, I wouldn’t change a detail about the road we’ve walked with our Gabe. Not one.

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And just for kicks and giggles, I have to say, I’m freakishly in love with that new {to us} van sitting in my garage right now.




I fell in love.

I have been trying to write this post in my head for a month now.  Words seem terribly inadequate, but today I want to share a small piece of how my heart was changed in China.  Being invited into the amazing work that He is doing was overwhelming.  Working in the orphanages alongside nannies to care for precious children was so, so special.  Witnessing Him use people to do His work who don’t know Him yet was indescribable.

When I arrived at the orphanage, I knew I was exactly where I was supposed to be.  And although it was heartbreaking to see the significant medical needs of some of the children, I felt privileged to care for them in any way I could.  Boy or girl, it didn’t matter.  It also didn’t matter if they couldn’t respond to me or, in some cases, that they wouldn’t be on this earth much longer.  They were simply children.  Children who needed someone to love them and hold them.  To tell them they were precious and they mattered.  To pray over them, even though doing that brought me to tears more than once.  As an adoptive mama, it is easy for me to study the medical diagnoses of a child.  It just comes with the territory of special needs adoptions.  But in the days I spent in the orphanage, that need slipped away for me.  Sure, some of the children’s medical conditions were obvious.  But sometimes they weren’t.  And it wasn’t important anyway, because they were all His children.  Children who simply needed someone to love them.

orphanage

It was freeing to hold a special one year old girl and know that her medical need didn’t define who she was.  She was left in a bumbo chair and given little attention, except during feeding time.  There were many other children in the room, and she was a quiet observer who didn’t demand anything.  Her head was so large from hydrocephalus that she could barely hold it up, but it didn’t matter.  What mattered was that when I cradled her in my arms and looked into her eyes, I saw her.  The beautiful daughter He intended her to be.  I fell in love with her.  When I tickled her, she threw her head back in laughter.  She let me see into her world for just a few moments, what an honor to love her back in the simple ways I know.  It seems so inadequate for all she gave to me.  I can only hope I showed her the kind of love He’d be proud of.

I met another precious boy, 18 months old and blinded from glaucoma, who stole my heart too.  He was delayed in all ways because of his blindness.  I don’t think the nannies quite knew how to help him.  God drew me to him.  I held him and sang to him.  I patted all over his back, arms, legs, chest, and belly.  As he soaked in the sensory input, he just giggled.  I tickled and kissed him.  And he giggled more.  He let me into his world too and I saw him.  I could see how he’d thrive in a family if given a chance.  I experienced all of the love bursting out of him that a mama would be so blessed to have.  His infectious laughter gave me way more than I could ever give to him.

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And then there was my sweet PZ.  She was one of the 12 angels in the baby room, where I spent most of my time in the orphanage.  She was a beautiful 3-month-old and perfect in every way.  I held her.  I fed her.  I rocked her to sleep over and over.  I looked into her eyes and prayed for her family to find her.  I sang.  She smiled and cooed and giggled at me.  I prayed some more.  I cried.  I loved her as a mother loves her child, even if only for a few days.  I don’t know why God drew me to her, but He did.  I didn’t find out until the end of our trip that she had spina bifida.  And you know what?  It didn’t matter.  I loved her.  And she was a daughter too.  I still think about her every day.  I think about how the nannies propped her up in her crib with a boppy and how happy she was to sit there and just watch all the activity.  I think of her slowed breathing as she fell asleep in my arms.  I pray that her family finds her.  My sweet PZ will always have a place in my heart that I didn’t even know existed.

The nannies and orphanage workers were amazing, and I fell in love with them too.  I spent most of my time with the baby room nannies.  Through the few English words that they knew, and the few Mandarin words that I knew, we connected.  We tried to have Mandarglish conversations.  We laughed.  We shared knowing glances.  We took pictures.  A lot of pictures.  It was beautiful.  In those few days that I was allowed into their world, I felt like we became sisters.  They gave me hope.  I have so much respect for the women who selflessly give everyday to the children.  They do the very best they can with a tough situation.  Even though the children are not their own, they treat them like their own.

My heart was forever changed during our trip.  I fell in love over and over again.  The Father cemented my heart’s desire for orphan care even more – I know it will be my life’s passion.  I’m excited to watch that unfold and to see what that looks like in my life.  It was a life changing experience and I am so thankful for His invitation.  

If you feel led, I would love to encourage you in any way I can to pray about joining a similar trip.  My dear friend, Kelly, is leading another trip in October back to the same orphanage.  I promise it will bless you much more than you can imagine.  Click HERE to find out more.

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The Adoption Tetrad

I still read them, the blogs of families traveling in China meeting their children and bringing them home. The images of their first moments together and a mother’s first words after meeting her child never fail to draw me in.

But, this blog was different. This post was the first of what I hope is many. A child we had served and quickly fell for is now a son. He was a favorite in our class; he loved stickers and toy cars. He raced to pop the bubbles I blew and to tell the ayis he called Mama all about it.

I knew he’d be the first we got to see come home. He’s got a family, we whispered to each other with smiles on the first day we were there. Six weeks home, and we got word that his family was there right where we were, but they were there to bring him home.

My fingers couldn’t keep up with my heart as I raced to click on the link to their blog. I quickly skimmed the words, anxious to see the pictures of my little friend with his new parents. There I lingered for a long time, unprepared for what it would bring out in me. This is good; this is good; he needs a family; this is good. I knew that, but something unsettled me. There I sat with a lump in my throat, staring at the screen in front of me, wondering what was wrong with me.

In his new family’s pictures, I saw a nanny I knew. She was shorter than me and knew no English, but she smiled all the time so large her eyes disappeared. She nodded her head and chatted many Dui, Dui, Duis at our team. We didn’t need common words to know she appreciated us. I’d pat her back and tell her what a good job she was doing. She didn’t know what those words meant, but she knew what I meant, and she’d nod and smile some more.

In their pictures, I saw the director I knew, the same man who delivered my daughter to me. All the children called him Baba, and he knew them all by name. He had stood in the hallway of the orphanage studying each page of the book we brought with updates on children who had been adopted from the orphanage. He would point to a child on the page touching their picture as if he was touching their actual cheek.

As the new mother shared about their first moments together, she also shared that the nanny and director quietly slipped out without saying goodbye. The people who loved him, the woman he called Mama who snuck him little snacks and zipped up his coat to keep him warm, the director who called him a strong boy and laughed as he raced down the hall on a little bike—they just slipped out with no goodbye and no expectations to see him ever again.

I spent three years reading everything I could get in front of me on attachment and loss and trauma, preparing for the little Chinese person I’d one day meet in a smoke-filled office in a bustling city. When that day came, I took my sweet baby out of her ayi’s arms, and I took her loss as well. My empathy for her and the foundational building of our attachment drove me; every action was intentional as I sought to be an agent of healing for her.

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As I pressed on in that journey, I confess that I rarely thought of the agents of healing who were there before me. Before I even knew who she was and what she looked like and where she lived, those ayis she called Mama while I was still reading books were there. They weren’t there like I would be there, her exclusive Mama ready to meet her every need day or night. But, they were there when I wasn’t. And, when she lost them, they lost her too. While we were pacing in our posh hotel room and admiring this sweet little thing who now was our daughter, they returned to the orphanage, to what they do everyday, caring for children to help them leave. Their lives are riddled with loss, living in a constant flux of happiness and grief as they celebrate the future one of their children gets to have and say goodbye again to a child who made them proud to be called Mama. I wonder if they learn to guard their hearts and or if some emotionally flat line.

I know why I was unsettled, why I was staring in front of me at a blog post waiting for something to click. I have been changed after serving at the orphanage six weeks ago. I see things more fully, in a way I haven’t seen before. The adoption triad—it’s familiar verbiage to those of us in the adoption community—the adoptee or adopted person, the adoptive parents, and the birth parents. But, there’s more to the picture. There are those who care for those children for weeks, months, years, day in and day out. There are those who feed them, nurture them as they know how though it may look different than how we define it, nurse them after surgeries, teach them songs they knew from their own childhood, and then bundle them up for a long car ride, hand them to another, and slip out without saying goodbye.

Adoption is a good thing in a world that is broken. I just see a bit more of the broken part now.

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Kelly led a team to serve at an orphanage in Shaanxi in February/March. She is leading another team to go again in October for 10 days to love children and love those who care for them, many of whom were orphans themselves and whose lives are riddled with loss. There are a few remaining spots to be a part of that team. If you’re feeling the nudge, do something about it. Email Kelly to learn a bit more.



what we’re reading: 4.24.2014

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.

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blogs

Yvette from Bringing Home Holland reflects on her fears about bringing home an 11 year old boy.

Our own Amy, home from a recent vacation, recounts some painful moments when she and her “conspicuous” family ran head first into adoption and orphan ignorance.

Dawn from Fried Rice and Noodle Soup retells “A Beautiful Story” in which she unwittingly found her future daughter through the internet.

Laura from Bringing Home Emily Hope shares her recent experience upon visiting her daughter’s orphanage in China.

Photographer Sandy Puc travels to China and captures some powerful images of “gotcha day”.

Two-time adoptive mama, Ginny, shares some wise advise for those first few weeks home with your new child.

Alex Chase, mom to two boys from US foster care, shares what motives her boys to better behavior and a happier demeanor. And it’s not sticker charts.

Kelly from Mine in China thoughtfully responds to the remark oft-heard by parents who adopt internationally: “We need to take care of our OWN!”

And Maureen at Light of Day Stories with a reminder that all adoptive parents should consider. As beautiful as adoption can be for the parents, for the child adoption is traumatic.

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

inthenews

Mercury news shares 18 powerful images of orphaned children in China. Estimates are that there are now close to 1,000,000 orphans in China.

A follow up on one of the links we shared in our last WWR post. With the help of an Upsee, a little girl with CP – unable to walk or stand on her own – was able to be the flower girl in her aunt’s wedding. She said she ‘felt like Cinderella’.

Medline Plus reports that the recent outbreak of measles is, at least in part, due to U.S. adoptions of children from China.

An interesting read on Daily Life – why Chinese parents don’t say I love you to their children.

Louisville News with a story about Carly Donner, member of the National Honor Society with a 4.7 GPA and adopted from China as an infant. Carly was recently accepted to the Naval Academy with a special nomination from U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet.

Adoptive dad John Simmons shares his thoughts – and frustrations – at the recent decline in international adoptions. Says Simmons, “I am frustrated that there are outspoken people who evangelize that adoption is politically incorrect. I am even more frustrated that there are people weak enough to succumb to those words without consideration, simply because they are afraid of what others might think.”

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In China now to bring home their child…

Miracles and Mudpies
Our Sunshine Days

and just home from China:

Scarlet Threads
Difference for One
Our 7th Heaven
Bringing Home Emily Hope
Adoption Adventures with 2 Princesses and a Prince
From God’s Heart to Our Home
To Tallulah
To the Moon and Back

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

P.S. A special thank you to Sandy Puc for generously sharing her beautiful photo for today’s post.


10 Things Adoptive Parents of Medical Needs Kids Want You to Know

Our plane from China touched down just five months ago. With our two newly adopted kids, both with emotional and physical needs, we stepped out into new lives, all things from before suddenly family history. Life now is both harder and more blessing rich. Six hospital admissions, two surgeries, and a thousand tests and appointments later, our hearts are a mix of weight and awe. We’ve had to hold our daughter down over and over again through IVs, blood work, MRIs, x-rays, sedation and medical probes at a time when bonding should have been our only concern. The beauty is that we’ve seen God meet us exactly where we’ve needed Him over and over in ERs, specialists’ offices and on our bathroom floor with medical supplies spread round. On a trek that we weren’t qualified to traverse, we’ve been carried.

10 Things

Many of our adoptive friends share a version of this story, and if allowed to speak for them, these are some things we’d like for you to know.

1. Sometimes, “How is she?” is a hard question to answer. We’ve probably answered it at least five times that day at church, school or gymnastics. Spoon up some grace if we hesitate and fumble through a response while passing each other casually in a hallway. We might just not have the energy for a coherent, summed up response for medical issues that are complex and heavy on our hearts. Still, know your remembrance was appreciated.

2. Sometimes it’s easier to share medical updates on FB, a blog, or in group email updates. We do want to express our hearts, and these help us do that when we can string our thoughts together to share at once with everyone we care about. Most likely, we can’t remember who we’ve updated and who we’ve missed. We want you to know the latest medical details, and we deeply cherish your walk alongside us.

3. All the time, we need you to PRAY. Nothing is more comforting to us than knowing that our girl has an army of prayer warriors fighting for her health and heart. We’ve felt the covering of your prayer during surgeries and procedures, and it has carrying power. We are always ready with an answer when you ask, “How can we pray?” And it matters much to us when you simply say, “We are praying.”

4. All of the time, your messages, texts and phone calls are of high value. When you email us prayers, we’ve probably read them two or three times. We likely have listened again to your phone messages while waiting for a doctor’s update. They are instruments of God’s provision of peace. Unfortunately, our to do and to go lists are long, and the thoughtful responses don’t happen. Don’t give up on us. 
We need you more than ever.

5. Sometimes we’d rather just hear about you. If we tend to constantly push the conversation back in your direction, go with it. Know we appreciate your effort to ask about us, but we still want to know how YOU and YOUR family are doing. Our path doesn’t eclipse yours. Have a struggle or need to vent? Tell us. We can handle it.

6. Sometimes we worry that we are burdening you with too much medical talk, and we find ourselves pretending to be more positive than we feel. We don’t share because we’ve already shared so much. Our medical journey doesn’t end after a surgery. There are always appointments, therapies, decisions, more surgeries and more days of at home care, and we wonder how many times we can ask for your prayer. We wonder how many times we can tell you that we are worried and weary.

7. Often we hear, “Let me know what I can do.” Though so grateful, most likely we are clueless about how to answer. We appreciate your offer and likely need help, but probably don’t have the energy to let you know how. It is a gift when someone asks specifically, “I would like to help you. Can I babysit your kids for an appointment this week?” Or, “I am planning to bring you dinner. Does Tuesday work?” While an incredible blessing, being served over a long period of time is also stretching. We see the care overall as extravagant provision from God, but on an individual basis, we feel like a burden.

8. Sometimes people praise us for adopting a child with medical needs, or they praise us for caring for them. Know that we didn’t say yes to a diagnosis, we said yes to our child. Most parents wake up each day and meet their child’s needs. Please don’t see us, because we are weak, grumpy, and utterly insufficient. See a God who meets needs for His children. See a God whose heart beats for the least of these. Don’t praise our messy selves, praise God for work that is so evidently only Him.

9. Often, laughter is a load lifter. Milton Berle once said that, “Laugher is an instant vacation.” Mini vacations are always a yes. A Jimmy Fallon clip sent while we sit in a hospital room is a good dose of medicine. When you opened the fridge to get milk, did you find your cell phone? Text us. Our house is crazy, and it’s great to know yours is too.

10. Often we are told that God doesn’t “give us more than we can handle”, but we are finding the very opposite. This is way more than we can handle. We are far outside the borders of our own capacity, but every morning God meets us where we are, replacing our weakness with His strength, our fear with His hope. Experiencing what it feels like to take steps forward only because of God is the greatest blessing of this journey.

Thank you, family and friends, for journeying with us. Our family is weary, but has had to learn to trust, release control, pursue joy, find hope and live with more intention. God has much to say, and He often speaks most clearly through the little people that He gifts us with. Let’s all lean in and listen carefully, as the fragile ones have mighty lessons to share.



the fruit of your labor

Two months ago, we asked for your help.

We were looking for a few new bloggers to help round out the NHBO team.

And boy-o-boy, did y’all come through.

We received 115 nominations. And we sifted through each one. What fun to visit all those adoption blogs and read the stories of so many precious little ones and the parents who fiercely love them. The only hard part was coming to the final decision… which three would be the best fit for No Hands But Ours?

Somehow we managed. And we not only found three, but the three we asked said “YES”.

Welcome to Mike, Desirée and Rebecca!

(Yes, I am a bit late in getting this posted. In fact, each of our new bloggers has at least one post up on the NHBO blog. But I wanted to announce it officially, and to let you all know how grateful we are for your help in finding these amazing writers and big-hearted adoption advocates.)

MIKE:

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Mike is married to his high school sweetheart, Anne. They live in Cincinnati with their six children – Abby (13), Adam (11), Mia (9), Will (7), Ellie (5), and Sammy (3.) The youngest four were adopted from China. Two of them have hearing loss (microtia), and two of them have HIV.

As if it were not obvious from the perfect spacing and alternating girl-boy pattern of his children, Mike is an engineer. During the day, Mike develops new hair care technologies for Pantene. (He is passionate about both Jesus and lather.) On nights and weekends, he volunteers with the youth group, drives to dance, attends Cello recitals, coaches soccer and basketball, plays a mean game of Freeze Tag, updates his budget spreadsheet, and occasionally binge watches television shows with Anne.

You can read Mike’s posts on NHBO here.

DESIRÉE:

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From Desirée: “In 2012 God choose me to be the forever momma to the greatest little boy ever. He just happens to have been born in China… and have an extra chromosome. Our life now is helping others fall in love with adoption & Down syndrome and to have a dance party at least once a day, sometimes in the cereal aisle. We are super excited about doors of advocacy that the Lord has opened up for us! During my “free” time, I am a director in a family practice residency; getting to teach the newest generation of primary care providers to value each and every life they touch.”

You can find Desirée’s posts on NHBO here.

Desirée’s personal blog is The Adoption Seed.

REBECCA:

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From Rebecca: “Mark, and I are the parents of four little people, three of which are gifts from China. God has used adoption to expand the borders of our hearts. Each journey has been filled with beauty and challenges, laughter and weight, each showing us the heart of our Father in a new way. He’s drawn us closer to Himself, and never seems to stop pushing us to step beyond our comfort zones to serve the fatherless in new ways.

For years I have followed NHBO, and have been so inspired and challenged. If I might “pay it forward” and offer encouragement to others, I’ll call myself abundantly blessed. I’m so grateful for this opportunity to serve, this creative stretching, and this way to connect with families who share a heartbeat for adoption and orphan advocacy.”

You can read Rebecca’s posts on NHBO here.

Rebecca’s personal blog is La Dolce Vita: The Sweet Life.

So thankful to have such talented writers added to our team. And so grateful for the adoption community that rallied to nominate so many amazing bloggers. Y’all are the best.



adoption cousins

“Where are you from?
What do you do?
What church do you go to?”

These are the socially acceptable questions everyone asks when meeting someone new. The answers define who the person is standing in front of you and the kind of relationship you may have with them. But, since starting down the Adoption Road, there is an entirely new group of people in my life that I love and consider dear friends but in the traditional sense, I know nothing about them!

I’m thinking specifically of our adoption travel group. Eight families that didn’t meet until in a Beijing hotel lobby, jet lagged, sweaty & a bit nervous. (Clearly at our finest!) We identified each other across the room & quickly started pulling out photos and sharing our adoption stories. I was shocked to hear MY testimony coming from the lips of these strangers; the same miracles, the same provision, the same calling for this sweet one they’ve only held in their heart. The same God.

Truly, we spent very little time with each other while in China. Three days in Beijing desperate to get to our kids and a week in Guangzhou equally desperate to get our kids back home. Yet 20 months later, through the magic of the Internet, we still post pictures, share stories & prayer requests and celebrate adoption. But I don’t know what they do (someone is a teacher, right?!), how long they’ve been married or even what church/denomination they belong to. (Gasp!). Not once have we discussed theological nuances, church politics or who is pre-trib, mid-trib, or post-trib. It just doesn’t matter.

In fact, I probably love them more because of the conversations we haven’t had. Not that we have purposely avoided any church-life landmines, but none of that triviality defines the relationship we have with each other or our relationship with OUR Heavenly Father. What binds us together is the overwhelming awareness of God’s adoption gospel in our lives. As a group of strangers from across the nation, we share the same story of emptying our bank accounts and flying across the planet to bring our children home & into our families. And in that precious moment on that excruciatingly hot August day in China when our children were finally placed in our arms, we didn’t say a word, we didn’t have to say it… we GOT it… Jesus DIED to get us home & into His family; and in all of the love (& tears!) that burst from our hearts for our new children on that day, how MUCH OVERWHELMINGLY MORE does our Lord love us?!

This beautiful shared revelation, this Gospel thread that knits our families together, is really the only thing that matters. Together we are the forever children of the Most High and our children… are Adoption Cousins.

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August 2012. Guangzhou, China

The Apostle Paul clearly had the same experience in his travels through the early Church. People who GOT it: an intimate understanding that only in Christ is real unity of purpose and joy possible. We partake of the same Grace! Zip codes, salaries & church order don’t diminish one ounce of that Truth. And if we don’t see each other again on this earth, I am, like Paul says, ‘confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in each of us & our new children will complete it until the day of Christ’s return’ (Phil 1:6). I am also confident we will be MUCH less jet lagged, sweaty & nervous!

So to our Adoption Cousins, the Bamboo Families, and all the precious people we’ve met on this Adoption Road…

“I thank my God up on EVERY remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine making request for you all with JOY for your fellowship in the gospel from the first day until now…” Philippians 1:2-5



like rain in the desert

It seems fitting to me that it’s raining in the desert the night before Easter.

I can’t remember the last time it rained, and I’ve opened the windows wide in our house. Propped the back door open. I’m inhaling the scent of the air washed clean of all the dust it usually carries; listening to the quiet rumble of thunder. My babies are both asleep for now. It’s been a hard day, and I’m glad for the few minutes of stillness with this soundtrack of peace falling in heavy drops right outside the window. It is grace-for-the-moment, exactly what my heart needed to close out this day.

Alea doesn’t feel well… 17 months is a brutal age for anyone, I think. Caught between babyhood and toddler, your desire for independence far outstrips your communication skills or physical mobility. Throw in some teething (Seriously… the poor child seems to be cutting almost all of her teeth at the same time. She has gone from about 4-5 teeth to about 9 in the 3 weeks we have had her… with more on the way), an ear infection and fever, a total change in diet and schedule, and completely new routines, caregivers, and OhAbsolutelyEverything, and you have a recipe for disaster.

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I’m amazed she smiles at all. As my sister-in-law said tonight, “If a grown-up went through what Alea has just gone through, they’d probably be thrown into a depression.” And for the most part, Alea is happy… or at least amused and distracted. But today she has really not felt well, and I’ve discovered in those moments when she is most distraught, most inconsolable, and most undone, that I am not the one she wants.

I’m not sure if she even knows the one she wants. She wasn’t held much when she cried in China, her nanny told me as much. (Who has time to hold crying babies when there are 30 cribs in a room?) But maybe she is mourning the loss of her nanny. Maybe it is her arms that she wants. Or maybe she just doesn’t know what to do with the intimacy of another person holding her when she is in pain. Sometimes as she’s crying and I cradle her, she arches away from me – pushing her body and her face… every bit of her being – to face in the other direction. So I set her down, thinking maybe she needs just a bit of space. But then her cry turns to a heartbreaking wail, as if she is saying “I know I said I don’t want you to hold me, but I can’t bear for you to walk away.”

And in those moments, I’ve come to realize I am in a fight for her heart. I need to woo her. To win her. To become her safe place in time of trouble. I need to teach her that she doesn’t have to be big and strong anymore. She can come snuggle in mama’s arms when her whole body aches. She doesn’t have to twist her head from side to side or pull on her hair to find peace. She can find shelter in my arms.

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I know this is my purpose, my calling in this season of motherhood with Alea. Much like the endless nights I spent feeding and rocking Cora in the early weeks of life with her, this is the season of motherhood with Alea where I’m laying a foundation of trust, love, and responsiveness. It’s where the hard work of tilling the soil of her heart takes place… We knew coming into this journey that parenting a child who spent the first part of her life in an institution would look different – it is intense, it is therapeutic, and it is all-consuming. If Cora fussed a bit at 17 months, I knew we had the foundation of trust she needed for me to make a decision sometimes to just get dinner on the table, or to finish the project I was working on. But with Alea right now, she doesn’t have that foundation, so I am always on call. Part of wooing her and winning her heart is proving to her that when she needs something, we will be there to respond, and right now for Alea that mostly looks like being held for almost every waking hour of the day.

I don’t have it in me.

I’ll be honest, I don’t think of myself as an amazingly-gifted, well-equipped mama. (Does anyone? Don’t answer that if you do.) I find myself saying a joyful Hallelujah most days at bedtime. I am distracted, easily bored with child’s play, and far too connected to the blasted-iPhone-in-my-hand-at-all-times. In my own estimation, I feel so far from the mama I believe my girls need, and yet I’m the one they have. Especially when it comes to Alea, I’m shocked that she is mine. I know the paperwork process of an adoption is overwhelming for some more than others, but to me it isn’t that bad, and I can’t tell you the number of times I pause and shake my head in wonder that with so little effort on our part, the Chinese authorities entrusted her to us… forever!

It’s a miracle like rain in the desert the night before Easter.

When we got our Travel Approval to pick up Alea, I made a little video to announce our big news. I’ve not been able to get the chorus of the background track out of my head for months, and tonight one line from it continues to echo in my head… “Let the rain wash away all the pain of yesterday.”

I’m so glad I don’t have to have it in me.

I’m so glad he comes in like a rainstorm in the desert… flashes of lightning and rolling thunder. Desert rain is slow and steady at times and torrential and powerful at others, just like his love for us. His love fills the cracks in the driest places and seemingly overnight something blooms in what seemed like dead ground. Sometimes it is just enough to pull the dust out of the air and everyone is thankful for the relief, but sometimes it is extravagantly, ridiculously, absurdly more than we could ask or imagine. Sometimes we have boats rowing down the main streets in our town and children splashing in puddles as deep as their knees. And sometimes his love overtakes us like that; it swallows us up and fills our dry cracks and gives us a reason to stand in the backyard staring straight up into the downpour with our arms stretched wide and our mouths open… dizzy from the kaleidoscope of heavy drops falling down on us, mixing with our tears of joy and sorrow and washing away all of the pain of yesterday.

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I don’t even need to have it in me.

It’s been hard these last few weeks, and I have a feeling it is going to get even harder before it gets better. But I know that the God who sends a desert rain the night before we celebrate his resurrection is in the business of bringing life after death, and I am trusting him with this journey. He is going to do something new in Alea’s heart, and He is doing something new in mine too. He is breaking off the dead, tearing out the sorrow, finding the deepest hurts and wounds and putting his finger right on the place that feels the most raw… and though it hurts, he is pushing us together and we will heal as one. Our hearts are being stitched together. She is mine and I am hers and He is our Father who stitches together beautiful things out of our broken pieces.

I’m only thankful He is in me.

This Easter has found me doing more of the liturgy of the ordinary than anything focused on Holy Week. Laundry, rocking babies, snuggling with my big girl, calling doctors, washing dishes, making bottles. I’ve missed all the services our church offered in celebration of Easter – things I would have liked to have attended, as I’m someone who loves the ritual and celebration. If Alea isn’t feeling better in the morning, we probably won’t even make it to Easter services. But despite my lack of formal observance this year, I’ve found myself more thankful than ever for what this season means. It’s a dark week. The crowds roar “Hosanna” on Sunday and “Crucify Him” on Friday. It doesn’t seem possible that it could end well, and in the middle of the darkness and death and destruction it feels foolish to hope for new life. But as I hold my broken-hearted little girl, sensing more and more the depth of her woundings, I find myself emboldened by the unlikely promise of the Easter story. My Jesus is in the business of redemption and restoration. And he will not leave her like this. She may not wear the legal label of orphan anymore, but he isn’t going to leave her with an orphan spirit either. Those angry and snarled roots of darkness and death and destruction will be removed by the one who makes dead things alive, and they will not hold her back from the LIFE he wants her to have. I don’t know how we will get to that place of healing – it may be quite the journey – but I have the utmost confidence and peace that we will get there together.

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He rains in the desert and in the desert of our hearts. He fills the broken places and the cracks in the ground and our cups to overflowing. He will give me all that I need to be a mama to my girls, and He gives me every reason to foolishly believe in his plan for redemption of each of our stories. Easter is a promise of new life, so it is fitting that it is raining in the desert the night before Easter. I can hardly wait to see all that grows.

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Photo Credit – The incredible duo of Sandy Puc and her son Nic photographed our group of families the day we met our children.  These pictures were taken in the first few minutes after we met Alea.