our first winner!

Congratulations to Jill from Life at Killeny Glen!

You’re our first Wild Olive Tees winner!

Contact me at stefanie@wildolivetees.com and I’ll hook you up with the shirt of your choice.

Thanks for playing, everyone! We’ll have another winner next week…

And the next!

good stuff

Amie and I are buds. We’ve partnered up on a few things, God-led things. One is No Hands But Ours, and the other is Wild Olive.

Since she and I both have a passion for both, we came up with a way to combine the two…

For the next five weeks, we’ll be giving away one tee a week. And all you have to do to be entered is click on that little button in the upper left corner and become a ‘follower’.

Amie and I will choose choose our first winner tonight, October 24th, out of the list of ‘followers’, and we’ll continue to do that weekly... with the last winning name being chosen on November 21st.

P.S. Amie and family just brought home their 8th child! Crazy stuff!! His name is Sam, he is 7, adopted through the SN program, and positively charming. Be sure to stop over to Heart Smiles and congratulate them on the newest member of their family!

Fear Itself

During the time between our official application to the SN adoption program and our referral, I went through a lot of stress and angst. It isn’t that I suffered from doubt. Quite the opposite – if anything I was wildly over-confident, even cavalier in my certainty that we had made the right decision, in spite of everyone (and there were a few) who doubted us.

But I did vacillate quite a bit over our choice of conditions and what we could or couldn’t handle. I changed our list of conditions at least half a dozen times that first year. I worried that we would somehow have made the wrong choices – too many conditions on our list or (more often) too few. I never once erased a condition, but I added several…so many, in fact that I feared the SN department would write me off as loony. I worried that, by some careless mark on a piece of paper, some space left blank, we would somehow let the exact child that was meant for us slip through our fingers. I worried sometimes about finances, of course, and insurance. I worried about health and survival rates. My greatest fear – the bogeyman in the closet, the hulking shadow that loomed over me when I woke with a start in the night – was that international relations would suddenly take a turn for the ugly, and the whole program would come to a screeching halt before we ever made it to referral.
But here’s the thing: all of the worries, fears, concerns both valid and hysterical, all of the restless, sweaty nights, the self doubt, the stress manifestations that crept into my daily life (oh, yeah, I was pretty crazy by the last three months), all of the moments when panic swamped me like a swift and toxic tide, all of that disappeared as soon as we brought our daughter home from China.

OK, well, that’s a slight blurring of the facts. I’m rounding down. The absolute reality is that they all disappeared….well, approximately three and a half weeks after coming home. It’s tough for me to remember precisely when, what with the sleep deprivation and the intestinal parasites.

But the point is that they never returned. Not one. Never again did a single one of those fears, doubts, or worries darken my door. Now, in fact, they seem laughable – the ravings of a fever dream. What on earth was I so worried about?

Surgeries? Meh. Sleep deprivation? Maybe I don’t get quite as much as I once did, but I don’t miss it. Speech therapy? You know what? I really kind of enjoy it! Health insurance? Well, it’s no secret that that’s a big pain in the posterior. So what else is new? Public reaction to my child’s (very visible) condition, before, during and after various surgeries? Hahah! She’s the most charismatic kid I’ve ever met. I actually have to turn away requests from friends and family for QQ time. She’s a freakin’ rockstar. She has fans all over north Denver. What am I saying? She has been featured on children’s fashion sites in both the US and Europe. And yes, that’s in spite of the fact that her corrective surgery is far from complete.

Ever boy between the ages of 3 and 10 stops in his tracks and goes out of his way to ask about her and meet her. I swear, pre-teen boys never spoke to me before I had QQ by my side. We are in big, big trouble when she’s of dating age.

So, you might wonder, do I live a life of sunshine and roses? Does a dark cloud never pass over my sun? Well, no. Almost no. 99.9% no. OK, the truth is that there is on overwhelming, slightly hysterical and often crippling fear that comes over me, oh, maybe 5 or 10 times a day. I am terrified, humbled, brought to my emotional knees by the fear of the fragility of life – the fear of losing her.

My daughter is vigorous, charming, bright, loving, energetic, athletic, talented, and shining with life and joy. She is healthier than your average bear. In the first year that she was home, she barely had so much as a sniffle. When she finally succumbed to Swine Flu, very early in the new season, she came through with flying colors and barely a whimper. Her development has been judged above average by her therapists and doctors, and she grows like a weed. And yet I fear daily for all of those little things that can erase a person from your life unexpectedly. Throughout all my obsessive pre-adoption research and soul-searching, I thought of many a pitfall, but I never considered the possibility that my one and only issue would be that I would love my child so wildly, helplessly, unconditionally and profoundly that I would live for the rest of my life in mortal and constant fear of the possibility of losing her.

So here is the one piece of advice I have for any prospective adoptive parent of a child with medical needs: All of your concerns are for naught. I know it’s impossible to just let them go without a thought, but in fact that’s what you should do, because none of them will count a whit once you become the parent of that child.

Fear only that you will love that child too much, because that is the only true danger.

When they say that all you have to fear is fear itself, believe it. And learn to live with it.

- Maia, lucky and desperately infatuated mommy of QQ

Whatever Wednesday

Each Wednesday we post links from the previous week that touch on special needs adoption. Our hope is that these small snapshots provide you with a glimpse of life after adopting through China’s waiting child program… both the long-term blessings and the challenges that come with parenting a child with special needs. We also hope to raise awareness about a variety of special needs.

building attachmentadoptive momma (China) Lori at Joy Unspeakable… thoughts on building attachment with a newly adopted, older child

Cheeky Speaksadoptive momma (China) Shirlee at And Then There Were Seven… learning the English language after experiencing international adoption as an older child

Our Storyadoptive momma (Korea and China) Colleen at The Nut House… looking back on five plus years with their daughter, who has sensory processing disorder

Better Days We Have Had
adoptive mom (China) Jenn at Love Like Our Crazy Family… an update after her daughter’s second eyelid surgery

Cardiologist Checkupadoptive momma (China) Erica at Praying for You You… a six-month post-op visit with photos

thankfuladoptive momma (China) Stefanie at Ni Hao Y’all… grateful for the work of Dr. Ponseti, who revolutionized the treatment for club foot, while she watches her son Jude run like the wind

Confusing the Diagnosis: Developmental Delay or Disability?adoptive momma Judy (China and Guatemala) at the group adoption blog Grown In My Heart… defining and differentiating between these two terms

We’ll See How This Goes…momma to a child with special needs Heather at The Extraordinary Ordinary… always expecting the not-so-good news at doctor appointments, this mom realizes that everything – big and small – that her son goes through is shaping him to be the very best version of himself

Living with SPD adoptive momma (Korea and China) Colleen at The Crazy Eight… describing daily life with her daughter, who was diagnosed with sensory processing disorder

long story shortadoptive momma (Liberia and Ethiopia) Jennifer at To Africa and Home… a must-read that is just three sentences


Are we making adoption too hard? Too overwhelming? Too complicated?

I make an effort to read as much as I can about adoption, specifically trans racial adoption. Being the mom of 4, almost 5, Chinese children, I think it’s part of my job description to be informed and aware. And I’ve been reading a lot lately, specifically articles and blog posts written about the effects of adoption, and how an adopted child might struggle to reconcile their past with their present. The hardships that they might endure. The weight of the losses they might have known. And I can’t even begin to imagine. Many times I get wrapped up in these unknowns as I consider my own children and what their future holds… will they be filled with sorrows? will they feel broken and unloved? will they too struggle with never feeling good enough?

But in reading lately, I’ve been left with this question, “Aren’t we making adoption too complicated? Isn’t it really simpler than all this?”

It’s endless, truly it is. A slippery slope. One fear-filled thought leads to another and another, and you’re left, without answers, mentally exhausted. All for naught. Who knows what the future holds? Who knows how our children will face the knowledge that they were abandoned, adopted and are now not only Chinese, but Chinese-American? Will they embrace it? Or shun it? Or both?

And will any of my worries take away one moment of sorrow for my child? Will walking on eggshells keep their hearts from breaking in two at the realization of what adopted truly means? Will my love for them ever replace the love of their first mother?

I have no answers for my children as to why they were abandoned. Or why their first family could not keep them. And I won’t even make an attempt at creating a list of possibilities for them to consider. No matter the possible scenario, it is too overwhelming for a child to comprehend: not enough money to afford a child? a medical condition that was too complicated? a desire for a son over a daughter? I mean, I’m an adult and the possibilities honestly blow my mind. And for a child, even if they knew why they were abandoned, is there ever a reason good enough to justify their loss?

The truth is, I will tell my children, I have no answers. And chances are that I will never have any of the answers for the questions they might ask surrounding their birth and abandonment. Oh, how I wish I knew something, anything to say to fill that heartbreaking silence when my child asks if they grew in my tummy. All I have to offer my children is the truth, what I do know, what I don’t know. And the promise that they will never be alone to endure sadness or loss or heartbreak again.

We all suffer losses in this life. God doesn’t promise us that there will be no pain and no suffering. In fact, as Christians we are reminded by Jesus Himself that suffering is a part of life, to be expected. And that through our suffering He also grows us, brings us closer to Him, and helps us focus less on ourselves and more on the Big Picture. The picture God intended when He created man: us loving Him with our whole hearts, and us loving others as ourselves.

Is that oversimplifying things? I don’t think so. If we are focused on Him, and His plan, and walking as closely as we can to Him, then we won’t stumble and fall. We may stumble, but He will be there to catch us. And it is through loving Him and being loved by Him in return, that we are able to love others as ourselves… unselfishly, wholly, with abandon.

That is the best I can do for my children. Reflect God’s love for them in all I do. Love them, care for them, be there for them. With abandon. Without thoughts of myself. And I think that’s enough, because God told me so.

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
~ Matthew 22:38-40

More (and his are really good) thoughts on this topic here.

lesson in love


I knew I loved you last night when I was returning to bed, and found your legs dangling out of yours, half way to the floor, and scooped you up to move you back to your pillow and for a moment, watched you sleep in the glow of the streetlight peeking through our blinds. Or 7 hours earlier, when I whispered for the third time, “gai shui jiao la” (it’s time for bed) until you drifted off peacefully without a sound. I knew it last night when I was cooking dinner listening while you and Baba quietly scribbled a masterpiece on the living room floor- making art and building bonds. And yesterday afternoon, when you squeezed me tight around my neck in that toddler bear hug. I knew it on Monday when they drew your blood and repeated that TB test, and I watched your tears fall. I knew I loved you a week ago (my god, was it only a week?) when you first reached out and touched me, willingly, with your hands, first my nose, then my eyes, lips, neck, chest, shoulders- as I named all my parts.

I knew it when my heart was clouded with fear in China. Yes, even then. When you first smiled, and giggled, and made those funny faces just days before we left the country that birthed you- your first home. I knew it when the only thing you wanted was indicated with the determined thrust of your whole hand- a hand that pointed and demanded, “take me outside, out of this room- back to where I came from”. I knew it when I broke down too, exhausted, after you grieved for hours, even though my heart felt only the fear of getting through the next moment. I knew I loved you when on that second day, I already recognized the tell-tale sign you were tired or falling asleep- that little flex of your left foot. No yawning, no rubbing your eyes, just that little foot slowly rising and falling. I’d smile with you in my lap knowing it wouldn’t be long before your body would give in and I’d feel your head against me- something you couldn’t do in those first days awake. I knew it each time you’d shake your head “no” when we’d call ourselves “mama” and “baba”.

I knew I loved you when you screamed for those who nurtured you for the first years of your life. Even when your grief overwhelmed me and I wanted to take you back so you could have a moment of relief from your pain, I held you and told you how brave you were, how courageous and beautiful and strong. You could barely hear me over the sound of your tears, but you heard, I think, the love under my fear.

I knew I loved you the first time I saw you, walking into that civil affairs office. Even though I was numb. Even though I’d never been a mother before. Even though you were not at all what I expected yet everything I’ve hoped for- I knew.

You might wonder how.

Well, I’ve learned that love is a choice, sweet and perfect little one. A decision and a commitment. It’s not at all a feeling. You, most of all, have taught me that.

And how I am coming to love you. How my heart is blooming under your spell. You, who I call daughter. Ellis Gao Mei.

Can I handle this????

I can still remember the first special needs checklist we ever filled out. It was March 2005. We had just sent our first dossier to China. Our checklist was quite simple. We stated cleft lip and palate, female and As Young As Possible (AYAP). My husband and I signed it and I quickly faxed it to our agency. It took less than 5 minutes. Looking back on it I am sure the Waiting Child coordinator at our agency laughed her hiney off when she received it! The simplicity of it! Needless to say we were not called for a Special Needs (SN) child referral. Not solely because of the brevity of our checklist, but because our Kiah was in the Non Special Needs (NSN) program. But looking back, what was so important about that checklist for me was that it showed that at that point in time I was just not willing to take a chance, research the options and stretch my thought process. I knew about cleft lip and palate through some earlier research I had done about Smile Train and that was the extent of my interest in exploring other possibilities.

In early Spring 2006 we knew God was calling us to adopt again. Our new agency sent us a SN checklist to fill out. This time it wasn’t really a quick, simple process. The list was 2 pages long and for each special need listed you were supposed to check YES, NO or MAYBE. I poured over that list for weeks. I gave some thought to every special need on the list. I researched and researched. I wanted to be as open as possible while still trying to “protect the climate of our current family environment” as I so aptly put it. Essentially I was trying to figure out what special needs I could check that would give a child a chance at a new life… bless us with another child but…..without the special need being a total…..(gulp) inconvenience. There it is. I said it. This time around we checked YES to about 6 special needs listed on that checklist. Less than 3 weeks later our agency called us with the referral… of our son Luke… and he had a cleft lip and palate. I was so relieved! THAT was the original special need we had wanted way back in 2005! In the back of my mind I thought “whew….we were matched with a child with a special need that is totally manageable.”

We adopted Luke from China in May 2007. And here is where the story changes a bit. Yes, Luke had a cleft lip and palate. And both the lip and palate were already repaired! SCORE! But we soon discovered he had an abundance of other special needs that were undocumented and we were seemingly unprepared for. I felt overwhelmed, deceived, saddened and totally and completely 100% incapable of handling any of it.

And I had to face that question: CAN I HANDLE THIS???

Because truthfully, if you asked me back then to fill out a special needs checklist based on Luke’s issues….there is no way that I would have checked any of them.

Severe Plagiocephaly
Hypoplasia of the Corpus Callosum (brain abnormality)
Growth hormone deficiency
Strabismus and Amblyopia in BOTH eyes
Autistic behaviors
Severe dental issues (caps and extractions!!!)
Global gross developmental delays in cognitive and fine motor
98% Non-verbal
Multiple Processing Disorders

Because straight up…. they weren’t needs I THOUGHT I could handle or WANTED to handle. When I filled out that SN checklist prior to Luke’s adoption I was so afraid of being burdened and trapped by a need I couldn’t handle.

Now here is the truth…even though I thought I couldn’t handle all this…. I’m doing it. Every day. And there are times of struggle (as with anything) but overall… it is a JOY to parent this kid. And even though I didn’t directly choose to be stretched and molded in this fashion…. both Luke and I (and the rest of our family) are thriving, overcoming and we will definitely be better people for this experience.

We all are capable of handling so much more than we think. Imagine what we would have missed out on if Luke was not our son. Imagine what Luke would have missed out on if he had not been adopted. Imagine what I personally would have missed out on learning about MYSELF.

I think this type of knowledge should spur us forward to investigate further, research more and take a chance on a child that may not fit our “mental checklist”. Cause Luke certainly didn’t fit mine! I call my “mental checklist” the one I have that says you want to step out and help but you still want it to be relatively easy and carefree. Is there anything wrong with that? NO WAY. I applaud all families who adopt special needs children. However, how much more could you be offering a child and yourself if you stepped a little out of your comfort zone?


Whatever Wednesday

Each Wednesday we post links from the previous week that touch on special needs adoption. Our hope is that these small snapshots provide you with a glimpse of life after adopting through China’s waiting child program… both the long-term blessings and the challenges that come with parenting a child with special needs. We also hope to raise awareness about a variety of special needs.

I’ll be your voice and What we want you to know about our childrenadoptive momma (China) Colleen at The Crazy Eight… Colleen offers up several informational posts during October’s Sensory Processing Disorder Month

Tough Parenting Moment
adoptive momma (domestic USA, now living in Australia) Kohana at Growing Family… navigating her very young child’s reaction to another child who has a facial difference

W-sittingadoptive momma (Taiwan) Sarah at Journey to Taiwan for Hannah Claire… what is w-sitting, why does it occur and why your child needs to change the way he or she sits

My how time fliesadoptive momma (China) Marla at Life With 4 J’s… a quick look back at her daughter’s adoption day four years ago (older child adoption)

I forget sometimesadoptive momma (China) Snapshot at Somebody Needs a Nap… navigating the maze of multiple medications and dietary restrictions

Simple and True

I have been praying for over a week what God would have me share about our adoption of a sweet angel from China, who had been burned, neglected, and shunned because of her outward appearance … In the first moments of meeting our sweet daughter I could see the woundedness all over her face and I immediately thought, “Lord, you have picked the wrong mother here. I am not nearly strong enough or prepared enough for this child.” Quickly, my sweet Lord showed me I had all I needed to be the mother He needed me to be … I will admit I am not one of those people who runs out and buys all the adoption parenting books or seeker of specialists when it comes to psychological issues, abandonment issues, or attachment behavior. Now please don’t take this wrong way because there is nothing wrong with all of these avenues and I have sought counsel from many who have gone before me in these areas when we have needed advice and help, but what I am about to share completely changed me as a mother and has made our journey smoother, blessed, and changed our entire family …

God showed me the most perfect parallel of adoption and His love for us on my journey to be the mother he wanted me to be to all my children … If you will simply try to become Jesus to your child and put yourself in the child’s place then your journey will have a much deeper meaning and could actually change everyone’s life you touch … When my daughter was rejecting us in so many ways, I simply remember all the times I had rejected God’s free gift of love. I thought about how hurt she was and that before she could understand my love for her, she needed to know I would care for her, provide for her needs, and not turn away no matter what she did … ISN’T THAT HOW WE TEST OUR LORD … We show Him all of our ugliness and just know He will turn, but He never does … We reject Him and yet He still offers love, and we wait for Him to care for our needs until we realize that all we need is Him …

So the best advice I can give any new parent is to dig deep into the word and see how Jesus treated others, watch Him sacrifice, hear His heart for the least of these, see how He loves on the unlovable, watch Him love unconditionally, focus on how He meets the need of the person without needing a reason on how they got there, and absorb how deeply He understands us … All adoptive children will have a sense of abandonment whether small or large … Fill that spot with the LOVE of Christ …

Blessings ….
Gwen Oatsvall

Three Strikes

Her name meant beautiful, and the cheeky little girl who smiled out from my computer was. There was mischief in her face and a joy that leaped off the screen and straight into my heart. Her eyes were closed, but I knew what color they would be. Just as I knew that in the eyes of the adoption community this beautiful girl had three strikes against her. She was over the age of five. She had a visual impairment that could not be corrected. She did not look like the dark-haired, dark-eyed Asian doll most people dream of when they begin the journey to adopt from China. She’d been born with albinism, and everything about her was different.

My hands shook as I forwarded the referral to my husband who was waiting anxiously at work and who was on the phone with me.

“Her hair is very white, and she is so beautiful,” I typed.

And then I hit send, and the referral we’d received less than a week after submitting our SN paperwork zipped to my husband’s computer. We both agreed that the blond-haired child was the daughter we’d been praying for, and we accepted the referral a few hours later.

In the days that followed, I printed off the photo of my cheeky new daughter, and I carried it in my wallet. I brought it to church, to the dance studio where my older daughter took lessons and to the college where my son took piano lessons.

“Did you hear?” I’d ask with excitement. “We got a referral for a beautiful little girl.”

And I’d pull out the photo and pass it around.

How old is she? Can she open her eyes? Are her eyes pink? Is she blind?

Those were the questions I was asked over and over again, and I always answered calmly, “She is almost seven. She can open her eyes, but they are very light sensitive. Her eyes are blue and she may be legally blind, but she can see.”

And the more I said it, the more I wondered….Can I do this? Can I parent this child? How will I incorporate a child who may be legally blind into a house with four active kids? She is almost seven, what if she doesn’t want to be adopted? Can I deal with her anger, her acting out, her aggression if that is what she comes home with? How will this impact my other kids?

Can I do this?

Can I?

The question haunted me as we waited for LOA. I knew Cheeky-girl was my daughter but I was so afraid I could not be her mother. Supportive friends and family would often say, “It is so clear that God intended her to be your daughter. Look at all the things that happened to bring her into your family.”

And I would agree, but, while my heart knew that Cheeky was mine, my head kept throwing out questions.

I am a practical person by nature, a planner, a person who likes to know what’s coming. It was not practical to adopt a child with three strikes against her, and I couldn’t plan when I had such limited information. As for what was coming, I had no idea, and that scared me more than anything.

I prayed. I really did. All the time. Every day. “Please, Lord, if this isn’t the right thing, slam the door shut, don’t let us make a mistake.”

And the door stayed wide open, beckoning for me to step out in faith, to step through the open door and to whatever waited on the other side.

TA seemed to take forever, but was really very quick. Before I knew it, I was on a plane, flying to China and my new daughter. As we waited for her to arrive at the civil affairs office, my stomach was sick with dread. I was sure I’d made the biggest mistake of my life. Every horror story I’d ever heard about older child adoption filled my head, and I was almost speechless with fear. My husband was rock solid and confident, and I envied him his calm assurance.

And, suddenly, Cheeky was walking around the corner, carrying a strawberry ice cream cone and wearing a huge, happy grin. I called out to her, and she looked up. Even from across the room, I knew she saw me. Her smile grew wider, and she waved. The two women who were walking with her said something, and Cheeky hurried forward, threw herself into our arms, into our lives, with hugs and kisses and “I love you”.

She’s been home three months, now, and things have gone better than I ever could have imagined. Cheeky’s vision is poor, but her functional vision is great. She runs and jumps and plays like any other kids. She does not trip over things or bump into walls. An outsider would never know that Cheeky has a visual impairment.

Three weeks ago, Cheeky had surgery to correct strabismus and to dampen her nystagmus. Both procedures were successful, and Cheeky came through with flying colors. She takes ballet class, attends Chinese language school, and is already pre-reading in English.

And she loves. With her entire being.

She adores her sister and her brothers. She loves my husband. As for me…. we click, Cheeky and me. She is that hole in my heart that I only half-realized needed to be filled. She is my second girly-girl, my “I can do it!” kid, my child who never, ever gives up.

All those fears and worries, all that wondering I did, it helped me prepare for the worst, but in the end, I got the best – a child who can love and be loved, who is bright and vivacious and funny, and who has no concept of the limitations the world might want to put on her.

Three strikes against her?

Not my sweet, cheeky girl. All she has are gifts and a path of opportunity stretching out before her.

What a blessing, what a joy to mother her along the way!