Where do I even start?
Our family began our first adoption in 2004, a few years after the birth of our third son. We thought it would be our first and last adoption. We always had the heart for adoption, but surprised ourselves as we actually went through with our heart’s desire.
My husband, Russ, had been on a mission trip to Ukraine with our church and had visited the orphanages there. He was so taken by the children and was so burdened with the ones left behind. He watched as a mom on the trip hugged and kissed every single child in the orphanage. It was her mission to leave every child touched with love. He was forever changed.
As a child, I always talked about adopting when I got married. I had no idea what form that desire would take, but it was a seed planted in me from a young age. It all came together when Russ and I decided to find out a little bit more about the world of international adoption. From our perspective, it was all by chance and circumstance that we ended up pursuing Chinese adoption, but we know that was God’s plan all along. He has grown us by leaps and bounds since those early days. We are now a shadow of our former worldly selves, and we owe it all to Him. We were happy as a family of six, and then we saw Sam’s precious little face…. and we knew. We just knew.
We became a family of seven in 2007, as we added Sam to our crew. People would ask us if we were done, and we emphatically answered Yes!
Until the spring of 2011….
We had grown tremendously in our spiritual walk. We had been down some dark roads and had been redeemed by keeping our eyes on God. We felt strongly that God was going to do a mighty work in our lives. We were excited to see what He had in store. We prayed for God to burden our heart with what burdened His. On my heart He laid the older orphans of China. I was also asked to volunteer for an amazing organization that provided care for orphans in China through their healing home. Again, I was drawn to the older children. God spoke to me further through this experience.
One day, in the spring of 2011, a friend of mine announced they were adopting their 7th child. They were a family similar to ours and we had met and bonded with them during our first adoption. I went to a website to see the picture of their daughter. There were many, many children on that website, but there was a little face that caught my eye. Unbeknownst to me, the seed was planted. A few weeks later I saw that same little face on a blog I follow on occasion. A few days later, that little face was posted on Facebook by a friend who was advocating for him.
I told God that I was listening. He had my attention. I prayed. I told God that I was obedient to His will, whatever that might be. On spring break, I showed the picture and read the story to my family. I prayed again. We really did not talk about it, but it was always there. We could feel it.
Occasionally, Russ would ask me a question about this young boy. I would answer it, and we would go on a few more weeks before another question was asked. A dear friend of mine called for a day of fasting and prayer. I had never fasted during prayer before so I researched it and came up with a plan that worked for me. I laid so many burdens at the feet of our Lord, including this young face that I could not get out of my mind. I advocate for many children, but God kept pressing this one on my heart. I prayed for direction and a peace about what God wanted from me. I walked away from that day with complete peace and a desire to be obedient to God, whatever form that may take. Use me as You wish, my Lord.
My 40th birthday came, and my husband threw me a surprise party. Knowing where my heart was, all of the guests were asked to bring donations for older orphan care in lieu of gifts. We did not discuss adopting again, but were planning ways to put that money to good use. Two weeks later, Russ took me into the backyard, handed me a picture of that little face… and told me he knew beyond any doubt that this young man was our son. Russ had already put us on the path to go get him. We just knew. In that moment, it was all clear. Thus began our journey to Joe.
I continued to follow the direction the Lord was leading, and I advocated regularly for aging out orphans in China. Chinese law states that a child cannot be adopted after the age of 14. There is no waiver or way around it… not even a delayed flight. Once the birthday arrives, there are no more chances. Their future thereafter is pretty bleak without the compassion of others. I was overjoyed as I saw children adopted just in time and burdened as I saw children lose their final chance at something everyone deserves – a loving family. There were times when I wanted to walk away from it all – it was just too painful. But it was also an honor. I continued on.
In the fall of 2011, we first saw the face of a boy being advocated for as Leon. Both Russ and I saw something in his eyes. We decided to advocate and pray for him. At times, we wondered if we could be his family, but it just seemed too ridiculous. Not being his family, but the thought of seven kids. We did not have a car that would fit all of us. We were already stretching the limits of the house we lived in. We prayed about it, but never felt any clear direction. We tried to discern our place in all of this. In the meantime, we unexpectedly happened upon a house that was really perfect for our family. It had more than enough room for all of us and the price was more than right. We prayed and prayed. We were sad to leave our old house, but excited for the new possibilities. Our family felt strongly that God was providing this house for us for a reason.
We’d felt very blessed with our old house. But God blessed us even more with the new house. We talked about Leon off and on and committed to continue praying for Him. God really pressed on my heart that he was our son, but without the confirmation from my husband, it did not make sense to me. I prayed. I fasted. I prayed some more. God continued to give me a peace about the whole thing but no clear direction. I am a firm believer that a husband is the head of the family, and he takes his lead from God. I prayed that God would give us both the same peace and direction – His peace and direction. Not my way, but Yours, Lord.
In March of that year, we went on a family trip to Disney. Russ’ generous parents gifted the trip to the whole family for Christmas. During this trip, Russ became sick and by the time we arrived back home, he was taken by ambulance and admitted to the hospital with double pneumonia. He can tell this story better than me, but I will do my best. Russ says that God brought him to his knees during this illness. Without it, he says that we would have missed the blessing. During this time, he really focused on God. He prayed and was moved. It was powerful.
On Sunday, March 18th Russ came to me and said that Leon was our son. But we were quickly running out of time to adopt him before he aged out. I teased Russ and asked if he was heavily medicated… then we called our adoption agency. Leon’s birthday was April 30th, which meant we had just a little over a month before he would age out. I called our contact at the agency on her cell phone on a Sunday and asked if it was possible. She said probably not, but that if we believed it could happen, she did too. She teases us about having a ‘direct connect’ with the Man upstairs.
We had about a month to get it all done.
There is no way to describe it except…
First our home study agency had to approve us for a second child (one with a heart defect). We were still waiting on our address change home study update and within 24 hours we had both the update and the approval!
By Wednesday the 21st (three days after making the decision), we had sent in our LOI and had received PA and LOAs for both boys. (For those not in the adoption world, those are very important acronyms). We waited 96 days for our LOA when we were adopting Sam. 96 days! Leon’s took two days.
The rest of this is nothing short of a miracle. We knew that if this was to work, it would be because God Himself ordained it. We had the most amazing, compassionate, caring USCIS worker. (She still sends us emails asking how things are going.)
Early in this process to adopt Leon in addition to Joe, I felt the whisper that I should stay home while Russ traveled. I mentioned it to Russ, and he would not hear of it. We would go together. When I felt it strongly again two weeks later, I brought it up to Russ and he immediately agreed that he was feeling the same thing. We grieved this realization together, but knew in our hearts it was the right thing. We called our agency about it and due to the process required to get a Power of Attorney, it was the very last day we could have made that decision to get everything ready in time.
The next day, I filled out the forms, had them notarized, county certified, state authenticated (with the Great Seal of Georgia, no less) and they were off to our agency for approval and then sent to the Chinese Embassy here in the U.S. They arrived back to us with only one day to spare before travel.
In a ‘typical’ adoption, you receive your Article 5, wait some time before receiving your TA (travel approval) and then your agency calls to make your CA (Consulate Appointment) and that determines your travel. We tried to wait for Article 5 before booking our flights, but the time was getting close and the flights were getting full. We trusted God and so the flights were booked. We packed up Russ and our oldest son and had everything ready Wednesday night for their Thursday flights. Overnight that night, we received TA and CA.
The timing on all of this is a miracle. God loves Leon. And He loves Joe, too. He loves them even more than we do. I cannot wait to see what He has in store for our new sons. God is in the redemption business. He has redeemed me. He has redeemed us all. Ephesians 1:5 says, “He predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will.”
God sets forth the example and He leads us.
Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world. – James 1:27
We strive to be the hands and feet of our Lord. Not everyone is called to adopt, but everyone is called. Our journey to Joe is an amazing story. Our journey to Joe and Leon is a miracle story. And the miracle does not stop there!
Leon joined our family through adoption just six days before aging out.
Both Leon and Joe became ours on the same day. Brothers. They did not know about one another before that day. In fact, Leon did not even know he had a family until the day before he met his dad for the first time. With the delicate nature of the timing, we had faith that God would make it all work out. But the reality of the consequences if it did not kept everyone involved from sharing the news with the boys until we knew for sure.
The boys could not be more different. Leon, at 14, was about the size of his 10 year old brother waiting at home to meet him. Joe, at 12, towered over his new brother and even had the hints of a mustache. Their personalities are night and day, too. They embraced their new family with bravery and excitement but also with an understandable language barrier. They had no idea how to shower or brush their teeth. We soon saw the benefit of having Russ and our older son, their new big brother, there instead of mom. But God knew all along.
Another part of this story, not having anything to do with the adoption, is that God also knew I needed to be home. Halfway into the trip, while they were singing karaoke in a local Guangzhou hangout with Joe’s friends, I woke up in the middle of the night to my dog barking, and she never barks in the middle of the night unless there is a problem. I decided to check on all of the kids and discovered water coming out of the ceiling in my son’s bedroom. It was our air conditioner in the attic leaking into the room below. I can only imagine the nightmare we would’ve returned home to if I had also gone to China. But God knew.
Leon, having been scooped up by our family without even knowing we were coming to get him, acclimated quickly to our family and to American life. His English acquisition was easy and quick. It was very unexpected. His affection is a different story. He was always gracious about receiving a hug but was also very awkward and very stiff. I wondered if he would be able to navigate relationships as he progressed through life. He has come a long way. While he is still not very social, he is making friends, staying after school to play soccer at a local park with kids he met in his ESOL class and has just joined his high school track team.
He will turn 18 next month, though he is only a sophomore. He has no interest in driving and for this I am thankful. He is not ready. He could pass the learner’s permit test easily but being behind the wheel is a different story. I tease him saying that for his high school graduation, we will give him a bus pass for local transit.
Medically, Leon is doing great. When he first came home, he was so patient and brave as he visited the cardiologist and the endocrinologist and the ophthalmologist and had multiple dental visits to correct teeth that had never been looked at by a dentist. I remember having to leave the room, crying, during one of the visits because watching them work so hard on his little teeth and seeing all the decay and witnessing his bravery just overwhelmed me.
We take so much for granted. He has since had extensive dental work and currently is coming to the end of his run with braces. I cannot wait to see his gorgeous smile after all of this hard work! He also had open heart surgery to replace a leaky valve two and a half years after coming home. Necessary surgery that he would have probably missed if he had not been adopted before his 14th birthday. I am so thankful for my God who goes before us and guides our steps. I cannot imagine what life would be like for my precious, obedient, witty Leon without the intervention of Holy God.
Joe did not acclimate as quickly or as easily. We truly believe, as does he, that someone adjusted the dates on his paperwork so that he would have extra time to find a family. We adopted a 12 year old boy with a teenage physique and a mustache who had only been educated through the 6th grade – and not well educated at that.
He was longing for affection and attention and love. He was also stubborn, moody, and prideful. In addition, he was scared and angry but sweet and gentle and kind. Sounds a bit like a typical middle schooler, huh? But there was hurt and trauma and a lack of language which made it so difficult. Joe had a fight or flight instinct due to his life experiences at events that were exciting and fun… like back to school shopping which brought out fear in him. My little 5’2” lacking-exercise body ran after him in flip flops as he took off down our street in a sheer panic over starting school for the first time. I didn’t run because I thought I could catch him, I ran so he would know he was worth chasing after.
It has been a journey, but one well worth taking. In one day, he could sit on my bed, translating and trying to communicate for hours in between hugs and smiles and by that night, be unresponsive and solemn with a look of distance in his eyes. He grieved and he grieved hard, but he never forgot his intense desire to be loved by a family. His life and loss in China is more than my heart can bear. He knows his story. He lived it. There is no speculating like there is with my other children who lost their families at an early age. Joe knows evil. But Holy God redeems.
Today, at 16 and a freshman, Joe is a wonderful big and little brother who loves Jesus and his family. He has a girlfriend and many friends at school. He picked up a football for the first time a little over three years ago and now is a star on his high school football team. He and Leon share a room and are on the track team together. Joe still struggles academically. It has nothing to do with intelligence, but everything to do with having never established priorities or study habits. If life in China got difficult for Joe, he could leave and wander the streets of China. There was very little accountability for things like school work. But he was known as a good friend, a kind soul, and someone eager to help others. That is far more important to us than grades.
He has certainly had to unlearn bad habits that don’t lead to success and is still working on it. Natural consequences have been the best teacher for Joe. Joe really, really wants to get his learner’s permit. He would be a good driver, physically and coordination wise, but the lack of reading skills is obviously a problem. We have given him the study book for the learner’s permit and told him that as soon as he can read and understand it in English, he can take the test.
Adopting two boys at once was daunting, but with God anything is possible. With all of the hardships, I am still so thankful that we brought both boys home at once. They have been wonderful for each other. They are competitive but also a good help for one another.
Leon is learning socially and emotionally from Joe while Joe is learning academically from Leon. They can get on each other’s nerves, but they are also best friends. Seeing how God orchestrated the timing and the steps is overwhelming. We knew He had spoken to us and regardless of how events would unfold, He was in control. We had peace from start to finish.
Seven kids? Sure.
Two teens with unknown backgrounds and little to no English coming home to an established family which I would have described at that point to be a “well-oiled machine”? Why not?
Because with God we can do anything.
Now to Him who is able to do more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever! Amen. – Ephesians 3:20-21
– guest post by Julie