We have been blessed with two beautiful daughters from China, Abigail Zaiping Faith (Abby) and Genevieve Grace (Evie). Their stories are both powerful testimonies of God’s care for the orphan.
I still remember the day we got the call from our agency about Abby.
We had been obediently pursuing our call to adoption for a couple of years. There had been quite a bit of heartbreak already along the way… stories for another day. In the meantime, we had added a new biological baby to the three already at home, and our house and hands felt full.
The fact that we moved forward, when it would have been so completely reasonable to talk ourselves out of this crazy road to adoption, speaks powerfully of God being at work in this process. He definitely orchestrated it, brought it to pass, and held our hands through the whole roller coaster ride.
So, we moved forward.
The original plan was to adopt a baby or toddler, but through several circumstances, our hearts became opened to the possibility of adopting an older child. It was at this point, in April of 2009, that we received the call from our agency. We did not have older children as a consideration in our paperwork, so why they called us was again…. a God thing.
Abby was eight years old, only seven months older than our daughter Lanie. Experts will give you a whole slew of reasons why this was not a good idea, but for us it has been nothing but a blessing. Her special need was a ventricular septal defect (VSD), which had been repaired in China when she was three years old. The pictures the agency sent showed some red areas on Abby’s hands and legs, which they claimed came from mosquito bites because she lived in a very humid area. We did not think they looked like mosquito bites at all, but did not feel very concerned.
We said yes.
Nine months later I found myself on a flight to Beijing accompanied by my then thirteen year old, James. The months in between had been filled with praying, planning, tons of paperwork, lots of impatient waiting, and reading blogs while making an abundance of virtual friends all undergoing the same crazy process.
The big day finally arrived on January 21, 2010. It couldn’t have gone better. Abby took our breath away and stole our hearts immediately. She was very shy that first day, eyes brimming with tears, as we tried to entice her to partake in the snacks we had so carefully picked out for her.
It didn’t take long, however, for big brother James to win her over with, if I remember correctly, a watch. Soon she was all smiles and giggles, and she started chattering away in Cantonese and trying to mimic our English. The days that followed in Guangzhou were filled with shopping trips where Abby got to pick out some new clothes, take long walks, go to the playground, and have lots of fun experimenting with what foods she would like (French fries were an immediate favorite).
She started to test the waters a little bit behavior wise, just saying no and refusing to do what was asked (I know it seems strange, but communication is really a lot easier than you think it’s going to be). Overall, we were still “honeymooning” and were able to build a lot of great memories while still in China.
Once home, this continued for a couple of weeks, and then reality hit.
We started to run into a lot of control issues, mainly revolving around food. This isn’t surprising to those involved in adoption. Having lacked normal patterns of food availability and consumption, our adopted kids often struggle with security when it comes to food, and may demonstrate some unhealthy behaviors in that regard.
Abby’s issues were expressed differently than I expected, and I am sure I helped compound the problem at the time. Abby was two weeks shy of her ninth birthday by the time we came home, and weighed just 40 pounds. Her smallness terrified me, and I was anxious to get her “healthy” looking. She, I am sure, picked up on this right away, and so began an all out resistance to pretty much anything I wanted her to eat. A giant power struggle ensued which lasted way too long. This power struggle then extended itself to schoolwork.
So not only was I struggling to feed a child, I was fighting to get any schoolwork done at all.
In spite of those struggles, a lot of positives were happening during that time as well. The kids were all developing amazing sibling bonds, we all enjoyed the incredible process of opening up the eyes of a child who has missed out on so much, and watching her absorb the world around her for the first time.
In many ways Abby was like a toddler, looking at everything with such wonder and fascination because it was all new. Experiencing this through the eyes of an older child is nothing short of glorious. Clearly, there were a lot of good times in the midst of roughness because by December of that same year, we had decided to adopt again.
We had said for a while that we were done growing our family, but even in the middle of the struggles we were very aware of the miracle we were seeing happen in front of our very eyes.
The road to Evie was way longer than we ever expected. It was us that made the call this time, as I had spotted her picture on an advocacy blog and had become smitten. She was eighteen months old at the time, and her special need was spina bifida. Her defect had been at the base of her skull, and had been repaired very early on in her little life. She was now walking and climbing up and down stairs, so her mobility seemed to be unaffected. We had a doctor review her file; she could of course give no guarantee for what her future would look like. We knew children with this disorder often have complications later on, and she was still young enough that we could just not have all the answers. We felt we were in a good position to handle any medical issues that might arise, spiritually and financially.
We said yes again.
And began a two year wait to bring Evie home.
On January 19, 2013, almost exactly three years after Abby’s Family Day, I finally got to meet Evie in person. (Oddly it was Martin Luther King Day on both of their Gotcha Days – which gave it a whole new meaning in our family). She was a precious three year old, full of life, and chatter, and mischief, like most three year olds are. She came to me with no problem and was happy and talkative all day as we took care of errands with our guide and another family. Then we got to our hotel room, and I as I put the key in the door, she looked up and realized it was just us – and the crying began.
She cried inconsolably for hours. My heart was breaking into a million pieces, and I cried along with her. Luckily, she let me hold her, and I just laid there rubbing her head and saying “Wo ai ni” over and over.
She finally fell asleep, and when she woke up, she was her old self from that morning. She never looked back or broke down like that again. I had traveled by myself this time and so we had countless hours just hanging out together each day, with her jabbering endlessly in Chinese, not concerned that I could not respond. She loved our guide, Elvin, and called him “uncle”, and I am sure she shared all kinds of observations about me with him that week.
Evie’s transition was so completely different than Abby’s. We had no discipline issues with her whatsoever. She was happy and sweet from day one, and had no issue eating anything we put in front of her. It was when she started school a couple of years later that we started running into some issues.
We homeschool all our kids, and for the first time in ten years, we sent one to public school. Evie just was not taking well to learning from me, and was having meltdowns every day when it was time to do school. It was sad for me, and I did not want to enter into another power struggle, so off to kindergarten she went.
It was a good choice for that year and she did really well, particularly because she is such a social butterfly. But, we all really missed her. Also, even though very little homework was getting sent home in Kindergarten, we quickly found that just trying to help with homework was going to be a struggle. So, in first grade, we brought her back to homeschool. It has been quite a process for sure, and lots of tears have been shed.
But again, we are witnessing a miracle and it is so amazing. The transformations in both girls are quite inspiring.
Today, Abby is an incredibly sweet and beautiful fifteen year old. She is passionate about Jesus in a way that is so sincere, it is breathtaking.
She is an old soul in so many ways.
She loves hymns and was really sad when we moved because our new church did not sing any of the old hymns.
She loves romance stories and will re-read When Calls the Heart and the like a million times.
Her favorite movies are tear jerkers – for which she gets plenty of teasing from her brothers (ok, from all of us).
Abby dreams of going back to China some day to share Jesus with those who have never had a chance to hear His name.
She is taking a Chinese class this year in the hopes of having it come back to her – she had lost most of it by now, just from lack of practice.
She truly has a servant’s heart, and makes me so proud to be her mom!!
When it comes to school she also has become – from fighting me tooth and nail – a very diligent worker. She still struggles with math, but loves history and literature. She is the most voracious reader in our home, and is discovering the joys of Shakespeare right now. Also, just like when I first met her, she is a true girly-girl. She loves nothing more than high heels, pretty dresses, and at fifteen is testing out the waters with a little mascara and lipstick.
I also no longer have to worry about her diet. She loves a great variety of foods, and actually leans towards healthier choices, loving salads and not really caring for sweets.
Health wise, Abby is doing incredibly well also. Her only treatment related to her special need has been routine echocardiograms, which have now been spaced out to every three years. That is just to make sure the patch on her heart is still sufficient as her body grows.
Oh – and those red marks that were supposed to be mosquito bites? Port wine stains. We have been told they can be treated, but it is lengthy and painful. Since up until now they have not bothered Abby in the least, we have opted to wait and not put her through the difficult treatments until she really wants to have it done.
Evie is flourishing as well.
With all the struggles to teach her, her reading skills right now blow me away. When she is in a classroom setting, she is usually the strongest reader in her age group. Although every day is not perfect, we have made great strides. And her language skills astound me; you would never know English is her second language.
She chatters away with me now and I have flashbacks to those first few days in China when she was doing the same thing in her Chinese dialect. She is known for her love of talking. My father runs away from her when he is visiting because she asks incessant questions. I have had to make a rule not to ask visitors questions, because she manages to find the most impertinent things to ask. Like the time she ask my aunt (in her late 50s) when the baby was coming! She can entertain herself for hours playing with her Barbies or babies, anything that involves role playing and tons of talking.
When we brought Evie home and visited the doctors here, they were astounded that she had undergone a spina bifida repair. She shows absolutely no sign of her special need, and you would never know of it if you saw her playing outside, active as can be. She has, as of now, a clean bill of health, and we are very grateful for that.
She is a zealous eater and will eat pretty much anything, but her favorite thing is noodles or “mifan”.
She is also such a grateful little girl, always the first to thank me when I serve up a meal with a sincere, “Mom, you are the best cooker.”
Her siblings adore her, and she is definitely spoiled by them. (I have some serious concerns about her skewed view of herself when everyone she spends the entire day with thinks she is the best thing since sliced bread.)
The best part?
She loves Jesus, too, and comes home from Sunday school each week sharing all that she learned about different Bible characters. Her enthusiasm is so great I am sure she could talk anyone into loving Jesus as much as she does!
Although we still have tough days and power struggles over school work, having the experience of the early days with Abby and seeing how she is excelling in all aspects now, helps me have more patience with Evie and realize that this, too, shall pass.
Adoption has definitely been the toughest road we have walked as a family. It has also definitely been the most rewarding.
If our adoptions had been easy, if the transitions were smooth, and we had no hurdles to overcome… maybe I would have become prideful. Maybe I would think, “I am such a fantastic mom, I made everything work out and had no issues.” But, from where I stand now, I know beyond a shadow of a doubt I rely completely on Jesus. The best part is that one can struggle so much and yet feel such strong, intense love. What an amazing way to experience God’s love for us!
All of our kids constantly ask when we are adopting again… which is not in our plans. Yet, this makes me smile because I know they have also been very blessed by this experience.
When we have a hard day, I remember how far God has brought my girls. I just feel incredibly privileged to have gotten to play a role in their transformation, and to have witnessed it firsthand.