An Unfinished Family Portrait

March 25, 2017 0 Comments

Looking up from a pile of leaves, a young, beautiful blonde-haired college girl smiles while being kissed on the cheek by a “somewhat handsome” college-aged boy. That young, twenty-year old girl, now even more beautiful than ever, is my wife, Amber. That college kid, who has not graced the twenty years since quite as well, is me.

This twenty-year old picture is one of my favorites and hangs in our dining room to remind me of the beginning of our love story.

Back in 1997, two years shy of being married, Amber and I had many visions, plans, and ideas of how our love story and how our family story would go. Both of us came from families that had four or more children. And in 2008, when we had Sawyer, the youngest of our four biological children, we felt confident that God had finally brought our family to completion.

As our four children grew, so did our the collection of framed pictures and portraits. In our front room, up our stairs, in our dining room, and above our bed, we began and continued to hang beautiful snapshots of our four kids.

One of my favorites is of Logan, Scout, Quaid, and Sawyer walking on the shore of Lake Huron. Each picture proudly displays the pride we have in our four blessings. Several years ago, I began to take my kids’ school portraits. Each of the four 8×10 portraits fit perfectly along the mantle in our front room.

For eight years, more pictures were added to our beloved gallery around our house. Four children’s smiles beamed across our mantle. Our family portrait of six seemed perfect and complete.

But God knew better. His portrait of our family was unfinished.

In the summer of 2015, what had been the quiet desire of Amber’s heart to become a family to a child who did not have one to call his or her own had become the loud, clear voice of God. While Amber had mentioned a desire to adopt within the United States, a burden for China was steadily growing.


I was happy with our family of six. Life had a sense of routine. Four children, in my faithless opinion, were more than enough to keep us busy and on the brink of insanity. Our eldest son, Logan, was soon to begin high school, and that would mean rides to marching band and school events and youth group.

I could just point to all of our family pics and the photos shared on Facebook. Life looked perfect. Our family looked perfect.

Sadly, the only thing I was looking at was the selfish desire of my own heart.

But God persisted. He brought the right moments, conversations with people, articles, and movies into my life that kept shaking up my heart and my perspective over and over again.

At the high school where I worked, one of our office secretaries was adopting from China.

At the church camp where I worked, God brought one of the interns that had recently served at our church to my table at the camp cafeteria. In our conversation, she shared stories from the country where her parents had served as missionaries.

And what country did they serve in?


And along the course of our journey, Amber asked me to go to our local movie to watch the incredible movie, The Dropbox, which once again challenged my heart for overseas adoption.

So in the fall of 2015, I finally surrendered not only my vision of what my family was supposed to look like, but I knew that God was calling our family to pursue an adoption in China.

In China, there is an abundance of boys abandoned for a variety of reasons. Countless children fill Chinese orphanages simply due to the fact that they were born with special needs.

That fall, the not-yet-ready file of a six year-old boy grabbed our hearts. Slowly our whole family fell for this young boy. His special needs were very mild. Through the Christmas season of 2015 and into early 2016, I began to have this new image of how our family would be made up in my head. This young boy would fit perfectly into our home as the youngest child of the McCulloch family.

Once again, God had a different idea as to what was to go on the canvas of our lives.

An almost nightly ritual for Amber was to look at the profiles of the many Chinese orphans still waiting to be found by their forever families. Amber’s heart of advocacy for these children would find her on the many social media sites and adoption websites. Often she would show me another picture or video of a child waiting for a home.

With each new precious face, I felt more and more helpless against this great need and more resolute that the six-year old boy we were pursuing was the one to complete our family.

In early February of 2016, Amber wanted to once again show me a profile she had come across. It was the picture of twelve year-old boy with hemophilia under the file name of “Liam”. Unlike any other picture I had been shown and in the most unexpected way, the smile and the story of Liam haunted me.

On the way to work, I could not get him out of my mind. One of the pictures was of Liam praying, as a ten-year-old, for a family to adopt him. My heart felt incredibly heavy for this boy. On that same exact day, Amber called me at work with the news that, on that day, Liam’s file would be released from the adoption agency we had been working with. At midnight, we would no longer have an option to bring this young man into our home and hearts. In a total leap of faith, Amber and I felt moved to put in a letter of intent.

Through much prayer, closed doors, and the decision of our home study agency, God led us away from the six year-old we had been preparing to adopt and to Liam.

And with this child, who we would name Jonas, we had to learn about what life with a child with hemophilia meant.

It was more than just a cut bleeding badly. We learned of the dangers of internal bleeding and how joints would bleed when damaged, bringing severe pain to someone suffering from this blood condition.

With Amber’s diligent study and discussion on Facebook groups, she not only learned more about what life with a child that has hemophilia would look like but also began connecting with a network of parents that were raising adopted children with this blood condition.

So as prep-work for bringing home our 12-year old son continued, we also continued to prep ourselves about what life with hemophilia would be like, including the need to give him infusions twice a week of the needed factor that would help his blood clot whenever he had a bleed.

The severity of Jonas’ hemophilia would remain unknown until we would later get him to Children’s Hospital of Michigan. What we did know for certain was that if his hemophilia was indeed severe, the treatment of this condition, especially for orphans, was very low. We had heard that most orphans with hemophilia in China went untreated and eventually died from not having the needed infusions of factor.

What we knew of Jonas’ story was that he had been abandoned in a train station at three years old. For almost a decade, he had most likely gone with little to no treatment for his condition.

On November 3, 2016, after nine long months of paperwork, stress, grant writing, prayers and raising funds, Amber and I eagerly boarded a plane for Beijing, China that would begin our journey to bring home our twelve-year old boy.

On November 8, 2016, in an orphanage office in Taiyuan, China, Zhao Huangyi was officially adopted as Jonas Timothy Huangyi McCulloch.

It was not even a few days into China where signs of Jonas’ hemophilia made themselves very apparent. Despite receiving an infusion early in the week, Jonas had many nosebleeds. Also, his ankle, from the walking and his first time swimming was hurting him. Amber knew immediately that we had to ice his ankle, compress it with a bandage, and elevate it. We spent much of our time in China in our hotel room to keep Jonas off his hurting ankle.

After completing the adoption process in Guangzhou, we finally headed back home on Friday, November 18. At Detroit Metro Airport, over forty friends and family members gathered to meet and welcome Jonas. Jonas’ four siblings now had a new brother! Immediately, this new picture of our family felt perfect.

Jonas immediately loved and took to his three brothers and sister.

Amber had already arranged for Jonas to see doctors in the Hematology Center at Children’s Hospital of Michigan that following Monday. There we met an extraordinary staff of people who wanted to help provide excellent care and to educate us on how to best address Jonas’ hemophilia. Dr. Chitlur and Missy and Annie, along with the many other doctors and nurses, have been such a blessing in their support and care.

Through her connections on Facebook Groups, Amber made the wonderful friend in Shari Luckey. Shari, whose adopted son Luke also has hemophilia, has been nothing short of an angel in meeting with us, answering questions, and even attending our first appointment at Children’s Hospital.

God, as in the beginning of this journey, continues to bring the right and perfect people alongside us on our journey.

As blood work was done, it was confirmed that Jonas had Severe Hemophilia A. Jonas would need infusions of factor twice a week. In China, he had only received one infusion a week for the past year. Before that he had never received any infusions.

He had been barely home for a few weeks when the long-term effects of hemophilia on his body became very real.

Having an immense amount of blood in his urine, Jonas was admitted in early December to Children’s Hospital. The complication came from not being able to give him the needed factor because it would cause a clot in his urinary tract. This would be very painful. Jonas wanted nothing more than to be home with his new family.

After four nights in the hospital, his bladder healed, he could again be given the needed factor, and his wish to come home was granted.

Another answer to prayer came with Amber’s cousin Tarra Steele and her husband Kyle. Tarra and Kyle are both RNs. They immediately offered to help assist us with the infusions Jonas would need twice a week. Instead of us having to drive over an hour each time to Children’s Hospital in Detroit, we’ve just had to drive across town to their home where they have done his infusions for us. Tarra and Kyle have even come to our house early in the morning to do his infusions as well.

Amber is determined to someday take this task on herself. She and I have both attended a class where we are learned more about hemophilia and how to administer the infusions. Amber, of course, is way braver than I when it comes to needles. Soon, Jonas will learn how to administer his own infusions at a summer hemophilia camp he is attending.

Despite infusions and needles, overnight stays in the hospital, and having to be constantly aware of bumps and cuts that would affect a child with hemophilia, the joy of Jonas’ presence in our lives makes these sometime stresses seem like nothing.

His adventurous spirit, genuine love and appreciation, never-ending gratitude and huge smile and heart have brought new chapters into our family’s story that far exceed the repetitious and dull story we could have been living.

There is certainly rarely a dull moment in our house now.

And there are growing pains for a family adjusting to now seven people instead of six. Instead of four children wanting the attention of two, sometimes tired parents, there are now five. Each day is filled with unexpected blessings that make the trying moments worth every conflict.

Amber and I will often look out our kitchen window and see Jonas playing with his brothers and sister. Today, we saw him dribbling a basketball down the sidewalk with Quaid and Sawyer. We will peer around our dining room table and see the smiles and hear the conversations of our newly remodeled family.

And we find a deeper perfection and joy than before.

I once had this idea of how our family would and should look like, but God reimagined and repainted the portrait of our family.

Now across our mantle, five beautiful faces smile.

Our prayer is that others will allow God to modify and change the portrait of how their families appear, opening hearts and homes to orphans around the world.

Trust in the LORD with ALL your heart and lean not on your own understanding… – Proverbs 3:5

– guest post by Jay: email || blog

This is Us, Adoptive Families

March 23, 2017 1 Comments

I am thankful for my family. I’m thankful that we’re all safe 
and there’s no one in the world that I’d rather be too hot or too cold with. – Jack Pearson, This is Us

Time’s been storytelling with us. Our family life is a sitcom and a drama. Our script has been sweet and fun and challenging and gut-wrenching. It’s been real, raw and full. Giggles and tears have walked in tandem. We are husband and wife turned father and mother. Our cast of characters has expanded, and we certainly aren’t who we once were. We are family built by adoption and biology, time and circumstance. There have been plot twists and surprise endings, and it’s a messy kind of beautiful. With every memory though, every point in time, our us gains strength and definition.

Tomorrow calls us forward, but oh how the past has shaped us. Our scrapbooks bulge ever open, full up with happy photographs and ticket stubs memories. But the highlight reel also holds loss and secrets, hurt and pain. The memories all so intertwined now.

This is us, adoptive families.

Our marriage stretches and grows and groans. As we’ve moved from wearing jerseys and cheering on our college team to delivering a daughter in an operating room and boarding planes to adopt daughters and a son, we’ve had to figure us out over and over again. We’ve planned romantic nights out, but also sometimes turned the kitchen into a battleground. We get it right and get it wrong. We make sacrifices for our family, yet still give each other space to be individuals with gifts and interests. Through all the complications, I like us. We’re fun.

Every child’s birth into us is a miracle story. There’s been birth and adoption, loss, birthparents, abandonment, surrender, acceptance, beauty and blessing. We deal with race, have questions about unknown birthparents, and wonder about lost culture. Our kids hold their arms up to ours and ask why the color is different. The outside world looks in on us and has questions too, and we respond at stores and at the pool.

As a wise TV dad once said, we love our kids as much a human heart can. We don’t want to be 10 out of 10 parents, we want to be superhero, 12 out of 10 parents. So we make sacrifices and plans. We pack lunches and sports bags. We do homework and pop movie night popcorn. We cheer at soccer games and plays. We build traditions and hold hard to them like safety nets during life’s plot twists. We carry our kids on our backs and hope they’ll feel the arms wide open, weightless freedom that comes with being carried.

We are one team, yet each family member is unique in temperaments, talents, appearance, and personalities. One kid has charisma, and another is quiet. One battles self doubt, and another anxiety. Sometimes we’re left sitting in the hallway, dazed and confused, trying to make sense of what each child needs. Sometimes we try to protect them from standing out, when actually shining is just what they need. We get it right and we get it wrong. Our kids love each other, envy each other, enjoy each other, and are tired of each other’s big needs.

We hope and pray that someday our grown-up kids will look back with fondness at the life we strung together. We hope they’ll grin, shake their heads and tell stories about birthday parties, vacation blunders, and living room dance parties. We hope they’ll see the hard moments through the lens of being loved. We hope joyful memories will trump painful ones. We hope solid sibling relationships will give our kids an us, long after we’re gone.

Our us is messy and quirky in the best way. We like road trips and have a fondness for jazz and Disney tunes. We have epic meltdowns, occasionally in public. We have secrets, sicknesses, arguments at Thanksgiving, and have lost people we love. We have history, inside jokes and a handshake. We have relationships that come together, fall apart, and then come together again. That’s just us.

We are discovering beauty in the messiest parts of life. We’re realizing that sometimes we smile, even while crying. We are learning to carry bouquets of rainbow balloons even on hard days, because the hardest parts of life are seared with a beautiful rawness.

We aren’t the best at it, but we love each other, and that’s something. The days are passing and the years are already blurring together, so imperfect us is trying to live our here and now days to the full. We are trying to choose joy, to say yes to the dance floor, yes to blessings disguised as interruptions, yes to music up loud and windows rolled down. And, why not, yes to goofy family chants and silly traditions.

In the end, we’re just being us as best we can, in and out of days, in and out of years.

I like our life.

…life is full of color. And we each get to come along and we add our own color to the painting, you know? …And these colors that we keep adding, what if they just keep getting added on top of one another, until eventually we’re not even different colors anymore? We’re just one thing. One painting… I mean, it’s kind of beautiful, right, if you think about it, the fact that just because someone dies, just because you can’t see them or talk to them anymore, it doesn’t mean they’re not still in the painting. I think maybe that’s the point of the whole thing. There’s no dying. There’s no you or me or them. It’s just us.
– Kevin Pearson, This is Us

Glad We Didn’t Know: Adopting a Child with Von Willebrand Disease

March 22, 2017 1 Comments

For four years I prayed that my husband would say yes to adopting again from China. And out of the blue he mentioned – in passing – that he felt like we had another child waiting for us.

Within 24 hours, a friend had sent me a photo of a four year old little girl who had been waiting a very long time. This precious little girl was 28 days older than our first daughter, which I did not know when I first saw her face.

But I knew she was our daughter.

The agency that had her file had a policy against adopting out of birth order and artificial twinning. And she had a heart condition, which made my husband very nervous…..

But she was ours, I just knew it.

Fast forward to ten months later and we were finally meeting her, our Alexis. She was very tiny at five years old, she weighed only 21 pounds, and she was so very pale. When we met her, we were given a packet of iron pills. And we were told she was anemic, that she bruised easily, and she would have a bloody nose quite frequently.

The orphanage staff mentioned that her heart condition was not an issue, and basically told us she was pretty healthy. I knew this was not the case just by looking at her. Our Alexis could barely walk and was in a lot of pain.

Once we arrived home, her pediatrician took her off the iron pills so that she could be tested to be sure she was really anemic. Her blood work did not show anemia, but there were red flags of concern. So off to the hematologist and oncologist we went.

Within a month of being home, Alexis ended up in Pediatric Intensive Care due to a significant issue with her lower aorta. During this time, she was diagnosed with Von Willebrand disease, as well as Takayasu’s arteritis‎ (I’ll save that disease for another post).

Von Willebrand disease is a lifelong bleeding disorder in which your blood doesn’t clot well. Most people with this condition inherited it from a parent. They have a faulty gene that causes problems with a protein important to the blood-clotting process.

What this means for Alexis is that she has to have infusions of factor prior to any surgery or invasive treatment. It also means that she will need medication occasionally even for a baby tooth that falls out. These include infusions of prepared doses of concentrated blood-clotting factors containing Von Willebrand factor and factor VIII.

Von Willebrand disease has not stopped Alexis from doing the things she loves and she even is training in Shaolin Wing Chun, which is Chinese based Kung Fu (think Bruce Lee). When she begins sparring, we will have to carefully watch her for bleeding, mainly internal, but even that can be treated with factor.

Unfortunately, because she has Von Willebrand, it has made it harder to treat the Takayasu’s and congenital heart disease (which is still an issue) because she has to take blood thinners for the rest of her life. If it was not for her other health issues, Von Willebrand would not be a big deal.

I am thankful that all of this information was not in her file because if it had been, she would not have been our daughter. We would have been too terrified of the unknowns.

If you have any questions about Von Willebrand disease, Takayasu’s arteritis, or congenital heart disease, please feel free to email me.

– guest post by Kendra

Medical Mama-Ness: Sorrowful Yet Always Rejoicing

March 21, 2017 0 Comments

One foot here, another foot there.   How we walk — it’s a bit of a balancing act, isn’t it? A bit of an awkward dance in a minefield. Jolting, yet fluid. Slippery, yet steady. Unexpected potholes, but given with Sovereign purpose. The sun rose with a crying little girl in my lap, her alligator …Read More

Waiting for a Family: Wallace

March 20, 2017 0 Comments

Three-year-old Wallace couldn’t be cuter! He started rehabilitation training shortly after being found as an approximately one-month-old baby. Wallace loves to share and play with other children. He is shy around strangers, but opens up once comfortable. Wallace loves to be praised and enjoys spending time with familiar people. His file diagnoses him as having …Read More

Different Routes Toward Adoption: Always Worth the Fight

March 19, 2017 1 Comments

We all have our buttons. One squeeze of the trigger, and we fire away. One of the quickest ways to trigger a release in my momma bear persona is to hear or read an often used comment in regards to adoption. No, I’m not talking about the things we all hear as adoptive parents when …Read More

Seeing Him in the Daily: A Transforming Perspective for the Hard Days

March 18, 2017 2 Comments

Today. Today feels like one of those “the days are long but the years are fast” kinda days — busy, demanding, a mile long to-do-list sort of seasons of motherhood. Have you been there? Maybe you are like me and feel like you live there! It’s in these impossible laundry-piled days that’s it’s easy to …Read More

Waiting Child: Seraphina

March 18, 2017 0 Comments

It’s easy to see how this little cherub got her advocacy name- the face of an angel. Adorable Seraphina recently turned four! At the time her file was prepared (fall 2014), she had good use of her limbs and was able to sit on her own and walk with support. She wasn’t able to speak. …Read More

Crying Over Cheerios: Overcoming Feeding Challenges

March 17, 2017 1 Comments

Where I grew up, food was a love language. I learned at a very young age that food was the center of any worthwhile gathering. I remember once in the sweltering heat of a Mississippi summer, we attended a family reunion. It was a potluck, and table after table was overflowing with plates of styrofoam …Read More

Waiting to be Chosen: Mary Beth

March 16, 2017 0 Comments

Sweet Mary Beth recently turned 7 years old- such a fun age, yet Mary Beth has experienced such loss in her young life. Mary Beth spent her first five years with her parents, turning up at an orphanage in December of 2014. It is unknown whether her gender or her special needs caused her parents …Read More

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