Unspeakable Joy: adopting a child with complex special needs

December 19, 2014 by nohandsbutours 2 Comments

Sometimes life takes us places we never expected to go and in those places God writes a story we never thought would be ours. — Renee Swope

I never viewed myself as “special needs” parent. Our biological daughter was born healthy and our adopted son has a complex heart condition. I believed special needs to be a condition related to cognitive delay. As a teacher I am ashamed to admit that I have favored intelligent students and been very frustrated with “low kids”. As if there were some magical way that children could will themselves to be smarter. I admired people who enjoyed working with children with cognitive delay but I did not see the gift in it.

We found our daughter Savannah on Rainbow Kids website in May of 2011. Savannah was listed as having delays but nothing else specific. I imagined that she was delayed because she was in an underfunded orphanage in rural China. I didn’t give it much thought and just assumed at some point she would catch up.


Her adoption process was long and arduous. During the 18 month wait we received several updates.
She is not adoptable.
She can’t,
she won’t,
she doesn’t….

Every picture we received revealed a rapid decline in her development and her health. We were not sure what the cause was but we were still certain that she was out daughter.

When we finally made it to China Savannah was 3 years old, 11 pounds, no teeth, no hair, no suck reflex, no head control, with a raspy cry, beyond dry skin, and covered in scabies. She was so vacant and weak that she didn’t even react when I took her from the nanny. I fell in love with her immediately.

But I was so scared.

I was afraid for her life and how I had most likely wrecked mine. I kept telling God I am not a special needs parent. You have picked the wrong mother for this little one. I am not enough.

The adoption trip was difficult due to feeding issues and transporting her around. She didn’t have enough strength to hold herself up in a stroller so I carried her the entire time. My arms were burning and my mind was racing. The physical and emotional defeat I began to feel made me desperate for God’s help. With each step through Guangzhou I repeated the verse… I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.Phil 4:13.

When my biceps were at the point of giving out I tried to imagine that the pain Savannah had endured was nothing compared to my physical weakness. God took over and he made it possible for me to care for her in China while completing the paperwork. The officials suggested that we return Savannah to her orphanage and come back in a few months for a “better baby”.

Even in my weakness and small mindedness a fire started in my heart. I had been in the adoption community long enough to have witnessed many miracles. I just needed to believe in one for Savannah. Each time someone looked at her with pity and fear I said, “Prepare to be amazed”.

Upon coming home Savannah was immediately diagnosed with congenital hypothyroidism. The cure is one pill of synthriod a day, starting at birth. Since she never received treatment in China her cognitive and physical delays were severe. Doctors could not say what the long term prognosis would be because they had never started treatment on a three year old.

Even though I was asking others to prepare for amazement I was imagining being locked inside forever with a lifeless child. Little by little with the combination of food, love, and medical treatment Savannah started to come around and I was the one who was amazed.

After a month home she was smiling. I never imagined it. After 2 months home she was sitting up in a Bumbo seat playing with toys. At 5 months home she began to crawl. I felt like I was witnessing God’s miracles every day in my living room. Even with all that God was showing me I still doubted. I just knew she would never walk.

At 20 months home Savannah started walking.

And now she can run!


Savannah is not lifeless. She is completely full of JOY. I am convinced that only the angels in heaven have as much joy as Savannah does. She laughs all day long, every day. She has about 20 different laughs. There’s the loud blast followed by a deep belly laugh, one that sounds like a kitten purring, and one that seems like a courtesy laugh. It’s impossible to be around her and not feel the JOY that she exudes. Unspeakable Joy.

Savannah has been home for 2 years now. She is 5 years old, nonverbal, and has significant cognitive delay. She attends an awesome special needs program though our school district. She has come so far and continues to amaze us every single day. I am not the same person I was before adopting Savannah. My heart and my mind have been transformed. Savannah has taught me to live in the moment, to let go of resentments, and to appreciate relationships above all else.


Miracles happen and hope is real. Special needs is not a burden, it is a gift.

I am honored that even in my weakness and small mindedness God chose me to be a “special needs” mom. Savannah’s Mom.

Savannah’s adoption took me to a place I never expected to go and God wrote a glorious story that I’m so grateful to say is mine.

Savannah’s family is in the process of bringing home two more children from China with special needs. If you would like to support this family in prayer and/or financial support, visit their fundraising site to learn more.

guest post by Amy Meeker

Waiting with Cancer

December 18, 2014 by nohandsbutours 0 Comments

The following children all wait to be chosen by a family. They are either battling cancer currently or have a history of cancer in their past. Children with this special need, understandably, wait a long time to be chosen by families.

Aubrey from Xiamen with All God’s children

She will be 3 in January and her special need is multiple glioma post operative cancer. We are praying she has a family soon! Her medical report states she is outgoing, active, lovely and has a sweet smile. In terms of independent living, she can peel an eggshell and fruit, feed her self with a spoon, drink water from a cup and take off her own clothes. She was walking when I saw her in October. In terms of cognitive, she can understand some simple instructions, such as throw garbage away, and put back the toys.


When caretakers talk to her she listens carefully. She is interested in people and things around her, likes to learn things by pictures, and now knows most animals’ pictures such as an elephant, dog and duck, as well as biscuit, toy car and bowl. She can call the name of some child and caretaker and point them out. In terms of language, she can understand most of daily expressions, such as “have meal, sleep, drink water and eat snack etc.”; she can conduct some simple dialogues, like “auntie, bye-bye; eat up and thank you etc.” In terms of social ability, she is timid in front of strangers, and needs some time to get familiar with others. She is able to play games and share toys with children. After a meal, she will say “I eat up.” When a caretaker praises her she smiles. She likes to play games like put the pieces in a bowl, pretend to cook; she also likes outdoor activities, fresh colors, toys with sound, watching cartoons and listening to children’s’ songs.

Zoe also with All God’s Children

Zoe is a sweet little girl who has been diagnosed with a brain tumor. The tumor has been partially removed surgically, and determined to be a non-aggressive cancer. Her medical report states she is mild and quiet. She can lay on her right and left side and kick her legs, and she can hold small things that her caretaker gives to her. In terms of cognitive, she can follow a voice and turn to the sound source, and distinguish the voice between a caretaker and stranger. She can also make good eye contact. She responds well to her caretaker and for sounds can produce “ah, and oh”; and in terms of language, she babbles.


She cries when her caretaker holds other children and can be possessive. In terms of social ability, she is timid, needs some time to get familiar with others and has strong interactions with others. She likes to play in the activity room where there is a lot of children and toys. She like to be teased, and is fond of fresh colors, toys producing sound and listening to children’s’ songs and stories. She is precious!

See a video of Zoe after her recent surgery.


Sweet 3 yr old Mia has lost her eyes, but not her ability to love and find joy in music. She loves her nannies, and she is adored for her sweet, quiet and loving way. Mia has been diagnosed with retinoblastoma and is currently going through chemo. She is halfway through her treatment – but what a gift it would be for her to have a mama to hold her through the rest of her treatment and help her get the greatest medical care possible. Despite her challenges she is already talking and feeding herself. She does need help navigating rooms due to her visual impairment. Read more about Mia here. Mia is on the shared list.



August 2007, When he was 2 yrs old his report said that he’s an active, lovely, restless boy who has a steady smile and is very adorable. He was experiencing normal intellectual development and would sit quietly during class time. He played games with caregivers and sang songs. Pete was eating by himself, had a good appetite and was eating a variety of foods. He could put on his own shoes, wash his hands and dress himself. His report also states that he is fond of playing with other children and loves cuddles from his caretakers. It is said that when he hears his name he opens his arms for cuddling and would smile sweetly while being held. He is said to be a really smart boy who loves music and likes all kinds of toys.


His special need is Fibroneuroma of Left Orbit. Pete’s right eye has normal vision. His orphanage said they don’t think his left eye causes him discomfort or pain. Read more about Pete here. Pete is also on the shared list.

~Guest post by Chloe B from Bethel

Even If They Are From A Good Orphanage…

December 16, 2014 by nohandsbutours 1 Comments

They need a family…


When we adopted Ben we knew he was from a nice orphanage, much different than many of our other children. We also knew he had a foster family for many years. Once he was home we found out he had been with them for 6 of his 7.5 years.

From Ben’s perspective his life was good in China. He had no complaints.

When we met him he did not have orphanage behaviors that we saw in many of our other children. He was more civilized and had a peaceful continence about him. He knew how to love because of his foster family. He knew how to obey and be respectful. He knew about siblings because he had a foster sister for 6 years.

Having Ben join our family was relatively easy. He just fit right in. He watched the other children and took note on the “how to’s” and then did it “that way”.

But there was a part of Ben that didn’t come so easily…

He held on to his heart for the first eight months he was home. For a child only 7 years old he understood much more than the others and integrated into our family with ease.

However, there were a few issues that he did not understand.

He would often tell us stories about his foster Mommy and Daddy. He would tell us things he did in school at the orphanage. He would share what life was like in China for him.
We could see that he sometimes wondered.
“Why did I need to be adopted? I had a family.”
“Why is life here in the USA considered better? This life is fine but I liked my life in China.”

Life in China for Ben, was good.

Soon things would change. A foster family is not a forever family. Ben’s sister was adopted and at the same time Ben was sent back to the orphanage. It made sense to him because school was at the orphanage. He continued to think of his foster family as his forever family, they were kind, nice people and they loved him. Once he was living at the orphanage they rarely came to visit and they had a new foster baby.

Ben was well liked in the orphanage. He was smart, kind and personable. He was favored. Outwardly, he was doing well in the orphanage. His best friend had a serious heart condition and his future was uncertain. Ben’s disability was not life threatening like his best friend’s but Ben’s disability could be progressive without medical care. Many of the other children in the orphanage seemed to have a more serious special need. Our son may have gotten perks that other orphans did not receive. Everything about Ben and everything he did was successful and positive in their eyes. The nannies and the director were encouraging and treated him well.

So in Ben’s eyes, all was right in the world.

But, not really.

Our son was born with spina bifida. He walked with a limp and he was incontinent.

When my husband and older son met him, he wreaked of urine. A beautiful amazing little 7 yr old boy that smelled horrific. Both my husband and son were smitten with him and once they got him back to the hotel, put him in the shower, got new clothes on him and a fresh diaper they could finally begin the bonding process.

He was a wonderful little boy. Slightly spoiled at times but still wonderful!

Ben went with the flow. He did everything the right way throughout their time in China and it continued once he was home.

As the months went by it became clear to us that Ben’s heart was not completely with us. It was still in China with his foster family.

Because after all…
Why did he need to be adopted? He had a family.
Why is life here in the USA considered better? He liked his life in China.

Ben would tell us story after story about his life in China and his China Mommy and Daddy. We have children that share very little about their lives in China so this was a gift. But, it was also a sign that our son had not completely given us his heart and come to terms with being adopted internationally.

 Ben talking to his foster sister on the phone.

Ben talking to his foster sister on the phone.

Ben came home in early December.

In early August our son quietly said to me, “Mom, I am so glad I am part of this family. I love you and Dad”. Those words were said with deep conviction. They were said from his heart. We cherished that moment because we knew he had reconciled his adoption and embraced his life with us.

For a moment time stopped and those words floated in the air, it was music to my ears. My heart leapt and thankfulness filled my soul. It was a moment to remember. It was the day that we officially (in his heart) became his Mommy and Daddy.

We want our son to remember everything positive from his life in China. We want him to embrace his past and his culture. We want him to have a good sense of self-esteem and have “his story” uplift him.

But, there also needs to be a dose of reality in this situation.

His foster family could never have adopted him.
At some point he would have to leave the orphanage and fend for himself.
He would never have received any medical care for his spina bifida and related symptoms throughout his life (incontinence, a limp and all related health issues).
Because of his special need his education would not have been able to continue past the orphanage education.
Once part of the community he would have been shunned due to his special need.
A job would be hard to come by and his future would not have looked promising.

We knew when we adopted this dear child that his life in China was good and he was valued (unlike many orphans). But we also knew that his future life in China would not be good.


Ben and orphans like him, have so much potential. We are all so thankful he is home and doing so well. We are excited for Ben’s future! We are so thankful to be his Mommy and Daddy.

find my family: Tony

December 16, 2014 by nohandsbutours 0 Comments


Tony was born at the end of August of 2009. He has bright eyes and a “cleverish” mouth according to his caregivers. He is a clever (which in China means bright and smart) and skilled child who is very sensible. He shares his toys and will pick up toys for the other children and comfort …Read More

The Grinch Can Steal Christmas Because Jesus is All I Need

December 15, 2014 by nohandsbutours 1 Comments


I love Christmas. I confess I play Christmas hymns year round. They are hymns people. Hymns. They work all the time — January through December. It’s truly my most favorite! I also confess I decorate well before Thanksgiving. If you follow me on Instagram — I was totally annoying you with my holiday decorating mid-November. …Read More

the little light project – ways to shine your light this Christmas

December 15, 2014 by nohandsbutours 0 Comments


A few weeks ago we asked for your help. We launched the little light project, with a desire to illuminate organizations that are working on behalf of the fatherless in China. We were thrilled with the response. So many hard-working, orphan-loving organizations that are – day-in and day-out – loving the least of these. Please …Read More

find my family: Gwendolyn

December 14, 2014 by nohandsbutours 0 Comments

gwendolyn 2

Gwendolyn is a beautiful little girl who is four years old.  She was five months old when she came into orphanage care. Gwen was met by a visiting team this summer.  She is just full of personality.  She likes to play with blocks and loved the fruit snacks we brought.  She has a sweet tooth.   …Read More

hanging on to language

December 13, 2014 by nohandsbutours 3 Comments


Language. It’s not something that any of us can really ignore, is it? When my first two little sisters came home they weren’t even a year old, and so our words were not nearly as important as our tone… it didn’t matter that our Chinese was very non-existant. We taught some sign language to make …Read More

find my family: Seth

December 12, 2014 by nohandsbutours 0 Comments


Precious Seth was born October of 2010 and is listed as having a sensitive special need, and an abnormal screening. His file, which can be requested by an agency, provides clarity on this amazingly sweet little guy’s needs. Seth is a handsome little boy with a sweet demeanor. He is described as shy but is …Read More

the little light project – adoption fundraisers

December 10, 2014 by nohandsbutours 0 Comments

Last week Rebecca shared about the little light project, our effort here at No Hands But Ours to shine a light on those working on behalf of the fatherless in China. We asked for your help in finding organizations to feature in an upcoming post – and the response was fantastic. Thank you. We are …Read More