Ready or Not…Kindergarten, Here I Come

September 5, 2014 by nohandsbutours 2 Comments

I’m no novice when it comes to parenting. And I’m definitely not a novice when it comes to sending my kids off to Kindergarten. But this year, there was something different about the three times I’d done it previously. This time it was my China babies.


Nothing could have fully prepared me for the first day of school. Walking up to the entrance with butterflies in my tummy reminded me of the days I had walked the entrance to the Civil Affairs buildings in their respective provinces with the same crazy nerves. But instead of wondering whether they would accept me or if I was going to be completely overwhelmed by the newest addition to our family, I was nervous for them.

All of our children are precious. But my little ones from hard places have a whole lot more to overcome than my biological kids do. Their appearance is different from that of their classmates. Their family is more conspicuous than average. They’ve got scars…both physical and emotional…that display to the world that their path has not been an easy one. We’ve learned to adapt at home, making the effects of early childhood trauma a part of our new normal that hardly gets a second thought. School is different though. The new “friends” with stories oh so different from the ones my babies tell. It’s hard on a mama’s heart to begin introducing them to the big world.

Yet when I think of what they’ve already overcome, I know they’ll be their own little Kindergarten success stories. Not everyone can lose their birth family, survive in an institution, leave their home country, learn a new language, deal with doctor visits and surgeries on a regular basis and still have the best giggles on the planet. But mine did…and do. Besides, now they’ve got something they haven’t had during so many of the other challenges they’ve faced: A mama who loves them with her whole heart and will fight to her last breath for them. A mama who waits rather impatiently for the final ring of the bell, when her life is filled once again with those smiles and the accompanying stories of their day. I still can’t believe they’re mine, and that I get to walk through all these experiences with them. Savor their joys, cry my own tears over their hurts. It’s one of the greatest honors of my life.

To the Traumatized Family

August 5, 2014 by nohandsbutours 9 Comments

A few days ago, I was scrolling through my Facebook newsfeed and saw a comment on a link for a ministry to traumatized children that broke my heart. An adoptive parent was asking where the ministry was for families who have been traumatized by bringing a traumatized child into their home. This is something I once thought was very rare in adoption, but not anymore. When my own family joined the ranks, I was overwhelmed to discover how many families there are just like ours. Fighting in the trenches. Hurting because of the hurt their adopted child brought into their home. And we do so desperately need to be ministered to.


It is a grief and heartache like no other to joyfully look forward to adopting a child, with visions of a bright future for them, only to get them home and to see the exact opposite unfold. To watch dreams of hope and healing for one traded for the reality of heartbreak and hurt for all. Those who have not experienced it cannot understand it. And because it is so hard to understand, many families who are going through it remain silent. Alone in their pain, with a fear of being judged. It is to these families that I write today. In my moments of crying out to God…in agony, frustration, anger, and hopelessness… on behalf of my traumatized family he has been faithful to minister to me with his word. And I want to pass on a bit of that ministry to my hurting counterparts.

1. You are precious to God. I remember so clearly the calling to adopt. Knowing that God had entrusted me to steward this life was so humbling, yet such an honor. My desire was to please him and steward this child well. I can also clearly recall the day I began to feel like an adoption failure. I was disgraced. Like Adam and Eve in the Garden, I tried to hide from God in my shame. But just like them, he found me. I never really understood the love of my heavenly Father until I was broken…by my accounts…beyond repair and he whispered to my heart:

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?… No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
–Romans 8:35, 37-39

Nothing. Nothing. NOTHING. will ever separate us from the love of Christ. Our worth in his eyes is not dependent upon our success. Our worth was determined at the cross, when the greatest act of love in history was displayed and a perfect savior gave his life up for ours. John 19:30 records that Jesus’s final words on the cross were “It is finished.” and my beloveds, it was. There is nothing we can do to make God love us more…or LESS…than the day his son uttered one final breath and gave up his spirit. We are precious to him because of the cross. And because of the cross, we can draw near to his throne of grace with confidence to find mercy and help in our time of need (Heb 4:16). Anything that keeps us from running to the arms of God when we are hurting is a TOOL OF SATAN to keep from having the abundance that Jesus came to give us (John 10:10). We have NOT been rejected by God because our adoptions are not fairytales. He literally thinks we are to die for and wants us to bring our pain to him.

2. Make sure you’re fighting the right enemy. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard an adoptive parent say “this is killing us” or “this is destroying us” in reference to their battle in the adoption trenches. I’ve said it plenty of times myself. A traumatized family is certainly under fire and in a battle for survival. However our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms (Eph 6:12). The actions of the traumatized child in your home may be what are constantly driving you to your breaking point, but your battle is not against that child. That child did not enter your home with the intent to kill or destroy you and your family. However we do have an enemy that comes to steal, kill and destroy (John 10:10). That is the enemy for us to fight. I’m not saying that adoptive parents shouldn’t safeguard their home and put boundaries in place to protect their family. God has not called us to be foolish. But when our family has the flaming arrows of the evil one raining down on us, we need to put on the armor of God (Eph 6) and fight the true enemy. It is much more natural for our sin natures to battle in the flesh than it is to battle in the spirit, but this is a spiritual battle.

3. Remember the Sabbath. Or in other words, take the time to rest. The second chapter of Genesis contains God’s establishment of rest. The third chapter of Genesis contains the fall of man. Our need to take a break is not a result of our sinful state; it is a part of the created order. We as humans were not built to run non-stop. All of us need to make divinely appointed rest a priority in our lives in order to function at the capacity in which God intended, but this especially applies to families who are experiencing trauma. We cannot keep trudging on and pushing through. Respite in some form or another is necessary. It can take many forms, but you need to find one that works for your family and implement it. Date nights, romantic getaways, parent/child outings that nurture the other hurting kids in your home, camps, sleepovers with trusted friends…there are a myriad of options. They may require that you humble yourself and ask for help from others, but your family needs you to.

This list is by no means exhaustive. I have learned too many lessons through my wrestlings with God to share them all here. But the three truths above are the ones I would have to say have made the biggest difference for me. It is my sincerest hope that God uses them to make a difference in your life as well. Please know that I’m praying for each of your hurting families…from here in the trenches.



Somewhere to Run

July 5, 2014 by nohandsbutours 9 Comments

In my adoptions circles, there is a little bit of a running joke about all the things that start going wrong once a paper chase and the commitment to adopt a child (or children) begins. Somewhere along the journey to China, an adoptive parent can guarantee that an appliance…or three…will break, the car will need repairs, a member of the family will get sick, a storm will hit, their basement will flood, someone will say something discouraging, and on goes the list. In those early stages of the adoption, we call it as we see it. This is spiritual warfare and we have an enemy prowling around seeking to devour adoptions before they even get off the ground.

Unfortunately, the spiritual warfare doesn’t end once the adoption is finalized. It lurks in the background seeking opportunities to hurt our testimony and discredit God’s faithfulness. In fact, adoptive families are one of the most under attack groups of people I’ve ever come across. In talking with adoptive parents, I hear so many of them saying the same thing to me over and over again. The same things I’ve said to myself at various points in the journey. I feel so alone. I feel like I’m failing. The people I counted on for support aren’t supporting me. My social worker didn’t tell me this part would be so hard. The stress is getting to my marriage. Our extended family doesn’t understand what we’re going through. But oftentimes we aren’t as quick to see the see the spiritual warfare on this side of our Travel Approval.

Adoption is a miracle. The transformation of a child who fears their adoption parents on “Gotcha Day” into a child who runs laughing into their parent’s arms is a beautiful sight to behold. The difficult attachment journey…whether it’s a child who isn’t attaching or a child who is anxiously attached…is a journey worth making. Watching two children bearing completely different genetic codes become as “real” as siblings can be is breathtaking. But adoption is also hard. When a child from a “hard place” joins their new family, they bring their trauma with them. Anytime a new child joins a family there are adjustments required, but even more so when a child joins a family through adoption. That’s just the way it is. It’s normal and to be expected. But it does put a strain on the family, oftentimes creating a very challenging season. A season that makes adoptive families feel alone. Unsupported. Like failures. Overwhelmed. Misunderstood. And unable to reach out for help for fear of being judged. Because not everyone can understand that the greatest joy of your life can also be your biggest stressor. The natural response during those seasons is to pull away from anything that isn’t necessary for survival…all the while not realizing that we need so much more than that stack of books our social worker let us borrow.

It never ceases to amaze me how an adoptive family…mine included…can be in the throes of spiritual warfare without even realizing the enemy has attacked. Especially in the first months (years???) home with a child. While this season is full of new joys, obstacles overcome, and milestones achieved it is also a season in which the adoptive family is very vulnerable…spiritually, emotionally, and physically. So many other things scream for the family’s attention that the most important thing quietly slips away.

If yours is a family that was called by God to adopt, and that has a very God-centered testimony leading up to your adoption you need God more than ever once you’re home. My theme verse for our first adoption was “The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it. –1 Thessalonians 5:24”. I clung to that verse every single day of every single wait. And it’s true. God WILL do it. He’ll get you to your child. And once home, he’ll get you through the sleepless nights. The doctor’s visits. The bad news. The hurtful comments from people who are supposed to love you. The stir-crazy boredom induced by “cocooning” your new child. The questions that you don’t have answers for. The lie that you’re just not quite cut out for this calling. But the place he’s found is the place that adoptive parents so often forget to visit in our need to survive…the foot of the cross. And when we’re in those hard seasons that’s where we need to run. To the one who called us. To the one that chose our child(ren) for us. To the one that is grafting our family tree according to his own unique plan. He is faithful and he will meet our needs right where we are. No one else may understand what we’re feeling or experiencing, but our creator knows us better than we know ourselves. When we need somewhere safe to run, his arms are open and waiting.

Then and Now

June 5, 2014 by nohandsbutours 3 Comments

As an adoptive parent there is definitely one thing that I stress over more than anything else. One might think it would have something to do with doctor’s appointments, hospital visits, surgeries, or something else of that nature. But those things come easily to me. I’m usually sipping my cup of coffee and enjoying my book by the time I get the call from the operating room that the procedure has begun. No, what I struggle with most is the balance of preserving my children’s pasts while escorting them into their futures.

Every adoptive parent views their situation differently. I love adoption, and I encourage adoption. But it breaks my heart that my children had to lose so much in order to join our family. I also love China. I ache for “the land of my heart” on a daily basis. It makes me sad that my children had to leave it behind. One of my more poignant memories from my China trips happened in my daughter’s home city just a couple of days after I had adopted her. We were out for one of our daily walks, and as we were waiting to cross the street, a young couple on a small motorcycle turned around the corner where we were standing. Their laughter echoed through the air as she wrapped her arms around him a little more tightly. In that instant, I realized that was my daughter’s birthright. To grow up in that city, to be a young woman on the back of a motorcycle with the jokes on her lips in Mandarin. And I hurt that she would never have it. Both then and now. Yet, I’m so very thankful she’s here with me.

I feel like I owe it to my Chinese kids to honor their roots. However, I also want them to know that they are fully a part of us. Like so many other adoptive families ours consists of both biological and adopted children, and I am very conscientious about not having an “us” and “them” divide between the two. Birth stories and adoption stories are woven interchangeably into our lives. Red Envelopes full of “lucky” money at Chinese New Year are just as much a part of us as our Christmas stockings and Easter baskets. But I’m always looking for new ways to improve upon the delicate balance I strive to maintain.

So recently when I “coincidentally” stumbled across the website for an American photographer that used to live in China while re-decorating my entryway I was thrilled. My search for the perfect piece ended when I discovered a picture from the small village where my daughter lived with her foster parents before coming to be with us. A little bit of her past, right here in her home where she can see it every day. To anybody else it just looks like a picture of simple, tree-lined stream. But she recognized the location immediately. Once upon a time, she passed it every day. And she’s the one that counts. I’m way out of my area of expertise when it comes to this whole adoptive parenting thing. But this one I got exactly right. She is so proud of “her” picture, not because of the scenery but because of what it says. That photo in my entryway is a reminder that I cherish every part of her. That every, single bit of my baby girl’s life is precious to me…even the parts that came before I did. I am her “now” but I also hold the memories of her “then” very close to my heart.

The Best Mama

May 5, 2014 by nohandsbutours 0 Comments

I’ll never forget the first time it happened. She threw her arms around me and exclaimed, “I love you, Mama! You’re the best mama I’ve ever had!!!” And every time it’s happened since then is carved on my heart as well. Every. Single. Time.

Cora and Me

The day I met my sweet Cora…just over a year-and-a-half ago…was a hard day. She was blessed to live with a very loving foster family, and the idea of this new “foreigner” claiming to be her mama wasn’t going over too well. Because in her four year old little mind, she had a mama. And she had just left that mama behind to join me. It took her awhile before she even acknowledged me as mama…and for the first months, she preferred pretty much everyone to me. Including a construction worker we met at the barber shop while getting her brother a haircut.

I called and emailed our social worker I don’t know how many times during those early days. It was my second adoption, but with my son we had anxious attachment. I didn’t have to work at all to get him to like me…prying him off my neck was more of the problem. This struggle with attachment was an entirely new concept to me. At the guidance of my social worker (and the many, many books she lent me), my husband and I decided to “cocoon” our new daughter. She didn’t leave the house and was with one of us 24/7. We took turns going to church, we didn’t have guests over, we brought in take-out rather than going out to eat, I cut back on the number of school functions I attended for my other children. It was an exhausting few months, but it worked. Slowly but surely, Cora was able to grasp the idea that we were her new family and a deep level of trust began to be established.

We’ve never stopped talking about her foster parents. We look at pictures of them regularly, and Cora’s foster brother was actually adopted by a family here in our local community. We’ve been able to retain a little bit of her “previous” life. As she’s gotten older, though, Cora has come to the realization that she didn’t grow in her foster mama’s tummy…she had another “China mommy” before foster mama. We talk about “China mommy” too, but I don’t have a whole lot of information to share. I mostly just try to communicate positive feelings about the woman who brought her into this world and parented her for the first several months of Cora’s life. There’s so much she has yet to understand about the adoption process, but she does know that I’m mama number three. And in her opinion, the best.

I don’t know that I agree with that statement. I think about her first mama. The mama that grew her in her womb, gave her life, and held onto her for months…until the day came that Cora was just too sick to hold onto anymore. And on that day Cora was left in a warm, safe place where she would easily be found. I don’t know anything more than the stark details in a short paragraph from Cora’s adoption file, but I do know that Cora’s first mama saved her life by giving her up. That scores some pretty high points from me.

And then there was her second mama. The mama that took her in, knowing that one day she would have to say goodbye. The mama who took care of Cora for two years as if she were her own, then one day put her in her nicest clothes, fixed her hair, packed her a snack and sent her to me. The mama whose concern was not the broken heart she would endure when she said goodbye…but rather nurturing the heart of the little girl who was in her care only temporarily. I can’t think of a mother’s love more perfectly displayed.

I can’t even begin to compare myself with the mothers who loved Cora so sacrificially. I often say that adopting Cora was the most selfish thing I’ve ever done. We pursued her adoption for no other reason than simply loving her and wanting her. Our motive was not to “help” her, but to fill a void in our hearts that only she could fill. And we have been so incredibly blessed by the sweet little firecracker who finds new and creative ways to turn our world upside down on a daily basis. Yet…by a sovereign act of God’s grace I’m not only Cora’s third mama, but her forever mama. And in her opinion, the best. I’m glad she feels this way. I’m thankful that she has learned to love me so deeply. But in my opinion, that title belongs to someone else. The mamas who loved her more than they loved themselves. The mamas who put Cora’s heart before theirs…both her physical heart and the multiple complex heart defects she was born with, and her emotional heart…paving the way for her to be here with me. Happy, healthy. And rocking my world. Cora has become such a part of me that to think of losing her is unbearable. I’m not sure I love her enough to ever let her go. It would hurt me too much. But the mamas who did? They’re the best.

Completely Natural

April 5, 2014 by nohandsbutours 1 Comments

My virtual twins are thick as thieves. And they act like an old married couple. The bond they share is amazing to behold. They actually have the same type of relationship that biological twins do. The way God has grafted their two little hearts together is most amazing.


With this relationship comes lots and lots of playtime. And given the day, sometimes lots and lots of arguing! But this morning I was in my favorite chair sipping on my coffee when I overheard them playing “house” together in one of their more adorable moments.

Cora: Caden, get in my tummy. I want you to be my baby.
Caden: I can’t. I’m too big.
Cora: Alright, then I’ll adopt you. Let’s pretend we’re in China….

I couldn’t help but smile as I listened to their dialogue. My “littles” are now both five years old, and are becoming aware of things. They have three older siblings that are my biological children. All of their friends from preschool are part of their original families, and some of them have younger siblings on the way. We’ve begun having the talks about babies and families…the talks that revealed they grew in another Mommy’s tummy in China.

With these talks come fear. Fear that I won’t give their birth mothers enough honor. With China adoption, we get so little information. The few sentences in their adoption files about their findings give me the only glimpse I have into the mothers who came before me. I fear our talks will bring them pain. And I fear that somehow they will see adoption as “less” than birth. Plan B rather than Plan A. But there’s no difference in my heart…whether their stories of joining our family begin in a hospital or a Civil Affairs office, my babies are my babies. And I want them to know that.

It amazed me…and pleased me…how quickly they made the jump to adoption in their playacting. Babies do grow in a tummy. I can’t deny that. But that doesn’t mean that somehow adoption is an unnatural way to grow a family. In fact, the relationship I have with these two little stinkers is so natural it’s breathtaking. We didn’t get there overnight. We still hit our little adoption-related bumps on occasion. But we belong to each other…and it’s as natural as can be.

Timing is everything

March 5, 2014 by nohandsbutours 0 Comments

There’s an old saying that “timing is everything.” And it’s true. The moment at which something enters our lives does make a difference in how it is received. For better or for worse.

My “baby” just celebrated his fifth birthday, which is his fourth birthday with us. This one was bittersweet to me. After nearly 11 years of having a child home with me, my youngest reached the age that he will begin school…in what seems like only a few short months. But he was oh so excited about his special day and that brought a big smile to this mama’s heart.


I was up to my eyeballs in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles party planning when a seemingly harmless scroll through my Facebook newsfeed left me broken. Only a few short days before my baby celebrated his birthday, a baby boy in the care of an organization in China died due to complications from exposure after being abandoned on a cold February night. It suddenly hit me what a milestone the party I was prepping for was. Because five years and a few days earlier another baby boy was left outside on a cold February night in China. And by some great miracle he became my son. As I looked at the picture of the sweet infant in my newsfeed, I saw a strong resemblance to the boy playing upstairs. In another time, it could have been him that didn’t make it. I’ve always viewed my kids as miracles, and that feeling has intensified with adoption. That out of all the people on every waiting list my “babies” ended up with me is a phenomenon that leaves me speechless. But as I looked at the sweet face of this baby boy, I realized what a gift it was that my birthday boy was even alive to celebrate his special day.

I wish we didn’t live in a world where babies were left on cold nights. I wish we didn’t live in a world where families are unable to keep their children due to medical needs. But since we do live in this world, I’m thankful beyond words that on a February night five years ago my baby boy stayed warm enough to make it home to me.

Had I seen the picture of this precious baby at any other time, it would have broken my heart. But the close proximity to the anniversary of my son’s “finding day” definitely made the impact stronger. As they say, timing is everything. And in this instance the timing made me fall to my knees in gratitude for the little boy that’s not so little anymore. For his life. For the chance to be his forever mama. And even for the green icing on that cake he just had to have on the day we celebrated his birth. Yet, at the same time, I hurt a whole lot more for the one that was lost. Because in the face and story of that sweet orphan baby, I saw a piece of my own heart.


Holidays and Celebrations

February 5, 2014 by nohandsbutours 2 Comments

I’m not exactly what you’d call a “holiday” person. I know people who have decorations ranging from Christmas trees to pumpkins to shamrocks to pink and red hearts that they put up as the seasons rotate. Bu I’m not one of them. I’m a minimalist. The only holiday I decorate for is Christmas and that’s typically limited to our tree and stockings…though we did add an Elf on the Shelf to our traditions a few years back. And believe me, that’s a much bigger deal than it sounds for this simple mama!

Being the mother of three children from China, though, I’ve felt the need to add Chinese New Year to our family list of family holidays. Once again, I don’t go to extremes…no decorations, traditional foods, or even silk attire. Every year we simply head to the local Chinatown with some of our friends from our local adoption group. There is a big celebration in the morning at the Chinese Community Center that includes a lion dance, martial arts performance, singing/musical performances, and various other parts of the Chinese heritage and culture. Then we all go to lunch at an authentic Chinese restaurant and the kids get their red envelopes containing their “lucky money” once we come home.

I’ve always worried that I don’t make a big enough of a fuss over Chinese New Year. After all, it’s really the only part of our kids’ birth culture that we celebrate. We don’t attend Chinese School, and I only have one painting from China hanging in my house. I constantly worry that I’m a “slacker” when it comes to preserving heritage. And this year, my worries escalated as we celebrated our teenage son’s first Chinese New Year since coming home. But I’ve become fond of our little family tradition and it’s something I look forward to every year.

Holidays can be hard when you’re away from your home and family. That’s one thing I learned during our years in the military. The old song “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” has brought tears to my eyes more than once. But aside from a few food-related episodes from our youngest son, Chinese New Year has been a happy time. Until this year.

My teenager just couldn’t get into our celebration. When we asked his opinion on our trip to Chinatown he declared it was “boring.” But we really didn’t need him to tell us that. His body language pretty much screamed it. We hoped being surrounded by Chinese people, hearing the language, and eating authentic food would make the holiday as special as it could be for him. Notsomuch. Epic fail on that one. I have a feeling this is one of those things that will never be as good as the real deal.

But even worse was our youngest son. We don’t know much about his time in China, but we do know that he often went hungry due to this cleft lip and palate. We’ve struggled with food-related issues since he came home just over three years ago, and as the Chinese New Year celebration comes to an end…right about lunchtime every year…he struggles. Something about being hungry and exposed to the Chinese language and culture sets off a trigger for him. There’s always a little bit of a meltdown, and last year I had to step out of the room with him to keep the distraction down for everyone else. Once he was calmed down and got to eat, he was fine. But this year, the impact lingered. The tears lasted all day, even after he had been fed. And we saw emotional regression combined with a reoccurrence of orphanage behaviors that lasted for days. Not to mention the nights he was back to sleeping with us. The past year has been such GOOD year for him, but the celebration triggered a hidden trauma that wasn’t as easy to recover from as it has been in years past. We even witnessed sheer terror from him by a group in authentic attire from a bygone Chinese era.

And then there was our sweet daughter. Unlike her brothers, she didn’t spend much time in an orphanage. She was with a precious foster family that adored her and would have no doubt adopted her if it had been an option. That little bit of China in Chinatown generated an extreme homesickness. To the point that she was telling us she wanted to go “home” to her “China house.” And when we explained that her home was with us now, she told us in no uncertain terms that we aren’t her family. She wanted her family in China. Her varying range of emotions settled quickly, but it was hard to watch her wrestle with her two worlds…the life she had in China was every bit as good and happy as her life here with us. She has much to miss from her “home” and we grieve with her in her losses.

At the end of a day full of “celebrating” I found myself questioning our Chinese New Year celebrations once again. But not because my girls weren’t wearing silk dresses and I don’t have a kitchen god on display in my home. No, I found myself wondering if it’s a good idea to make an annual tradition out of exposing my children to something that hurts so much. Something that triggers memories from a “former” life that they’re not quite sure how to deal with. And for the first time, I found myself wondering if maybe my holiday celebrations are a bit “over the top.” That maybe…just maybe…I might need to go more simply in the future.

Thankfully I’ve got another year to try and figure it out.


One Giant Leap Forward

January 5, 2014 by nohandsbutours 1 Comments

It’s been three years and one month since I stood in the Civil Affairs building in Zhengzhou and took the sweetest boy into my arms. It was the end of 13 long months of waiting, and the love I felt for my son during all those agonizing months was nothing compared to the explosion that took place in my heart the moment I finally held him.

Like all adoptive parents, my husband and I completed the required parent training to adopt from China. We learned many valuable lessons during those hours and they prepared us for some of the challenges that we might face once our son was home. But learning about those challenges is nothing like seeing them firsthand. From the first time I fed my son, he acted like he had never seen food before. And as a baby with a cleft lip and palate that was responsible for holding his own bottle and feeding himself while the orphanage nannies took care of the younger, less independent babies I know that he had probably never experienced having enough food.

Through the years, we’ve had to overcome many “orphanage behaviors” but the hardest one for my son to let go of was his struggle with food issues. It’s something that was a gradual process. First letting him have all the food he wanted, whenever he wanted. Making sure that all the food was in place at the table before he sat down to a meal to avoid a meltdown. Telling restaurant staff that his order must be the first one brought out. Warning preschool teachers and church volunteers that if someone else is eating and he doesn’t have food, it could cause a problem. Then less, and less, of those moments. Small little battles that became very large victories through the years as he became more and more secure in the knowledge that his tummy would never know the pangs of hunger again. But always, he is the last family member at the table…eating all of his food and sometimes even a second helping. There has never been anything about him that indicated even the slightest bit that he is a “picky” eater.

But this past week, that changed. Cold weather and a flu epidemic sweeping through our home prompted me to make a batch of homemade chicken and noodle soup. Like always, the bowls were in place when the kids were called to the table. And after we blessed the food, my sweet Caden pushed away his entire bowl of soup and said, “I don’t like this.” He had eaten it before without complaint, but this time something was different. This time he knew he could reject it and still not go hungry. It took three years for him to reject a meal. Three years to develop that deep level of trust that his tummy is safe with us. Long after the angry outbursts were conquered and anxious attachment became healthy attachment, it was the one thing that continued to break this mama’s heart over and over again. My baby worried that I wasn’t going to feed him.

I have a confession to make. Normally, when my kids reject food or insult my cooking I don’t take it too well. I even have a playful sign in my kitchen that says “Today’s Menu: Eat It or Starve” to head off complaints from my more particular kids who make a habit of turning up their noses at dinner. But when my sweet boy pushed that bowl of soup away, I wanted to cheer. Because it was one more giant leap forward in this journey we call “adoption”. A journey that lasts a lifetime and brings new challenges with it along the way. A journey that will never be mastered or perfected. But a journey that definitely makes an impact…even if the results are slow coming.


Her New Forever

December 5, 2013 by nohandsbutours 0 Comments

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.

Sickness and Snuggles

November 5, 2013 by nohandsbutours 0 Comments

There’s been some kind of virus floating through our house for the past week or so. And as I predicted it would, the illness is slowly making its rounds through the family.

Last night we got hit with a “double whammy”. As my husband and I were tucking our sweet China babies into bed we realized that both of them felt warm, and sure enough taking their temperatures confirmed our suspicions: The two littlest members of our family were sick.


I don’t know what sick kids means in anyone else’s home, but it ours it means an extra kiddo or two in Mom and Dad’s bed. So last night we had our littles in bed with us…one on either side of me, with their 100+ degree fevers making me feel like I was sleeping in a furnace! I wanted SO badly to turn on the A/C…even though the temperature outside our house was in the 50’s. But despite my own hot flashes, the contorted shape my body was twisted into by the child on either side of me, and the overall fact that I was just so uncomfortable that I couldn’t sleep, a beautiful thought occurred to me.

I was there to take care of my babies.

Both of my little ones had surgeries in China that I wasn’t there for. Both of them had illnesses…either at the orphanage or in the ICU…before I became their Mama and was able to take care of them. The privilege of caring for these two once orphans in their current sickness was not lost on me. Because once upon a time, they didn’t have a Mama to take care of them when they didn’t feel well. They didn’t have parents to snuggle in bed with when they were sick. And once upon a time, we didn’t have them.

Every excruciating day of the wait. Every typo and delay that sent me into a frenzy during the paper chase. They had led up to that moment. The moment when I snuggled down with my two babies and was thankful to be up all night taking care of them when they were sick. So many times during the wait to hold my babies in my arms, I lost sleep over a bit of bad news. But the lost sleep that comes from snuggles during sickness…it’s oh so sweet.


October 5, 2013 by nohandsbutours 0 Comments

I am the proud mama of four-year-old virtual twins, both adopted from China. And while they were adopted in two separate adoptions, 23 months apart, they are every bit as much of brother and sister as they can be.


This has its benefits. The two of them always have a built-in playmate. As their mother, it is fun to watch them as they build a “fort” in the playroom to hang out in while they watch TV. Or, witness those occasions where the dress up clothes seem to explode onto the bodies of two very creative characters as they enter a world of make believe that only they are privy to. And because I am that mom, I can admit that it also makes my heart swell on Sunday mornings when they walk into their class at church wearing coordinating outfits. They are best of friends and stick by each other like glue.

But that doesn’t mean that these two don’t have their differences. Oh no. They are as completely polar opposite as they can be in personality, and on more than one occasion this has resulted in conflict. Recently, however, a new player has entered the game and threats of “I’m not your best friend anymore!” can be heard in the midst of their arguments. I have NO idea where this came from. It’s not something our older three children ever said, and we certainly don’t allow our children to speak to each other that way. But alas…here we find ourselves.

Every time this argument arises and the “disowning” takes place, I gather my two babies and have a talk with them. Over and over again, I tell them that we don’t stop being someone’s friend just because we’re angry at them. That talking to each other that way isn’t speaking in love, and that they need to treat each other lovingly. And I always wrap up by reminding them that no matter how angry they may get with one another they will always be brother and sister.

A couple days ago yet another argument broke out…this time over which pretend world they were going to be visiting on their adventure…and I heard my daughter yell not “You’re not my best friend anymore!” but instead, “I’ll always be your sister!” Only, she didn’t use the sing-song, former preschool teacher voice I use when having my talks with them. She yelled it as a threat, implying that even though her brother was angry with her, he was also stuck with her for the rest of his life.

I have to admit…I laughed. Thankfully out of hearing range of two little sets of ears! Not only did my darling girl prove to me once again that my little “Dynamic Duo” will always be one step ahead of me, keeping me on my toes, but the truth of her words resonated with me. Because…for better or for worse…these two kids from two different parts of China are stuck together. Forever. Nothing will ever change their brother/sister status. Their journeys started out so differently, and yet God wove them together as each child entered our family. Two people who would have likely never met had they remained in their birth country are now “real” siblings in every way but through blood. And that takes my breath away. So of course, I had to gather my two little ones and explain to them what a blessing it is that they will always be brother and sister…no matter how many ups and downs they have in their relationship. That they are a gift to one another.

But these two aren’t just a gift to each other. They’re also a gift to me. Sure, we have our less-than-ideal moments. I will not deny that at times they make me want to pull my hair out. And whether through their arguments or their incredible ability to gang up on me and completely overwhelm my parenting expertise, their shenanigans have resulted in much solace known as “mommy time” after their daddy arrives home in the evenings. I wouldn’t change a thing, though. Because these two make my life a million times richer…even if they do make it a million times more chaotic.

I honestly can’t imagine living in a world where these two wouldn’t always be brother and sister. Or where I wouldn’t always be their mama. So I’ll gladly take all the crazy they throw my way. Their relationship is the miracle of adoption on display, a true example of what it means for new branches to be grafted onto a family tree.

Forever, for always, and no matter what.

Dealing With Grief

September 5, 2013 by nohandsbutours 6 Comments

As pre-adoptive parents prepare to bring our children home, we go through hours upon hours of parent training. Not to mention meetings with our social worker, and any reading we may do on our own to help prepare for the day our new son or daughter joins their forever family.

One of the topics that gets talked about frequently is dealing with your child’s grief. Whether a child waits in a less-than-perfect situation, or is in a pretty ideal place, they forever leave their familiar life behind. Nannies and friends at the orphanage. Foster parents and foster siblings. Possibly even classmates in school. Not to mention the sights, smells, sounds, and cultural nuances that make up their birth country. Their entire world gets turned upside down, and as their new parents we need to know how to handle it when our child grieves for the life they lost.

But one thing that doesn’t get talked about very often is how an adoptive parent should respond when they find themselves grieving. Because…no matter how happy the adoptive parents may be or how much they love their new addition…when a new child enters the family oftentimes a part of their old life is “lost” for the adoptive family as well. Suddenly the home that made sense and ran like a well-oiled machine is thrown into chaos and confusion by things like a grieving child, orphanage behaviors, attachment struggles, processing disorders, medical needs, night terrors, or other children in the home regressing due to the addition of a new sibling. If an older child joins the family, then things like language barriers and cultural differences come into play. It can feel like the magic trick where a magician quickly pulls the tablecloth away…only you’re left wondering how and when the pieces will fall into place again.

The adoption process is such an emotionally draining experience. When we’re in the midst of it, we want it to move at least twice as fast as it’s currently moving. Every day counts and we can tell anyone who asks…and even some who don’t!…exactly how many seconds we’ve been waiting to move onto the next step. Getting our child home becomes almost an obsession, and we share that obsession with our friends and family pretty much daily for months on end. So, when we get home and find it’s not everything we hoped and dreamed of during the agonizing months of waiting for the next “A” to arrive…then what?

I certainly don’t have all the answers. But I do know that with our first adoption, I kept the less-than-perfect stuff hidden as much as I could…and that didn’t work. Spending all day pretending that things are perfect, then locking yourself in the bathroom after the kids go to bed and crying until you have no more tears left isn’t the way to go. However, with adoptions two and three I’ve learned that talking with my social worker and other adoptive parents is a panacea for the soul. Transparency with friends and family makes a world of difference. Leaving my child(ren) with a trusted person while sneaking away for a cup of coffee or a pedicure helps immensely. And going through counseling is great!!! Taking care of myself isn’t a reason to feel guilty. It’s a NEED. I’m human and have emotional needs, too. And to put it bluntly…if I’m not making sure my own emotional needs are being met, I’m not going to be able to meet the needs of my new child. But the thing I’ve found to work the best is to make peace with the fact that I’m not perfect, I don’t have it all together, and it’s okay if our family isn’t the poster family for adoption. It’s a lonely feeling to be in this place. But, I’ve also learned through my own experience that I am NOT alone in my struggles. Other adoptive parents go through them, too. These struggles come in different shapes and sizes, and they need to be dealt with in different ways. But they’re common.

Being an adoptive parent is hard work. And sometimes admitting our failures, having a cup of coffee with a friend, taking a trip to the spa, savoring a pint of Ben & Jerry’s, letting our tears fall into a bubble bath, or even meeting with someone in professional circles to help us is the work that needs to be done. But that’s okay. If you’re in that place, don’t feel guilty. Or alone. Because I’m right there with ya. The day will come when we’re not here anymore. Adoptions one and two taught me that. But for now, what’s important is that we deal with our struggles…whether it be grief or otherwise…the best way we know how.

And boy, do I wish we could take a spa day together…

A Few of My Favorite Things

August 5, 2013 by nohandsbutours 3 Comments

It all started nearly three years ago. As soon as we brought our first son home from China, I began scheduling appointments at our local children’s hospital to have specialists review the needs listed in his file. Initially there were four doctors we were working with…then three…and finally we were left only with two as we received an “all clear” on two of his needs.

Those early days meant many hours at the hospital during and between appointments. And as surgery after surgery began to take place I truly felt like our children’s hospital was becoming my second home. Walking through the halls, sitting out by the fountain, relaxing at the play area, or even grabbing a cup of coffee often had me bumping into someone who had recently worked with us…either in an office, a lab, a sound booth, or radiology. I joked that it was my “Cheers”. Like the old sitcom, our children’s hospital became the place where everybody knows my name.

Recently my son and I were back at the hospital for another round of pre-op appointments. His sixth surgery in his four years of life, and the fourth surgery for his cleft lip and palate. In between appointments we had the same lunch we have countless times through the years…baked potatoes from a little café eaten in the sunny Atrium. This meal of styrofoam plates, disposable silverware, and a plastic tray has become quite the tradition. I’ve lost track of how many times we’ve done it. Not just on pre-op days, but on post-op and check-up days as well. And as I sat there most recently, I realized that those lunches are working their way into my heart as one of the favorite memories from my son’s childhood. Our special “dates” on the days it’s just the two of us.

When my husband and I first started the adoption process, we looked at all the needs on the medical checklist given to us by our agency and tried to determine which were the most manageable for us to handle. The needs that would be easiest to balance with the children we already had in our home. It never occurred to me that when we checked off our list, I was going to be spending the time at our hospital that I do. It never occurred to me that I would bump into nurses and technicians and chat with them like they’re old friends. It never occurred to me that one day my son and I would be playing at the courtyard fountain and joyfully waving at our ENT through his office window. It never occurred to me that our plastic surgeon would follow our progress for two more adoption journeys. It never occurred to me that our cardiologist would welcome us back as a “new” patient with our daughter after my son left his care. And it never occurred to me that these days at the hospital, working with our medical teams, would become such an integral part of who I am.

But perhaps the biggest surprise of all is that baked potatoes from a hospital café, a great team of doctors, and the playground on the first floor of “Building A” have become a few of my favorite things.


The One

July 6, 2013 by nohandsbutours 1 Comments

It’s hardly been a month since we finalized our son’s adoption. We’re still in the getting settled in and trying to discover our “new normal” phase. The jetlag has passed, we’ve had our first post placement visit with our social worker, and bonding through movies and board games is a key focus of mine.

Our journey wasn’t a normal one. We’ve adopted three times now, and while one thing I’ve learned is that adoption is unpredictable at best, this one went well beyond that. We weren’t planning to adopt again now. We had only been home a few months with our most recently adopted daughter when a young man on the verge of “aging out” crossed our path via the World Wide Web. It occurred to my husband and me almost instantly that there was something different about this one than all the other waiting children that stumbled onto my computer screen, so we began to seek God’s path in prayer.

Right away a friend of ours came alongside us. Praying with us, supporting us, encouraging us. And when we said “yes” despite all the obstacles standing in our path, this friend was our greatest support. We had only four months to complete an adoption…and an adoption started from scratch, for that matter. And not only that, but since we had just finalized an adoption and weren’t planning to adopt again on this side of the five-year plan we were totally lacking anything that could be considered an adoption fund. If by some great miracle the paperwork got finished on time, we knew we would still be several thousand short at travel time.

Our friend told us not to worry about fundraising. She would take care of that. We needed to concentrate on the paperwork. And since she is a notary, she even notarized all bazillion of our documents for us …and at our beck-and-call. Nights or weekends, it didn’t matter. Every step of the way, she was there with us. Slaying our dragons and lifting us up when the journey made us weary.

When it came time to travel, she didn’t stop. Knowing that my parents and grandmother would be here with our other five children while we made the trip, she arranged for a yard service to come do our mowing every week at her expense…including the week we were preparing to travel. She provided “relief duty” and took our girls for fun outings while we were gone. And when it was time to go to the airport to welcome us home, she and her husband led a caravan to ensure that my small town family wouldn’t get lost in the big city traffic. When we walked through those double doors leading out of Customs, her husband was even manning the video camera while she snapped the pictures.

Now that we’re home, she still hasn’t stopped. I sat on the couch and watched her, her husband, and my Mom do all the work for our son’s “Welcome Home” party. She is the one emailing me and texting me regularly to see how things are going. Sending her teenager to come hang out with mine. Stealing me away and buying me dinner and Bubble Tea while giving me 100% of her attention as a safe place to share my heart.

Often times in adoption circles we complain that others don’t “get it” and that adoptive parents are the only ones who understand. But this friend is simply someone who is passionate about adoption and has found a priceless ministry in caring for our family. And everyone going through an adoption needs someone like her on their side.

I know many of the people reading this are adoptive families and are nodding their heads in agreement right now. Perhaps even wishing they had someone like my friend in their life. That’s not who this post is directed toward. This post is for the people in their lives…friends, neighbors, family members, co-workers, Bible study members, etc…that could maybe be THE ONE for the adoptive families they know. That could do the same thing for them that my friend has done for me. Because the journey is more difficult than we let on. One harsh word from a critic will paralyze our tongue and keep us from sharing the hard stuff the next time around. And sometimes…even after we’re home with our new child…we feel like we’re drowning in a sea that we have no control over. It would be nice if the whole world understood and were in our ring throughout the adoption process, but just ONE person makes a whole world of difference. So if you’re reading this and you are not currently in the process of adopting a child, I have to ask…could you be THE ONE someone you know is wishing for with all their heart?

Gotcha Day

June 5, 2013 by nohandsbutours 12 Comments

It was two-and-a-half years ago that I approached the very same building and found a precious baby boy already inside waiting for me. That was the moment I had dreamed of for so many years…I was finally adopting from China.

Today was a different scenario. I found myself waiting (not so patiently) in that room for my son to arrive. Watching the other families receive their babies. Some happy to meet their Mama and Baba, some not so happy, and even one that arrived at Civil Affairs sound asleep and transitioned into her Mama’s arms without even noticing. I was a bundle of nerves with tears in my eyes, reliving my first two “Gotcha Days” as I watched new families form right before my eyes.

When the van arrived, I knew it was finally our turn. With the one other family that had a child coming from the same orphanage, my husband and I looked outside in eager anticipation. And when the doors opened, there he was. My breath caught as I rushed to the window to take pictures of him. The first moment of laying my eyes on him in real life. I cued Dad to get the video camera rolling and headed to the door to greet the boy had waited so long to hold in my arms. I snapped a picture as soon as he walked in and he smiled at me, knowing full well that I was his new Mom. That scrapbook I worked so hard to put together for him paid off.


It was a magical moment when I walked up to him with open arms and he returned my embrace. But it was even more magical watching him sign the forms saying he wanted to come with us. So many people throughout the wait had expressed wonder at our willingness to adopt a teenager. The truth of the matter is, though, he took a much bigger risk by signing those papers than we did. The weight of the moment was not lost on me. Watching this young man entrust his entire future to us was one of the bravest acts I’ve ever witnessed. My prayer is that as our days together continue, he feels the risk was worth taking. Because…after only a few hours with him…I already know it was on my end.

Chinese Cowpokes

May 5, 2013 by nohandsbutours 1 Comments

The process of watching an adopted child become a part of their family is beautiful to behold. The “Gotcha Day” videos get me every time. But beyond that comes the intertwining that takes place over time.

My husband and I already had three biological children when we adopted our son from China in 2010. And while he was immediately adored by his new brother and sisters, it was quite clear that our newest addition was from a different background and had a different life experience in his baby years than they had. Slowly, though, as time went on he became more and more like his older siblings. And then the day arrived when a friend of mine told me that she doesn’t even think of Caden as being adopted…to her, he’s just another one of our kids.

It’s hilarious to see the mannerisms he’s developed. Clearly “nurture” is showing its advantage over “nature” in many of these areas. Because, aside from his dark hair and almond eyes my little Chinese boy is just like his older siblings.

When we brought Cora home, the grafting process began all over again. And once again, we saw that there were four kids established in our home that were very different from their newest sibling in many ways. Because Cora had been in a loving foster family and had already been grafted into a home and family, we had a harder time teaching her the ropes.

Over time, things gradually changed and we saw Cora beginning to take on the traits of our family. Her foster brother became a “friend” that she talked about, meanwhile her relationship with her new siblings began to thrive and blossom. With her own special brand of spunk, she began to “tick” with the workings of our household. But it became especially clear how solidly Cora has become rooted in our family when we attended “Rodeo Day” for her older sister’s class at school.

Here in Texas, we have our own unique culture. That culture was being celebrated on this particular day. Boots and bling. Tex-Mex snacks. Stick horse races and other “old west” themed games. My China babies decked out in their cowboy attire, cheering their big sister on as she participated in her events. There was no difference between them and the other siblings there…except that they bear features of a different ethnicity than their sister. There was no sign that Caden has been home two plus years, and Cora only five months. They were brother and sisters. Nothing more, nothing less.

I always have the knowledge in the back of my mind that two of my children are from China. And I treasure their heritage. But at our first grade rodeo, I forgot that they were different from all those other little Texans running around. I forgot that salsa and queso aren’t foods that are native to their taste buds. I forgot that they came from different beginnings than their other siblings. Because they’ve been absorbed into us. Part of me mourns the loss of their birth culture. The loss of Cora’s accent as she has perfected the English language…complete with a Southern drawl when she pronounces the word “y’all”. But an even bigger part of me is glad that they’ve both reached the point where they’re just well grafted in members of our family. So much so that I “forget” they are adopted from another country.

Though I gotta admit…I do think Chinese cowpokes are especially adorable.


The Broken Point

April 5, 2013 by nohandsbutours 4 Comments

My husband and I are in the throes of adoption for yet a third time.  I think any adoptive parent would tell you that the process isn’t easy.  It’s frustrating and disappointing.  Rarely are the waits shorter than you expected or the news better than you expected to hear.

Last week was one of *those* weeks for us.  Hands down the hardest week of any of our three adoption processes.  And that’s saying a lot when you consider that my husband was deployed for a portion of our last two adoptions.  To be perfectly honest with you, the week wore me down.  Completely.  I got to the point where I just wanted to walk away and not have to talk to another social worker or USCIS officer about another mistake or delay.  It wasn’t just the process itself that was taking the biggest toll on me…but all of the other outside “stuff” that was hitting us from every angle.  It was a defeating week all around, but the setbacks in our adoption were the straw that broke the camel’s back.  After more than three years of back-to-back-to back adoptions, I had hit my emotional limit.

There’s a quote by Derek Loux that says, “Adoption is redemption.  It is costly, exhausting, expensive and outrageous.  Buying back lives costs so much.  When God set out to redeem us, it killed him.”  Now, I in no way believe that my adoption of my  children is a full-scale comparison of my adoption into God’s family…but I do believe it is a small reflection of it.  I have a diploma hanging on my wall that says I’m well versed in the Bible.  But these three adoptions have taught me a whole lot more about the Gospel than those four years of college.  Through them, I’ve been able to grasp God’s love for his children on a whole new level.  But this past weekend, it got kicked up another notch.

For me, the celebration of Easter is normally about the empty tomb.  But this year my heart was focused on Good Friday and the days just prior.  The cry of my Lord and savior from Gethsemane to have the cup of God’s wrath taken from him if it was possible.  The surrendering of my Christ’s desires for the desires of his Father.  The beatings, the pain, the suffering.  The man from Cyrene who was called out of the crowd to help my Jesus carry his cross when the weight became too hard for him to bear.

This is the part of the redemption story I relate to most strongly in this season of adoption.  Because last week, I was emotionally beaten.  I wanted God to find another way to redeem our soon-to-be son’s life…because I know that He is the redeemer in this story, not me.  I had to surrender to his will, even though it was not what I wanted.  And because when I stumbled under the weight of the burden I was carrying, my friends rushed forward to help me carry the load.

Last week…and even into the Easter weekend…I was feeling pretty sorry for myself.  I wanted to run away and lay on a beach somewhere pretty and warm, where I didn’t feel like the weight of the world was crashing down on my shoulders.  But through the Easter story I was able to see my trials in a new light.  I was able to understand on a deeper level how costly my adoption into God’s family indeed was.  And to appreciate the fact that Jesus didn’t call down a legion of angels to save him, even though it was in his power.  He stayed committed to adopting me, even to the point of death.  No sorrow or pain or physical weakness would stop him.  No sacrifice was too big.  I reached a new point of brokenness, not based on my own battles…but on my Lord’s love for me.  And our “Gotcha Day” in a couple of months is going to be so much sweeter due to this new lesson I’ve learned.

“Through adoption God graciously brings us to participate in the reciprocal love that ever flows between the Father and his Son. Not only is this the very heart of adoption; it is also the very heart of the gospel.” {Dan Cruver, Reclaiming Adoption}

A Special Family

March 5, 2013 by nohandsbutours 2 Comments

Recently one of my friends directed me to a quote that ended with the phrase, “Raising a child with special needs doesn’t TAKE a special family, it MAKES a special family.” I’m a lover of quotes, but this one especially resonated with me. Not just because I’ve adopted two children with special needs and am part of a special family now, but because I grew up in a special family.

When I was three years old, my baby sister made her premature entrance into the world and was diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy. I have no memory of any other kind of life. As a young child, I tagged along with my mother to doctor’s appointments, therapy sessions, and hospital visits when my sister had to stay overnight…or for a couple of months. In fact, one year my Christmas “wish list” was full of items from the gift shop at the children’s hospital. When my sister got older and was able to attend a camp for children with special needs, I went with my parents to “camp out” nearby to see my sister on the weekends. And not unlike the China adoption community, my parents became part of their own little community of special needs parents. I grew up surrounded by kids with needs on all ends of the spectrum, just like my kids are growing up surrounded by children adopted from China. I saw how much their parents loved them and would stop at nothing for them. I knew more than the average person how special kids with special needs truly are. I had felt it through my own love for my sister.



And yet, when we first started our path to China adoption my husband and I didn’t consider the special needs route. One thing I learned early on is that being part of a special needs family requires sacrifice…and not just for the parents, but for every member of the family. I had waited hours in the lobby for my sister’s appointments. I knew about medical bills. We went on trips that were special needs friendly and skipped out on many of the popular vacation spots because they weren’t. We bought cars and homes that complied with my sister’s needs. We rocked our handicap tag. And I had seen my parents with a fire in their eyes that almost scared me as they fought the system on my sister’s behalf. I had a fire in my own eyes and a swing in my fist when a boy on the school bus made fun of my sister. Growing up, my family wasn’t your average family…and that’s exactly what I wanted now that I had a family of my own. Something easier than I had known as a child.

But when I was just a little girl, God planted a seed in my heart. The first time I looked into an incubator and saw a tiny baby with tubes hooked up to it I fell in love. And as I researched China adoption during the LONG year I was waiting to hit the big 3-0 and meet the minimum age requirement, that seed grew every time I saw the words “special needs adoption program”. Finally I came across a website called No Hands But Ours and I knew there was no turning back.

I’ll never forget the day my husband and I announced to my parents that we had decided to adopt a child with special needs. My big, strong father (who could very easily be mistaken for Paul Bunyan) looked right at me with his solid stare and said, “You know what you’re signing up for. Are you sure you can handle it?” I reassured him that we did know the path before us wouldn’t be easy, but we felt children with medical needs deserve a loving family. His tender reply to me was, “Yes they do. Maybe even more than the others.”

When we started researching needs and preparing our medical checklist, my parents were almost comical. Especially my mom. For every need on the list, they seemed to have a story about a child they knew with that need and nothing on the list seemed unmanageable to them. My mom was listing off the medical procedures to repair needs I had never heard of like they were perfectly routine. Because to them, they were. My parents and the friends they had made through the special needs community didn’t get to do down a list and choose what needs they were open to. They had their child’s needs thrust upon them unexpectedly and found out how many different versions of normal there really are. Like the beginning of the quote I mentioned above they learned through first-hand experience that “God doesn’t give children with special needs to strong people. He gives children with special needs to ordinary, weak people and then gives them strength.”

I have a special family. My parents are the best. Definitely rock star caliber. When I was growing up, they somehow always found a way to meet my needs and my sister’s needs…both physical and emotional. They showed me through their actions that just because someone is differently-abled doesn’t mean they possess less worth. In fact, they taught me that sometimes the biggest blessings are the people who are just a little bit different from the rest of the world. The ones with a unique walk, their own language, a special chair, or an extraordinary combination of chromosomes. My parents lived out a life of sacrificial love and instilled in me a selflessness (whether I wanted it or not!) that equipped me to be the wife and mother I am today. They taught me to be flexible and to be prepared for the unexpected. Because they had to be. And when my husband and I decided to join the circle of special needs parents ourselves, they were our biggest cheerleaders. As grandparents, they adore all their grandchildren and spoil them rotten. They schedule their vacations around our surgeries so they can help out. They tag along to appointments when they’re in town. My mom knows the gift shops in our children’s hospital almost as well as she knew the ones at the hospital my sister was in thirty years ago. And in their own right, they’re also becoming members of the China adoption community.


My biological kids are growing up in a similar manner to the one I did, only they’re being raised to embrace a different culture as well. And aside from the same lessons they’re learning through their siblings that I learned through mine, they’re also having the lessons instilled in them through their love for their aunt. They get so excited when we pick her up to spend the day with us or just order pizza and watch a movie while we hang out at her apartment. Before my sister walked unevenly down the aisle at her wedding on our father’s arm my girls proudly performed their flower girl duty and dropped rose petals to lead the way. My biological children get asked the same types of questions that I did about their “different” siblings. And they are learning to handle them with grace…for the time being, at least.

We’re a very close knit family. My parents spend a lot of time with their daughters, sons-in-law, and grandchildren. And when we all go out together…whether it’s for dinner or on some touristy, fun adventure…the eleven of us make quite the crew. Two Chinese kids with surgical scars, the woman who walks with an unbalanced gait…and the rest of us who just love them all like crazy. There is nothing “average” about us. But nothing is better than being part of a special family…unless of course it’s being part of a multi-ethnic special family. Sometimes the most difficult journeys are the ones most worth making.

Finding Mommy

February 5, 2013 by nohandsbutours 3 Comments

When I adopted my son in 2010, I did the “marathon tour” of Beijing before heading to his province to finalize his adoption. (Which I recommend all adoptive parents do at least once, by the way. It’s a huge insight into your child’s birth culture.) Included somewhere in that two-day blur of sight-seeing, our group visited Tiananmen Square. During the 30 minutes or so I had to wander around Tiananmen, the one thing I noticed on the face of all the Chinese people was national pride. And it occurred to me on that day I needed to instill not only an American pride in my son…and later daughter…but a Chinese pride as well. Thankfully, I fell so in love with China on that trip it hasn’t been a challenge.

Not long ago, our family sprawled out in our living area to watch the (newest) Karate Kid movie together. And since it was filmed in Beijing, I took the opportunity to generate excitement through the movie. Letting my kids know that is really THE Beijing airport and I’ve had people waiting there with signs for me, too. I stayed in a hotel across the street from that building, or I rode in a taxi like that one or toured that place. And since Cora was fostered in Beijing for the three and a half years prior to us adopting her, I tried to include her in the excitement. Reliving her preschool field trips with her, or even pointing out that the Kung Fu master Mr. Han’s house had a courtyard like “Cora’s house in China”. I thought it would be a fun, exciting thing for her. Instead, I got a lot of head shakes along with “No like it there.” and “Cora no like it.” There was one scene that Cora did like, though. The train ride. When the aerial view of a train following the tracks through China appeared on the screen, I followed my tradition and excitedly announced that Cora had ridden trains in China. And she took it from there.

It was amazing how quickly her face lit up and her speech became animated. My baby girl came to life as she told the story of riding the train to find Mommy and recounted the train ride from her foster home in Beijing to her home province, followed by the details of our “Gotcha” Day. The funny thing is, though, while her details were fairly accurate they didn’t line up with mine at all.

My “Gotcha” Day story is a hard one. Meeting an unaffectionate little girl who was trying so hard to stay strong. Watching the tears slowly begin to fall. Then it reaching the point that I had to literally pick my screaming, kicking, crying child up off the floor of Civil Affairs and carry her screaming, kicking self out of the building to hail a cab back to our hotel. I was rejected. Then I was tolerated. And finally I was loved. But it was a journey. A journey that involved help from our social worker, videos and stacks of books on attachment, support from family and friends, hours on my knees in prayer, and a lot of sacrifice on my part. Cora’s “Gotcha” Day story is totally different from mine. Hers is the story of a little girl who set out on a great search to find her Mommy. Of a little girl who was giddy with excitement when she did finally find her Mommy. She remembers the events, but the emotional climate she has built around that day isn’t correct. Is it possible she really felt excitement in coming to “find” her mama but those feelings were hidden deep down under the emotions of the day? Or is her story perhaps based on her current feelings for me…not the feelings she actually had for me then? I can’t tell at this point.

But I remember so clearly sitting in our hotel room only hours after I had taken custody of Cora and watching her take a nap. She had fallen asleep in a chair, still wearing her coat, with a lollipop in her mouth while she was coloring. I was relieved to finally have a chance to take a break from pouring myself out on a child that hated me, and to grieve the fact that I had been rejected so thoroughly. In those few quiet moments I had before she woke up screaming even worse than before, I could have never fathomed that only a few short months later she would follow me from room to room in the house cheering “Mommy, I found you!” Or with love for me written all over her face, tell me about the day she rode a train to find me. After all, I’m the one who traveled halfway around the world to find her.

Questions and No Answers

January 5, 2013 by nohandsbutours 8 Comments

I am excited to introduce our newest member of the No Hands But Ours team, Tara. Tara is a Texas gal who’s passionate about God and adoption. She has been married to the man of her dreams for 13 years and they have five children: three “homegrown” kids, a son with cleft lip and palate adopted from China in 2010, and a daughter with complex CHD who was adopted from China only a few months ago. In her spare time Tara enjoys reading, blogging, traveling, and hunting down just the right pieces to help complete the “farmhouse chic” look of her home.


The day after I finalized my daughter Cora’s adoption in her home city, we ventured out to a large park within walking distance from our hotel. After an initial period of rejection on her part, that day was the first that she showed signs of actually liking me rather than just tolerating me and thus became our first “fun” day in China.

On the way back to the hotel after many happy hours at the park, I had one of those “China moments” that will forever be etched into my mind. It was a busy day, with lots of vendors lining the sidewalk. I was carrying Cora and browsing the different varieties of local snack foods and trinkets being sold from the carts we were passing when suddenly an attractive young woman in her mid-twenties appeared right in Cora’s face.

Her expression was void of emotion, but it was clear that she was searching. She paid no attention to me or the fact that she was seriously invading my “space bubble”. This woman had eyes only for the little girl in my arms. She never spoke, or even reached out. It was a moment when time seemed to stand still, but in reality I know it was only a few seconds before the woman was slowly backing away and turned the opposite direction before being absorbed into the crowd… still completely expressionless.

I don’t know what she saw. Clearly something happened that caused her to want a closer look at the girl being carried by the foreign woman through the oncoming crowd. My husband asked me if I thought the lady could have been Cora’s birth mother. It’s possible. After all, we were in the city where Cora was abandoned. But whether or not she was Cora’s birth mother, I’d be willing to bet that she was somebody’s. Is she a woman who keeps searching the crowds for a little girl around three or four years old in hopes of an answer to her many questions? Or, did she see that day what I clearly see every time I look at a baby picture of my daughter: the same face surrounded by less hair. I’ll never know. I wish the language barrier hadn’t kept me from asking the questions on my tongue. I wish she would have made eye contact with me so maybe I could have seen the answer in her eyes.

That exchange was a poignant reminder, though. My two Chinese children are a gift that did not come easy. My delight in them is a direct result of another woman’s pain from losing them. While I sneak into their room to watch them sleep or anguish over leaving them in Sunday school without me for the first time, there are two women in China wondering what happened to their babies after they walked away from them. That they somehow made it into my arms leaves me speechless. My mind can’t even begin to comprehend all that went into two babies who were abandoned only weeks apart in two very different regions of China joining my family 23 months apart from each other.

But what’s even more amazing is the fact that two children who were once not mine are mine now. And not just in terms of name and legal paperwork. The process of watching your child’s feelings for you transform from resentment to love is breathtaking. As is knowing that you can love a child from another woman’s womb with the same magnitude of intensity as the children from your own womb. It’s bittersweet, though. This knowledge that your child(ren) had to be cut away from their birth family in order to be grafted into yours. The realization that behind the pictures of your happy family and your “when we went to China” stories are tears and heartache. The knowledge that no matter how badly you wish otherwise, there will always be questions about your child that you don’t have the answers to.