Her First Smile

July 30, 2016 by nohandsbutours 0 Comments

It was the morning before my daughter’s cleft lip repair. Alongside my husband and with my daughter in my arms, we walked into her surgeon’s office. We had intentionally waited four months after her adoption before scheduling the surgery. I wanted to give her time to begin to know and trust us. I also wanted time to learn all the little details about her before surgery. So, we waited. A few short months later, suddenly the wait was over and I was sitting in a surgeon’s office. The idea of kissing the lips I knew one last time felt devastating.


Her surgeon began walking through what the next day held and what we could expect during and after surgery. After going over all the basics, he turned to me and asked me to explain in my own words what he would be doing the next day.

I had held it together up until that point. When he asked the question, I lost it. “You are going to change her smile,” I blurted out. I was a wreck. I wanted to scoop her up and run far away from the hospital and the doctor that were going to change the face I dearly loved.

Her surgeon compassionately smiled at me and said, “I’m not changing her smile, I’m just rearranging it a little bit.” He understood. His words were exactly what my aching heart needed. The smile I knew and loved would not change, it was simply being rearranged a little bit.


It was a couple months after surgery that her ‘new’ smile finally became simply her smile to me. I was grieving a loss that not many could understand.

Though I never doubted that she needed her cleft lip and palate repaired, that did not make it easier. There is a commercial out about providing cleft kiddos surgery SO that they can smile. I get fired up every time I see it. My daughter, like many born with clefts, could light up a room with her beautiful cleft smile. She needed surgery, but it was not so that she could smile.


It has been 3.5 years since her doctor asked me that question. We keep two pre-surgery photos proudly displayed in our living room. A large canvas print of one is her favorite picture. With her big grin, she’ll look up at it and say, “Mommy, I was such a cute baby!” She sees what I saw – an adorable, wide grinned beautiful baby girl.

I sure love her smile today, but I am immensely grateful when I close my eyes and picture her as a baby I can still see every detail and curve of her beautiful first smile.




In the midst of raising five young kids, who create wonderful (but messy) chaos, Ashley Campbell uses photography as a tool to delight in the seemingly not so glamorous moments of life. On her blog Under the Sycamore, and through her SnapShops photography workshops, she hopes to help others find and celebrate the marvelous in the mundane.

The Campbells spend the majority of their days on a couple acres in Oklahoma where their roots run deep. You can also find her on Instagram here.

Dear Younger Me, Joy Comes with the Morning

July 29, 2016 by nohandsbutours 1 Comments

Dear Younger Me.

There you are, flying across the country to learn from Dr. Karyn Purvis and driving to Alabama to complete adoption training.

There you are, reading every adoption book you can get your hands on.

There you are, doing what you always do when approaching something new, you learn everything you possibly can. You dive into research.

You have not become a mommy yet, but you know this is such an important role you are stepping into. You know that this journey to become a family could be painful for all involved, you just don’t know how painful.

But, younger me, though you know the research, you do not yet know what it feels and looks like. Sure, you have watched the Purvis videos with real life examples and interventions. You have yet to live it, for it to become incarnate. It is okay that you do not know.

In childbirth, it is expected that the mother screams out in agony as parts of her body are stretched and torn to bring forth new life. It is a beautiful brokenness and triumph as she holds her baby for the first time. Her life has forever been changed. And others understand the pain when bringing a baby into the family through childbirth. In adoption, you will scream out prayers of pain because your heart and resources are being stretched to bring forth new life. And that first time your child melts on your shoulder — years after coming home — you are like that exhausted, broken, radiant and joyful mama holding her newborn. The painful moments in the process make this moment so much sweeter, divinely precious. Many people do not know what it took to get here or that pain is also a natural part of this process of becoming a family.

Dear younger me, months after getting home from China, you will still wonder if your child will ever like or love you. Each day, you will face what feels like rejection. You are colliding with history, a history that says a mama leaves. I am proud of the way you keep trying to reach your little one. There are moments you are sad, and must adjust your expectations, but I love the way you pursue her without conditions. You long for connection, you pursue connection, but you do not demand it because love cannot be demanded.


Mama, you will grieve all of the moments you missed with your precious one: the first cry, the first feeding, the first diaper change, the first smile and coo, the first time she rolled over, and her first steps. You will then grieve all of the moments that She — the one who gave life to your child — does not get to experience: the birthday cake, the preschool graduation, the everyday ordinary moments. And because She is not there, you promise to take in all of the preciousness of each moment for the both of you. You will grieve that in order for your children to become part of your family, loss had to take place. And at night as you look at your little one sleeping, you will think of Her and hope that someday you will meet. You will save every preschool drawing and every note to someday share with Her.

There will be seasons when you will feel lonely and misunderstood. You will long for community. There will be those who really educate themselves about the journey your family is on, though some you love will not go there. It is easier for them not to. “You all have too many rules,” a few say. What they do not understand is that you too grieve that it needs to be different, that it has to be. Sometimes, it is from the people you expected to be the most supportive and that adds to the isolation. “Oh, your child is fine! Every kid does that.” No, I promise, it is different.

But those who try to understand will become a healing sanctuary for your family. They become like the doulas in childbirth, holding your hand as you scream out in pain and reminding you to just breathe and massaging where it hurts. Sometimes, you just need to remember to breathe. To rest. To stop.

Your tribe will be small, and so precious. Doctors, therapists, and social workers will become part of your village and with you, they will notice and point to each precious sign of growth as a family. And friends and family who really want to know your family — even the messy and broken — will become your lifeline. They won’t judge or critique you, but they will embrace you and each precious person in your family unconditionally. Like you, they will get to witness the miracle that is about to unfold and they will provide encouragement along the way.

Dear younger me, you will discover your voice. You will realize that it is impossible to both people please and parent your children in a manner that brings healing. You will calmly ask that stranger to stop tickling your child. Sometimes, you will be the first to ever share with a teacher how childhood trauma impacts behavior, but you will use your voice to do that. You will wrestle with how much to share and whether to share and whom to share with and when to share. You will fumble over your words. You will advocate for you kids in medical appointments and teach them about attachment and trauma. And you will respond to what feels like intrusive questions from strangers about your family – and you will learn that sometimes the most appropriate response is, “That is private.” You will discover inside of you a strength and a bravery that had never had the opportunity to blossom before.

You will make mistakes. And you will feel guilt. At times, you will feel unbelievable pressure to not add to your children’s hurt and the guilt when you make mistakes will be overwhelming. You are human, mama. It is okay just to be okay sometimes. You will embrace your flaws and work to make changes so that you do not get in the way of your children’s healing. You will learn to ask for help. You will learn that when you make mistakes with your children and when you hurt their hearts, that the moments of repair and saying “I am sorry” are even more healing than being perfect. Modeling repair is powerful. You will cling to Jesus for grace and to bring supernatural healing in your life too. You will come face to face with your own brokenness. And mama, don’t worry, research shows you only need to get connected parenting “right” 30% of the time. You can still fail and get it right. You will work so unbelievably hard at attachment — walking away from your career, driving hours to meet with clinicians — and you will see progress.

Dear younger me, you do not yet know the ache you will feel, the overwhelming feeling of love for your children that is so fierce, it takes your breath away. She and he may not have grown inside you, but you will learn their rhythm, their scent, and they will become part of you and you part of them. You thought this love would surely be instantaneous, but it takes time for both of you. Give yourself time. Give your children time. Remember, your friends who describe the instant connection at childbirth with their babies carried them inside for 40 weeks. 40 weeks of moments. It was not instantaneous. Give yourself that time and do not feel guilty when it is not immediate. But, know that it will come.

Cling to hope. He makes all things new. Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning.

And all of you will be made new and experience a deep and abiding joy.

Dear Younger Me, Let Your Heart be Broken

July 28, 2016 by nohandsbutours 4 Comments

Hey there, shadow of myself. Yes, I’m talking to you, the woman who is spending countless hours picking out the perfect color for the walls of the nursery where, in a few months, you will rock your “healthy, as young as possible” baby girl from China.

I’m smiling right now, thinking of the woman I once was over eleven years ago. You have no idea, absolutely no idea, how your world is about to be rocked. This tornado disguised as a little girl will turn your world upside down.


You will be in the trenches, sometimes beaten down, wondering what happened to your life, trading in the time spent making sure her dresser drawers are neat and organized for time in the attachment therapist’s office. You’ll learn to let go of everything you thought you knew about parenting, of your preconceived idea of family, of “healthy”.

You will be forced from selfishness to selflessness. You will stop thinking of adoption as finding the right child for you and learn to become the right parent for a child. It will be difficult. It will be ugly at times. It will leave you a sobbing heap in the closet. It will stretch you and twist you until you don’t recognize yourself anymore.

But it will be glorious, and you will look at yourself in the mirror a decade from now and be so proud of the parent and family you have become.

I could never sum up over ten year’s worth of experiences and insights into one blog post, so I’ll sum up for you, my younger self, some things to help you along the way as you prepare to bring home your children through adoption. Oh, and by the way, there won’t be one adoption. There will be five!

Don’t confuse the desires of your own heart for God’s promptings.

Sometimes the right thing to do, the path you are supposed to be on, is the one you resist the most. Sometimes you rationalize that what you want is what God wants. Not so. Let go, and allow yourself to truly embrace the unexpected. If you don’t, you’ll miss out on this beautiful boy, and the life lessons he will teach you.


You are stronger than you ever imagined yourself to be.

Yes, you… the shy woman who once avoided anything frightening, unknown, or challenging. You will receive a terminal diagnosis from the first cardiologist who treats your son and you will learn what it means to fight for your child, to navigate the medical world, to not take “no” for an answer when on the phone with your medical insurer, to dig and research and advocate.

Trust me. This is a path to amazing things. Just keep going. It will lead you to amazing places, and along the way you will be led to this precious boy, your baby boy


Stop being afraid to hurt people’s feelings. God gave you instincts and a voice. Use them, but with grace.

You’ve spent over three decades doing your best to be unobtrusive. Listen to me. That’s not what your children are going to need from you. Those sacred souls you will be entrusted with need you to find the strength to say, “I appreciate your years of medical school. You have a world-class reputation, and I know you have my child’s best interest at heart. But I’m still going to obtain the input of others. This is not about my not trusting you. It’s about being able to answer to myself and to my child. It’s about providing myself with emotional insurance.”

Take a deep breath and do this. It will change the course of your baby boy’s life. It will save some of your future children’s lives.

Scarlett and Mommy before surgery

Don’t fear potential loss. Don’t fear the diagnosis. What you should fear is fear, as it is a joy stealer and a thief of life.

You see that oxygen saturation reading on the morning of your 28 month old daughter’s first open heart surgery? It’s not her lowest. When reviewing her file, some will tell you not to adopt this child. She has the most severe form of single ventricle heart disease. She may not make it to adulthood. She may be brain damaged from chronic and pronounced hypoxia. (She is, by the way. And she is absolutely perfect as such. You will not be able to imagine your life without her perfectly incandescent smile.) She may be in full time Special Education Services. (She is, and so what? It has been an absolute joy to parent this “mentally retarded” child, as one medical professional will refer to her as when you fail to display the expected tearful reaction to the results of her neuro/psychological testing. It will be a blessing to become friends with the parents of her classmates and other adoptive parents of special needs children, and to feel a connection and an understanding that, sadly, is now missing in many of the relationships you had before you became an adoptive parent.) She may not be able to ever live independently. (Guess what? The idea of having this precious, sweet, funny, and feisty daughter as a permanent resident under your roof will fill you and Eric with joy!)

Stop worrying. It’s going to be okay. In fact, it’s going to be great.

Scarlett and Mommy after surgery

Find your way to peace when in your hardest times. Have patience for those caring for your child in the medical setting. Do not hold grudges against friends and family for not knowing what to say or how to support you. Find something to praise in each and every day, even while in the hospital. You will need to practice this, for the hardest days are yet to come.

One of the most challenging skills you will need to learn is how to find joy in the saddest of days. Buy yourself a treat at the hospital cafeteria. Indulge in an overpriced latte. Share a funny video with a nurse. Make jokes with doctors. Laugh with friends. Ponder the beauty of God’s sunrises and sunsets through the window of your children’s CICU rooms. It’s okay to smile, to laugh, and to appreciate all of the beauty of life even when your child is struggling. This will save your soul.


Allow your heart to be broken.

You will be strong and courageous and good at finding each day’s blessings, but you will forget that part of courage is finding the strength to grieve. Give yourself this gift. You are not turning a blind eye to each day’s goodness or insulting God by allowing yourself to be devastated by the brokenness of this world. You will pay a price, emotionally and physically, for not allowing room for your pain during the times to come. Give yourself permission to cry.

Rini waiting for transplant

Expect, understand, and accept that you will not be the same person you were before.

You will lose the perspective of the world that you once held, but you will gain a wider one. You will lose your ability to enjoy some of the pastimes you once pursued, but in their place you will find more meaning in this life and deeper ways to utilize your time. You will lose some friends you’ve had for years, but you will find yourself entrenched within the most supportive and loving community you can imagine.

And ultimately, you will lose your innocence. How can you not, when the heart beating inside of your daughter is the same heart that stopped beating inside of another mother’s child?

Rini’s old and new hearts

Thank God each and every day for placing you at the beginning of this most wondrous and miraculous path.

You will be given far more than you can handle. That’s why you will rely on Him. You will be asked to give back to the world in a way that will terrify the shy inner child in you. Do it. You can! And on the days to come when you wonder whether you have the fortitude to become the mother your children need, remember the promise that He will make to you time and time again: You do.


Andrea Olson
Executive Director
Little Hearts Medical

Find My Family: Matt

July 28, 2016 by nohandsbutours 0 Comments


Sweet Matt is a quiet and gentle little boy. He is 3 years old. He is very active and loves listening to music and is often found engaged in reading picture books. Matt loves to crawl and can also walk with assistance. Matt has Down syndrome and is a great sleeper and gets along well …Read More

Dear Younger Me, Don’t Look Back

July 27, 2016 by nohandsbutours 2 Comments


Recently, one of my little ones was walking backwards while also conducting a conversation with a sibling. After nearly tripping and tumbling, I warned him, “Turn around… you need to face the direction you are headed.” And, as so often happens, the gentle voice of the Lord whispered the same thing to me… “Keep walking …Read More

His Hands and Feet: Adopting a Child with ABS

July 26, 2016 by nohandsbutours 5 Comments


Sometimes you are clearly given a gift of grace and sometimes you find yourself in it. Both are of Him and from Him and are equally overwhelming and exciting. This is a glimpse of both. “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. – Isaiah 55:8 ….. …Read More

Dear Younger Me, You are Enough

July 25, 2016 by nohandsbutours 0 Comments


I’ve been thinking about you lately. Images of you have been coming to mind, and I’ve been remembering little things I heard you say here and there, moments when you said nothing at all, and sighs that said it all. All the memories led me to reach out to you. I think bridging the gap …Read More

Dear Younger Me, You Were Wrong

July 24, 2016 by nohandsbutours 0 Comments


Dear Younger Me, You were wrong about many things, and I am oh so very glad you were. /// You got married and designed a life plan. It was a dreamy projection, and you believed you had control of how it all would go. You had a timeline, a number of kids in mind, visions …Read More

Thoughts from an Adult Adoptee: Two Sides of One Coin

July 23, 2016 by nohandsbutours 8 Comments


Hello Readers, I am new here at guest posting on No Hands But Ours. First, let me introduce myself. My name is Parrie Liu and I am a Chinese adoptee. Since the age of almost four, I have lived in Texas with a loving family. Currently, I am attending university and pursing a degree in …Read More

Dear Younger Me, Enjoy Them

July 22, 2016 by nohandsbutours 0 Comments


After I agreed to write this guest post on what I would tell my younger self, I wondered how I could narrow down all the things I would tell my younger self. Here is all the advice that people gave me about life with children that I now know was actually helpful. These are the …Read More

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