As They Should Be

Last year, I was in China with Cora when Alea was born.

Of course, I didn’t know it at the time, but we were there. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the fact that I was standing on the same hard ground as her for those few days she spent with her mother.

Born November 10 and abandoned November 20… A whole lifetime experienced in about 10 days. I think about the conversations her family must have had, the gut-wrenching decisions they made. I may never know the full story, but I do know I was standing on the same soil, and for some reason, that makes me feel more connected to those tragic early days of her life.

We visited the Great Wall while we were there – maybe while she was still in her mother’s arms – and I snapped this picture of Cora with my phone. It’s become one of my favorite photos ever; I loved it so much, I put it on our Christmas card last year.


All year long I thought about having a friend turn it into a painting. But in light of our other (adoption) priorities, I just couldn’t justify spending money on a painting. So, I just printed a small version and hung it in a collage on my wall.

But in early November this year, between the day Alea was born and the day she was abandoned, I wrestled with some incredible anger… at the injustice of a baby spending only 10 days with her family of origin… at her spending her first birthday in an orphanage, likely uncelebrated by anyone… at the incredible wrongness of the worst anniversary I can imagine – the anniversary of being an orphan. I was mad at everyone and no one… and I had nothing productive to funnel the angry energy into.

And then it hit me. The picture. It was time to turn it into a painting. It was more than a desire… it became something of a need.


I wrote an artist friend I know, and she agreed to take on the project. Katie Patton is friends with my mother-in-law and some of our other close family friends, and I’ve enjoyed getting to know her the last few months. She is very different from me, but immediately she struck me as someone who could see and paint things not only as they were, but as they should be. So for the last few months, I’ve eagerly been anticipating this…


The picture is complete. It captures my heart so completely… my girls, walking hand-in-hand, breaking down barriers and walls between people and nations. Their heads are up… they aren’t looking at their feet; they are looking at the King above all Kings. They look up because they are loved and so they can see hope and possibility and a future. They are walking into their destinies.

He is there

Christmas 2009. Four Christmases ago. I was a wreck. We were so close to finding our new daughter. I just knew it would be a few weeks after Christmas; I hoped it would be a few weeks after Christmas. I was filled with expectation that Christmas.

And, that meant that though I didn’t know who she was or where exactly she was, what she looked like or how old she was, I knew she was. I knew she was somewhere across the world, alone on Christmas, what turned out to be her first Christmas.

I was anxious and wondering and thinking all the time about her. Yet, there was something that gave me great peace.

God was there.

In Luke 2:6-20, Luke mentioned the manger three times. Why?

The manger was messy. It wasn’t what we picture and what our children play with as part of our little nativity sets they can hold in their hands. It wasn’t a symmetrical wooden contraption with a sweet bed of hay. It was more like a box looking thing or basin made out of clay mixed with hay or stones and held together with mud. All kinds of food for animals was put into it, not just nice yellow hay. It was dirty, likely moldy, smelly, not anything we’d want our child anywhere near.

And, God was there. Very literally, God was there.

As spunky and full of life as Lydia is now, there was a time that she was in a pretty messy place. I believe her orphanage was one of the better ones—her needs were met, and we’ve learned that there were quite caring women who took to her there. There was a wall of windows with natural light in the room where she lived 24-7. In that room were 40 cribs and a few toys for all to share to pass their days until they graduated to another room and then another. There were older children in that orphanage too, children we weren’t allowed to see. I wonder what their days were like.

I’ve heard a lot of stories, stories about adopted children who flinch when someone moves their direction in fear that they will be hit; children with flat heads who were never held; children who have come to accept that no one wants to bring home a child their age, only babies; children who suffer significant consequences from not having the medical treatment they needed earlier.

And, yet, I believe God is there.

God is not only not afraid to get his feet dirty; He is about getting His feet dirty. That’s what advent is all about, isn’t it? God coming down, the perfect to the broken, the holy to the unholy.

Psalm 34:18 tells us He’s close to the brokenhearted, and there are so many, so very many. I can only imagine that He is very close indeed to brokenhearted children—here and there—whether they are aware of their brokenness or not. He’s there.

I prayed for our daughter four Christmases ago, that He would be close to her, that He would remain close to her. That He would be tangibly felt in that room where she slept. That He would wrap His arms around her when she was cold. That He’d rock her when she needed comfort. That He’d be in the manger with her.

I know He was there.

And, somehow, in the dark places of orphanages around the world, I can’t explain how or what He always looks like there, but I believe that He’s there. In the warmth of the sun pouring in the windows, He comforted my child. In the smile of a nanny. In the gaze of another orphan. In the provision sent by charities around the world. In her broken heart—emotionally and literally.

Somehow, He was there.

Now, as my children listen to us read about His story every night, sing familiar and unfamiliar words together to prepare, sneak Hershey kisses in their mouths as we make reindeer eyes, and use entirely too much scotch tape on crafts and wrapping paper alike, He is here…and, He is there, somehow making an unholy place, holy.

That’s what advent is about. That’s what He’s about.

photos courtesy of KC Photography

There comes a time

“To everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under the sun.” Ecclesiastes 3:1

Adoption has seasons of its own.

The first season can last for years. It starts as a seed, usually, planted in our hearts, by friends, or media, or God. During this time, we pray for wisdom, seek the counsel of those who have gone before us, and ask the question, “Should we do this?”

If the conclusion is “Yes,” we move on to the next stage. Now we are busy, busy, busy, raking paperwork into piles. The winds of change are blowing. All that we once knew is fading, and the light of a new dawn is about to break.

The next season is shock and awe. Our child is home, and our hearts hardly ever stop racing – whether from panic, joy, demands, or all of the above. This is a time when we should be very easy on ourselves; letting things go that aren’t entirely important, enjoying the little things (like black coffee and phone calls from Mom), celebrating small victories, and taking deep breaths.

Next comes the funk. It’s the day the meals stop being delivered by helpful ladies from church. The newness is gone, and left in its wake is our “new normal,” which doesn’t feel very normal, but is here to stay nonetheless. This is the season in which we have small, private pity-parties for ourselves (laced with guilt, of course, because who are we to complain, when our child has just been through so much more?) It is okay, I dare say, to have a bit of self-pity at this stage. It can be helpful now to meet with other adoptive parents, in whose presence we can feel understood.

But staying in this self-pity stage is the danger. Getting stuck here will deaden your heart and your home.

There comes a time when we must get over ourselves, pick ourselves up, and be the best darn parents we can be. They deserve nothing less.


Who Do They Love More?

I have been a mom for 30 years. Yes, our oldest son just turned 30! It is hard to believe how fast the time has gone. It was just yesterday our dear baby boy was born. We spent our time… just staring at him, in awe, completely amazed at this tiny miracle that God created!

Fast forward 30 years to December 2013. And here we are with 5 older biological children and 13 children born in our hearts. Each one a perfect blessing from GOD!

As parents we love our children passionately regardless of how they came to us. We fiercely protect them each and every day, as best we can.

But there are times when we fail. When we are not in the right place at the right time and our children are subjected to experiences that are less than desirable… experiences that are downright hurtful…

That is what happened to our daughter…

She was lured into a situation where she was taken advantage of… mocked by those she thought were her friends (an adult and a young teen).
She was interrogated and video taped as they asked her questions that she did not understand. She expounded in untruthful ways trying to please her audience and when it was over she was left feeling empty and confused.

Our daughter was previously an orphan, she was abandoned by her birth mother as an infant. For the first year home she would say to us “my birth Momma didn’t want me, she threw me away”. In the beginning it was said in a nonchalant manner but later the tears flowed. It has taken us many years to reassure her that her birth Momma loved her but was unable to care for her and unable to keep her, so she did what she thought was best for her baby. Our daughter and other international adoptees have suffered more than any of us will ever know or understand.

My heart and my head… for the life of me, cannot understand why any adult would EVER do this to a child. Why would they ask a question that is so full of hurt. Why would they deliberately try to open an old wound in an adopted child.

Why would a grown woman EVER attempt to isolate a child (who was previously an orphan) from her family and then interrogate her…

Why would she barrage her with questions and in an attempt to get information that is none of her business. Our children’s special needs are for our family only! Whatever I share in our family blog is for education, adoption advocating and prayer purposes only. It is not to be used to discriminate against, harass or intimidate our children and family.

As the interrogation ended she asked our daughter “the question.” “The question” that no adoptee should ever be asked by a neighbor or anyone else.

Here is the question that continuously breaks my heart to even think of …

“Do they love you as much as their older birth children?”

My jaw drops every time I think of this…

I am so sad that I was not there to protect her, to intervene and stop the litany of unusual and unkind questions.

Why would an adult EVER say this to an adopted child? Why would she try to hurt this child that she previously seemed to be fond of? Why would she try to victimize the victim…

Our daughter was flustered and surprised by such a question… she hesitated and then answered back “I don’t know, I think so…”

Well, let me make this PERFECTLY CLEAR!
AND our birth children would expect nothing less from us!

AND we will fiercely and lovingly protect all of our children because they are ALL OUR CHILDREN no matter how they came to our family!


Tess: I remember my first mama. My mama in beitnam.
Me: Oh you do?
Tess: She looked like an angel, but she didn’t have any wings. She wore a white dress, and she was bootiful.
Me: I imagine that your Vietnam mama was very beautiful, just like you.
Tess: And I love her.
And at that moment I was pretty much incapable of saying anything, trying to hold back my tears and maintain my composure. I love her too.

There is no way Tess could remember her. She was far too young. But she has a vision of her in her head, one that looks like an angel, and I think that’s not just wonderful, but a blessing and a gift.

But the funny thing in our house is that 5 of the 9 of us have “first mamas” and then of course our forever mamas. So we talk about first mamas like they are just a part of regular ol’ life. Like it’s normal. Because for us it is our normal. I think this makes us a very blessed family indeed!

This is a blessing. There’s someone just like me that has a first mama too. I am not alone. This is our normal. This is okay. She/he did it and so can I. Two mamas means more love. I can do this.

But I’m not sure if the little ones realize that it’s not the norm to have more than 1 mama in their lives. For now I can only image that a time might come that one of them suddenly realizes that this is the not the norm, this having more than one mama, and the first one was not forever a part of their lives. And I worry that this realization will hit them hard and suddenly like I know it can if you are 7 years old or 10 or 30. As the forever mama, in a strange way I want them to grieve about this and come to their peace. Maybe that sounds harsh for a mama to want her children to feel the pain. But if they must feel the loss I want it to be gradually and a little at a time so it doesn’t come so hard. And then again I know that they don’t necessarily have to feel the pain of loss at all. I also pray that just maybe it won’t be hard. Perhaps this having 2 mamas will always just be of the way it is and a part of who they are. Maybe they won’t have to grieve their loss so much. This is how it is for some folks, they just accept it for what it is.

For what it is… that there are 2 women who love them just like mamas do, but only one gets to hold them every day and the other has a vision of an angel in her head, one that is also very bootiful.


Her New Forever

One of the hardest things…for me, at least…about being an adoptive parent is knowing that I missed out on my child(ren)’s life in China. And I’ve found that the older the child is when they join our family, the harder it is to deal with that loss of knowledge about my child’s past. Our early years play such a huge role in shaping us into who we are. It’s great to tour the orphanage and visit with the nannies, but it gives only a snapshot into the child’s “previous” life. There is so much about those missed years that we will never know. So many things that shaped our child(ren) that we won’t even know happened.

It’s slightly different with my daughter. We just crossed over the one year home mark about a month ago. In her years before us, she was in a loving foster home and we have additional insight into her life…which I am incredibly thankful for. But in a way, adopting a 4 year old out of a loving foster family is harder than adopting an (almost) 2 year old out of an orphanage. I have much more information on my daughter’s upbringing and life than we do her younger brother, but she also has memories of her life in China that our son doesn’t. Memories of a life she enjoyed, surrounded by people who loved her and doted on her like she was the center of the universe.


As we approached our one year anniversary as our daughter’s parents, we began to notice some new playacting taking place. Our sweet girl was constantly imagining that she was back in China with her Foster Mama and Foster Baba, with her little brother playing the role of her (older) foster brother. For awhile, it was a daily occurrence and then it became more gradual. But a few months later it still hasn’t stopped. And along with this pretend play has come conversations about missing China. About wanting to go “home” to her foster parents. Questions about why they “gave” her to us.

The one year home milestone is such a huge one to hit with your new child. But there’s one I know many people celebrate even more…the day when their child has been with them longer than they were without them. And even though we’ve had just over 13 months with our girl, she’s still been with us less than half the amount of time that she was with her foster family. This life…though very permanent…is still her “new” life. And even though my husband and I are her forever parents, we’re still the Johnny-come-latelys in our daughter’s life.

It’s hard not to get hurt when our daughter wishes for her old life in China. Even knowing that she loves us and has attached securely to us, I’m still a teensy bit jealous of the woman she called “Mama” for nearly three years. What I wouldn’t do to have those early years. But at the same time, I am so incredibly thankful that Foster Mama did have those years. Because during that time, my baby girl had someone loving her…caring for her…fixing her hair in pretty styles…and spoiling her rotten. I’ll gladly take the trade. But I also know that having been loved so much before joining our family, our daughter is going to need time to grieve the loss of the life that she once had. I know she’ll never forget the first people who cared for her as Mom and Dad…nor do I want her to. I want her years with Mama and Baba to be savored and held tightly to her heart. They’re the reason she is who she is today. And I love who she is today very, very much. So yes, I’ll gladly take the trade. Even if it means it takes my daughter a little bit longer to wrap her mind around the fact that this is her new forever.

Pumpkin Pie, Pillows and the Potty Seat

I was watching Grace eat Thanksgiving dinner this year; so different from the little person we brought home around this time a year ago. This time last year, she ate and ate everything on her plate, much to our delight and sorrow. She turned nothing down, and ate every last bite, sometimes with two and three helpings until we had to cut her off for fear that she would make herself sick. This year was quite different. She said yes to turkey and mashed potatoes, but would have nothing to do with the sweet potato casserole that she had engulfed the year before. Green beans were not happening and she has words now to add between bites. She spent a good amount of time “shushing” the table so that she could recount an incident on a slide where she and her older brother lost control and hit the side of the tunnel. Recounted exactly with a very-well-done fake cry demonstrating her response to the hit. Blaming him with a twinkle in her eye. Grinning and on to more mashed potatoes. And pumpkin pie. My girl still loves pumpkin pie and is happy to steal from anyone willing to offer up their portion.

Her face is different this year – a lip and palate repaired. But just like seasons come and go and holidays return, I know that we are in a long process of healing. One that will cycle and have points of wellness and recovery. You see, I forget that I have a special-needs daughter. I often forget. Until I see food get stuck in one of her two fistulas behind her front teeth and she cries out and grimaces at what would obviously be painful as food lodges into her nasal cavity. It is then that I’m reminded that she is in process and when that starts to grieve me for her sake, I am astounded at her adaptability; how she can grab her water and swallow in such a way that the food is cleared. How her very swallow mechanism isn’t quite “right” yet and that it is almost a three-step process but she makes it look easy. How no matter how I have pleaded with her NOT to eat tortilla chips, she is going to anyway because she loves them, despite their sharp corners and ability to get stuck. Just like any good daughter, she will not only have them, but a basketful.

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How occasionally chocolate pudding or hummus makes an exit out of her nose from those pesky fistulas and how it reminds me of that first Thanksgiving when half of a yeast roll went rolling out of her cleft and onto her plate. How we cheered. How I still do in my heart as I watch her this year.

We adopted Grace with eyes wide open. We knew the “best-case” scenario and prepared for the worst. She would likely have two to fourteen surgeries in her childhood and youth. We think that her complicated bi-lateral cleft lip and palate will land her somewhere in the middle of that range. It is not always a quick fix but a process. I get told often by well-meaning strangers that “Oh, that’s so great! It can be cured and fixed.” I understand and feel their relief for me but the truer statement is that it can get closer to normal. And that it will take some time. I could get really stressed about what lies ahead, or I can (and do) enjoy each milestone and get an extra helping of mercy and grace for each new procedure. Another season to marvel at and another season to record how much her Savior loves her. So here’s to a little girl who decided on her own it was time to use the potty this week. Hello Kitty undies and all. Here’s to sleeping in a “big girl bed” in the room with her sister for four nights now in a row as of today! A little sweet head on a big huge pillow covered in hearts and snowflakes.

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Here’s to talking with her sister until 10:30pm with her newfound freedom! Here’s to a remarkable first year, gaining words and opinions, drinking from a straw and blowing bubbles. And here’s to another (or as many as you want) piece of pumpkin pie.

you can’t keep a good man down

I’ve posted here before that I’m an idiot. There’s no denying. And my idiocy is magnified at the pedi urologist’s office. But recently, I scored one for the mommy dummies of the world, because I was right!

Our Gabe wasn’t doing well. I couldn’t put my finger on it. He was cranky and pulling at himself and just not right. I called the urologist about a possible UTI. They had me call the pedi. Pedi said he didn’t have one but that they would begin antibiotics and send a culture anyway. Of course it came back that he had a raging {mostly antibiotic resistant} infection. Score one for mom.

But other things didn’t add up. And after two traumatic urologic instances {I’ll spare you the details of both}, I took him to the urologist. He told me that he was soooo glad I brought him in because his urethra was closed.


With only the tiniest pin hole opening where urine could barely trickle out.

No wonder sweet baby was not feeling well. Can you even imagine? I surely can’t.

So uro surgery #3 {#4 and possibly #5 are scheduled for next year} happened within days and the Little Prince was again living with a catheter. And quite a large one.

But you know something? It didn’t phase him in the least. Oh, he didn’t like having his diaper changed. Could you blame him? Me either.

He went on with life and actually, felt wonderful. And it’s no wonder…without the feeling that he had to pee all the stinkin’ time and the pain of the UTI and who knows what else…he was like a new man!

There was the moment a few days after surgery when, during an intense light saber fight with his brother, he met the mean end of our sofa table…and thus got a black eye. But even that, after a few minutes, was no big deal.

It’s true, you can’t keep a good man down. And this one? He always comes out standing.
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This Girl

This little beauty has been hungry for knowledge since the end of last school year. She is so much more interested in “cool work” (as she calls it) than Angel and Lovebug ever were. I think after seeing them work hard and learn all last year, she was so ready to jump on the bandwagon. She has a morning notebook like the older two and is very busy learning ABC’s and 123′s, colors, shapes and the other preschool jazz. She, of course, is picking up a lot of the Classical Conversations grammar we learn at homeschool co-op as well, and adores singing along with our very long Timeline Song.

I know everyone says this about their children, but Sunshine is unbelievably bright. She shocks me regularly with what she understands and her general level of thinking. When she is set on figuring something out, her attention span is never-ending. She is such a hard worker! Her speech therapist always comments about how clever she is, and even recently invited her to join the local Infants & Toddlers preschool program, as a developmentally on-target peer with normal speech and development. My jaw dropped open. I knew that her speech had improved over the last year, but I didn’t realize how much.

So very proud of this sweet girl. And amazed that I get to be her mama.

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Finding Her

A funny thing happened while I was writing my last post for NHBO.

I found my daughter.

It wasn’t at all how I expected it to happen. I paused in the middle of writing and clicked over to our agency’s waiting child page… my eyes drifted over the photos; most had been there several weeks with needs far more severe than we felt we could manage at this stage of our life. But one bright-eyed little girl was new. I clicked on the photo and read the description… all things we thought we could manage. I emailed our case worker and asked about her, certain that she was probably already in the process of being matched with another family.

A few hours later, the reply came. And just like that her file was in my inbox.

I hadn’t meant to request a file, to be honest. I simply meant to inquire about her status and if she were still available, I planned to talk to my husband before doing anything else. But suddenly there she was… all the known data and a request to let them know our decision within a week. Jacob and I were both a little stunned, but we began going through the motions of trying to make the biggest decision we’d ever faced.

A preliminary talk with our pediatrician put a lot of our initial fears to rest, and further discussions with experts in the field where she will need the most treatment made us realize her needs* really did seem manageable to our family. Two adoptive mama friends have children with the same special needs, and they were gracious to answer my brutally honest and frank questions with much grace, compassion, and wisdom. As the days turned into a week, we reached our decision.

We said yes. But to be honest, it wasn’t easy. The whole referral process was so much more overwhelming than I expected. The process is a bit unnatural. With our bio kids, we don’t have the option of choosing if we can handle their needs; and I don’t know about you, but I rarely feel equipped to handle the unknown. Thank God for encouraging and wise doctors and families who have already walked the path!

We’ve named her Alea Hope. Alea means “to ascend/rise,” and I’ve wondered since the process began how the name we planned to choose would fit with our daughter’s Chinese name. You can imagine how my heart skipped a beat when I read in her paperwork that the first character of her Chinese name means “to ascend/rise.” In the weeks since we were matched, I’ve made her a quilt, framed her picture for my entryway, and celebrated her first birthday with my beautiful tribe of women. And as I do those things, she’s getting tucked deeper and deeper into my heart, and I’m eagerly anticipating the day we will travel.

Things suddenly seem to be happening in fast-forward. PA could take a couple of weeks, they said. We got it in three days. Our dossier was finished right as we got PA, so we submitted it to China a few days later. Our LID came the same day that our dossier was delivered to the CCCWA, and since we had PA before LID, our agency says the timeline for processing is a bit expedited. We’ve been told that our LOA could likely come in 2 months — maybe by Christmas! — and that we might travel 10-14 weeks later. (All those acronyms! EEK!) If that timeline holds, we’ll be traveling in the spring, possibly before she even turns 1.5.


*I know some families are very forthcoming about their children’s needs from day one. For now, we are unsure how much we plan to share in a public forum, so I hope you understand as we seek to figure out, for our family, how we want to handle the private details of our daughter’s life.