Looking up from a pile of leaves, a young, beautiful blonde-haired college girl smiles while being kissed on the cheek by a “somewhat handsome” college-aged boy. That young, twenty-year old girl, now even more beautiful than ever, is my wife, Amber. That college kid, who has not graced the twenty years since quite as well, is me.
This twenty-year old picture is one of my favorites and hangs in our dining room to remind me of the beginning of our love story.
Back in 1997, two years shy of being married, Amber and I had many visions, plans, and ideas of how our love story and how our family story would go. Both of us came from families that had four or more children. And in 2008, when we had Sawyer, the youngest of our four biological children, we felt confident that God had finally brought our family to completion.
As our four children grew, so did our the collection of framed pictures and portraits. In our front room, up our stairs, in our dining room, and above our bed, we began and continued to hang beautiful snapshots of our four kids.
One of my favorites is of Logan, Scout, Quaid, and Sawyer walking on the shore of Lake Huron. Each picture proudly displays the pride we have in our four blessings. Several years ago, I began to take my kids’ school portraits. Each of the four 8×10 portraits fit perfectly along the mantle in our front room.
For eight years, more pictures were added to our beloved gallery around our house. Four children’s smiles beamed across our mantle. Our family portrait of six seemed perfect and complete.
But God knew better. His portrait of our family was unfinished.
In the summer of 2015, what had been the quiet desire of Amber’s heart to become a family to a child who did not have one to call his or her own had become the loud, clear voice of God. While Amber had mentioned a desire to adopt within the United States, a burden for China was steadily growing.
I was happy with our family of six. Life had a sense of routine. Four children, in my faithless opinion, were more than enough to keep us busy and on the brink of insanity. Our eldest son, Logan, was soon to begin high school, and that would mean rides to marching band and school events and youth group.
I could just point to all of our family pics and the photos shared on Facebook. Life looked perfect. Our family looked perfect.
Sadly, the only thing I was looking at was the selfish desire of my own heart.
But God persisted. He brought the right moments, conversations with people, articles, and movies into my life that kept shaking up my heart and my perspective over and over again.
At the high school where I worked, one of our office secretaries was adopting from China.
At the church camp where I worked, God brought one of the interns that had recently served at our church to my table at the camp cafeteria. In our conversation, she shared stories from the country where her parents had served as missionaries.
And what country did they serve in?
And along the course of our journey, Amber asked me to go to our local movie to watch the incredible movie, The Dropbox, which once again challenged my heart for overseas adoption.
So in the fall of 2015, I finally surrendered not only my vision of what my family was supposed to look like, but I knew that God was calling our family to pursue an adoption in China.
In China, there is an abundance of boys abandoned for a variety of reasons. Countless children fill Chinese orphanages simply due to the fact that they were born with special needs.
That fall, the not-yet-ready file of a six year-old boy grabbed our hearts. Slowly our whole family fell for this young boy. His special needs were very mild. Through the Christmas season of 2015 and into early 2016, I began to have this new image of how our family would be made up in my head. This young boy would fit perfectly into our home as the youngest child of the McCulloch family.
Once again, God had a different idea as to what was to go on the canvas of our lives.
An almost nightly ritual for Amber was to look at the profiles of the many Chinese orphans still waiting to be found by their forever families. Amber’s heart of advocacy for these children would find her on the many social media sites and adoption websites. Often she would show me another picture or video of a child waiting for a home.
With each new precious face, I felt more and more helpless against this great need and more resolute that the six-year old boy we were pursuing was the one to complete our family.
In early February of 2016, Amber wanted to once again show me a profile she had come across. It was the picture of twelve year-old boy with hemophilia under the file name of “Liam”. Unlike any other picture I had been shown and in the most unexpected way, the smile and the story of Liam haunted me.
On the way to work, I could not get him out of my mind. One of the pictures was of Liam praying, as a ten-year-old, for a family to adopt him. My heart felt incredibly heavy for this boy. On that same exact day, Amber called me at work with the news that, on that day, Liam’s file would be released from the adoption agency we had been working with. At midnight, we would no longer have an option to bring this young man into our home and hearts. In a total leap of faith, Amber and I felt moved to put in a letter of intent.
Through much prayer, closed doors, and the decision of our home study agency, God led us away from the six year-old we had been preparing to adopt and to Liam.
And with this child, who we would name Jonas, we had to learn about what life with a child with hemophilia meant.
It was more than just a cut bleeding badly. We learned of the dangers of internal bleeding and how joints would bleed when damaged, bringing severe pain to someone suffering from this blood condition.
With Amber’s diligent study and discussion on Facebook groups, she not only learned more about what life with a child that has hemophilia would look like but also began connecting with a network of parents that were raising adopted children with this blood condition.
So as prep-work for bringing home our 12-year old son continued, we also continued to prep ourselves about what life with hemophilia would be like, including the need to give him infusions twice a week of the needed factor that would help his blood clot whenever he had a bleed.
The severity of Jonas’ hemophilia would remain unknown until we would later get him to Children’s Hospital of Michigan. What we did know for certain was that if his hemophilia was indeed severe, the treatment of this condition, especially for orphans, was very low. We had heard that most orphans with hemophilia in China went untreated and eventually died from not having the needed infusions of factor.
What we knew of Jonas’ story was that he had been abandoned in a train station at three years old. For almost a decade, he had most likely gone with little to no treatment for his condition.
On November 3, 2016, after nine long months of paperwork, stress, grant writing, prayers and raising funds, Amber and I eagerly boarded a plane for Beijing, China that would begin our journey to bring home our twelve-year old boy.
On November 8, 2016, in an orphanage office in Taiyuan, China, Zhao Huangyi was officially adopted as Jonas Timothy Huangyi McCulloch.
It was not even a few days into China where signs of Jonas’ hemophilia made themselves very apparent. Despite receiving an infusion early in the week, Jonas had many nosebleeds. Also, his ankle, from the walking and his first time swimming was hurting him. Amber knew immediately that we had to ice his ankle, compress it with a bandage, and elevate it. We spent much of our time in China in our hotel room to keep Jonas off his hurting ankle.
After completing the adoption process in Guangzhou, we finally headed back home on Friday, November 18. At Detroit Metro Airport, over forty friends and family members gathered to meet and welcome Jonas. Jonas’ four siblings now had a new brother! Immediately, this new picture of our family felt perfect.
Jonas immediately loved and took to his three brothers and sister.
Amber had already arranged for Jonas to see doctors in the Hematology Center at Children’s Hospital of Michigan that following Monday. There we met an extraordinary staff of people who wanted to help provide excellent care and to educate us on how to best address Jonas’ hemophilia. Dr. Chitlur and Missy and Annie, along with the many other doctors and nurses, have been such a blessing in their support and care.
Through her connections on Facebook Groups, Amber made the wonderful friend in Shari Luckey. Shari, whose adopted son Luke also has hemophilia, has been nothing short of an angel in meeting with us, answering questions, and even attending our first appointment at Children’s Hospital.
God, as in the beginning of this journey, continues to bring the right and perfect people alongside us on our journey.
As blood work was done, it was confirmed that Jonas had Severe Hemophilia A. Jonas would need infusions of factor twice a week. In China, he had only received one infusion a week for the past year. Before that he had never received any infusions.
He had been barely home for a few weeks when the long-term effects of hemophilia on his body became very real.
Having an immense amount of blood in his urine, Jonas was admitted in early December to Children’s Hospital. The complication came from not being able to give him the needed factor because it would cause a clot in his urinary tract. This would be very painful. Jonas wanted nothing more than to be home with his new family.
After four nights in the hospital, his bladder healed, he could again be given the needed factor, and his wish to come home was granted.
Another answer to prayer came with Amber’s cousin Tarra Steele and her husband Kyle. Tarra and Kyle are both RNs. They immediately offered to help assist us with the infusions Jonas would need twice a week. Instead of us having to drive over an hour each time to Children’s Hospital in Detroit, we’ve just had to drive across town to their home where they have done his infusions for us. Tarra and Kyle have even come to our house early in the morning to do his infusions as well.
Amber is determined to someday take this task on herself. She and I have both attended a class where we are learned more about hemophilia and how to administer the infusions. Amber, of course, is way braver than I when it comes to needles. Soon, Jonas will learn how to administer his own infusions at a summer hemophilia camp he is attending.
Despite infusions and needles, overnight stays in the hospital, and having to be constantly aware of bumps and cuts that would affect a child with hemophilia, the joy of Jonas’ presence in our lives makes these sometime stresses seem like nothing.
His adventurous spirit, genuine love and appreciation, never-ending gratitude and huge smile and heart have brought new chapters into our family’s story that far exceed the repetitious and dull story we could have been living.
There is certainly rarely a dull moment in our house now.
And there are growing pains for a family adjusting to now seven people instead of six. Instead of four children wanting the attention of two, sometimes tired parents, there are now five. Each day is filled with unexpected blessings that make the trying moments worth every conflict.
Amber and I will often look out our kitchen window and see Jonas playing with his brothers and sister. Today, we saw him dribbling a basketball down the sidewalk with Quaid and Sawyer. We will peer around our dining room table and see the smiles and hear the conversations of our newly remodeled family.
And we find a deeper perfection and joy than before.
I once had this idea of how our family would and should look like, but God reimagined and repainted the portrait of our family.
Now across our mantle, five beautiful faces smile.
Our prayer is that others will allow God to modify and change the portrait of how their families appear, opening hearts and homes to orphans around the world.
Trust in the LORD with ALL your heart and lean not on your own understanding… – Proverbs 3:5