This is a story of trauma and beauty and tears and hopelessness and hope.
This is a story of my darkest moments, my greatest growth and the resulting joy.
I cannot say that this will be everyone’s story, but I’m praying that you can see the hope in this story even in the darkness. Adoption is a hard journey and although I had prepared and read everything I could, I was not prepared for reality.
When I was 11 years old, God put a dream in my heart that I would one day adopt a little girl from China. In March 2017, I began to dream of that little girl and couldn’t get her out of my mind. We left for China on May 2nd, 2018. We were hopeful, excited, very prepared and even more unprepared.
We were handed Arielle on May 7th, a day we won’t soon forget. We were met first thing in the morning with the news that we would have to be quarantined from our group because they suspected Arielle might have chicken pox. We were devastated because our group was the only thing holding us together at times. They were light to us and I’ll forever be grateful to each person there.
While there we got to experience the most beautiful sight I’ve ever seen. We were in a large room with all the other families (we had to wait until everyone got their child so we could be driven back to the hotel to meet Arielle) as each family met their child. It truly was like a glimpse into Heaven. I felt God in that room in such a tangible way that I’ve only felt a few times in my life. This was His victory, His hope in a dark place. In that moment, what was meant for evil, God used for good.
Couples become parents.
Orphans became sons and daughters.
When we got back to the hotel, Arielle was waiting in the lobby with her nanny (where they had been waiting for 3 hours). She looked scared – her eyes were filled with panic as she gripped the nanny around her neck. We would later find out that she had just been told that morning that she wouldn’t see her nanny again.
When we got to our room, we were handed the child that we had fought for, prayed for, and raced to. She began to scream in a pitch I’ve never heard. She would go rigid and then jerk back and forth, headbutting us in the process. We tried to hastily sign paperwork as she army crawled after her nanny and buried her head in her lap. When the nanny left, we remained – holding a terrified, screaming, strange child.
Those first two days she would barely sit up on her own. She would just flop and stare into the distance. This was not the child in the pictures and videos that we had fallen in love with.
I knew to be prepared for this. I knew “the child you meet in China is not your real child”. I knew all of the reasons behind her behavior. But none of that stopped my heart from ripping apart inside my chest.
I did something that day that I’m not proud of (and that I hope you won’t judge me for). I asked the guide if we could have an extra day to decide to go through with finalization. I was in full panic mode.
I was scared that her physical needs were more than we were led to believe. I was on eggshells constantly, afraid that she would start screaming again. This daughter that I had loved and longed for for a year was finally in my arms and she felt like a stranger.
My mind filled with any and every lie the enemy could conjure up to convince me to leave her there, to leave her broken, to leave her in the darkness. I couldn’t think rationally with my eyes blinded by so much fear. I took the very last bit of faith left in me, not even half a mustard seed worth, and we decided to finalize the next day as planned.
We have a picture of us on finalization day smiling with Arielle in between us. Behind our smiles, you can see panic and doubt. Our poor girl sat in her stroller blank faced and stoic, stuck in a situation she didn’t choose – much like she had been so many times in her short life.
We stayed in Zhengzhou for a week and then flew to Guangzhou for another week. Arielle was the oldest child adopted in our travel group. I somewhat enviously watched other families with their babies that they could strap to them, babies who were content and seemed happy. In particular, I remember feeling especially miserable on the Pearl River Cruise. It was a beautiful ride past tons of pretty lights and I thought how badly I wished our boys were with us instead. I missed them with a physical ache in my heart.
We spent those two weeks never knowing what would make Arielle explode. Her tantrums were loud and traumatic and long. Every morning I woke up in a panic and every night I would sob myself to sleep thinking we had ruined our lives. I kept praying for God to just give me a little bit of hope.
One morning I woke up with these lyrics in my head:
Oh the overwhelming,
never ending reckless love of God
Oh it chases me down,
fights til I’m found, leaves the 99
I, in my self-righteousness, thought, “See God, you are supposed to be helping me!”
In that moment, He spoke so clearly to my heart that it was unmistakable. He gently asked, “What if, this time, you’re the 99 and she’s the 1?”
I didn’t like that at all. It’s so hard to die to yourself and I knew that I’d be doing a lot of that for the rest of my life.
On May 19th, we traveled for 30 hours before getting home at midnight. The next few weeks were a blur. I cried every day. In my weakest moments, I looked up how to dissolve an adoption. I’m not proud of that, but I want to be honest to stress just how badly the enemy wanted this to go wrong. Many days, I could barely get off of the couch. I was drowning in regret and sadness and anxiety and guilt over my feelings toward her.
The lies played around in my head for weeks. I began to have heart pains and would wake up trembling and not being able to breathe. I ended up in the emergency room with a full-blown anxiety attack.
But slowly, very slowly, light started to peek through. We started to do some of our normal family activities and I began to realize that our life was not over. It was certainly a lot different and a lot more difficult, but maybe someday could be better? I was humbled by our two little boys, 2 and 4, who didn’t skip a beat in learning to love her and welcome her into our family.
Arielle began to trust us little by little. One of the most amazing parts of this whole story has been seeing life and trust and joy chase away the fear in her eyes. With each layer of fear that she has shed, we’ve been treated to more and more of the real girl hiding under all the trauma.
She is amazing.
She is silly and brilliant and stubborn and girly and affectionate and bossy and full of life.
She already loves her brothers, pizza, and princesses fiercely.
She takes great delight in being able to say mommy and daddy.
I never could have guessed three months ago that the little girl with the sad eyes who stiffened up when I tried to touch her would be cuddling with me this morning and asking for a kiss.
I never would have imagined that she would learn to push herself up the steps at the park or Chik-fil-a, that she would love the “black monkey” at the zoo (she was terrified of all animals at the zoo in China), and that she could roll across the floor faster than the boys can run.
I couldn’t imagine what it would sound like to hear her giggling with her brothers or singing Jesus Loves Me, or saying “I Love You”. No words can describe the feeling in my chest when she looks up to me with her beautiful eyes and I see joy in them instead of sorrow.
God has used this season to grow me in ways I never expected and probably never would have agreed to had I known in advance. I understand His love in a much deeper and more tangible way. He has adopted me into His family at a great cost to Him. I certainly had to fight every bit of my flesh in China just to say yes and come face to face with my selfishness.
I have learned that, even in His silence, God is faithful and is on the move. I understand much more the idolatry of comfort in my life and the true cost of being a disciple of Christ.
Adoption is a deeply spiritual thing and I believe it hits right at the center of God’s heart. It is a costly, radical, tragic, beautiful thing. It is hard but it is holy.
It is redemption of her life and, in turn, ours.
Redemption always comes at a great cost. Thankfully in our story, we are reaping rewards already for that cost. I know that’s not the case for everyone, but I also know rewards don’t always come on this side of heaven.
So where are we now? We are day by day trying to slip into our new normal. We are trying to adjust to parenting a child with a disability. We are learning that a child with a disability can be incredibly resilient, fiercely determined, and an unexpected blessing. And we get to rejoice in simple milestones that we took for granted with the boys.
You should have seen us in Chik-fil-A the first time she climbed the play area by herself!
Arielle has made herself quite comfortable here and tries to make sure the boys know who is boss. She has attached in a miraculous way and is even speaking sentences in English. Everyone who meets her falls in love immediately.
She is my most difficult and most rewarding “yes”.
We truly have front row seats to watch God resurrect beauty from ashes. We believe fully that there are big plans in place for her life and we feel blessed to be part of her story. The harder the enemy fights us, the more I believe in the calling she has on her life.
It has been a difficult few months and we have had to claw our way out of some pits. It’s still hard some days and we are still figuring out logistics and doctor appointments. But, if the little glimpse we are seeing of her is any indication, oh what a glorious unfolding her life is going to be!
– guest post by Michelle