Sunday, February 24, 2013

When Suffering Moves In to Stay

Our older two kids are not kids anymore. They are both married and out on their own. We know people who when their kids grow up move on with their lives, and aren't really involved with their children's world anymore. Our situation couldn't be farther from that. Both our older kids live within a few miles of us and we get together as often as we can. Between 5 kids, their spouses, grandkids, in-laws, and cousins it seems that it's always someone's birthday, a holiday (we make it a point to all celebrate), sports event, vacation and sometimes sad to say, an illness that calls us all together. Our little girls and our grandkids are really more like siblings than aunts to niece and nephew. We absolutely LOVE it but it can get a little (ok...alot) of crazy. A normal 'family' dinner with all of us can be around 20 people. We make it work and love doing it!
     So what happens when tragedy strikes a family? This family? Many of you out there are fighting battles and have your own tales of suffering. Sickness and long-term illnesses bring a whole new dimension to our walk on this planet and turn daily life into a constant struggle to achieve normalcy. What do you do when you are told your normal is gone forever? Now you must adjust to this new normal..... and not complain.....wonder what you did wrong......and keep fighting....and not complain.....and try to do whatever this new normal looks like.....and be in constant pain.....and not complain.....and work a full-time job because there's a family to support......and not complain....try and keep your sense of humor.....wondering if you are going to make it and not crumble....all while not complaining. (Not so worried about being grammatically correct here as long as you get the point). Our son J is in such a fight. Suffering moved in and set up camp...poised and ready to stay a while. He was diagnosed two years ago with severe Crohn's disease (there's no cure) and recently had major back surgery to repair two herniated discs. He's only 28. This came out of nowhere. Suffering. That's supposed to be for other people that write those inspirational articles you read in magazines at the dentist. Not us. Not at 28. It wasn't supposed to be like this. Seeing your child hurt like this was not in our life game plan. Suddenly things that seemed so important are not so important anymore. Your perspective on this life here on earth changes. Ours has.
      I think when you are first blindsided with devastating news it's human nature to grieve, retreat, have some self-pity and then if you have an ounce of strength left, pull yourself up by your boot-straps and fight back. This is what J has chosen to do....all while learning a few lessons along the way. As with any and all trials and sufferings, it's how you deal with what God asks of you. None of us would have ever asked for this....not a long-term incurable illness at 28 years old that would make you age beyond your years, limit your diet and activities for the rest of your life. What he has learned is that when you suffer, you are not alone. Never. Ever. Alone. (all you grammar people don't judge.....) And our family has pulled together to fight with him.....cause that's what you do when one of yours is hurting. We're here for the long haul. One of our family jokes is 'who would've ever thought the Mom and Dad (me and the Doc) would be reversing the roles usually played by parents\children and finding ourselves the strong ones? The ones whose backs are called in to move furniture and do the heavy lifting? That's the funny in this otherwise dark game.
      So what do you do when suffering moves in to stay? You go to the one who offers the only hope we have. God. Holy Father God, who told us in the book of John, "in this life you will have trouble." No one thought it would come like this. Trouble is not supposed to look like this when you are in your 20's and are just starting your career full-swing, getting married and having babies, did. It's here and he's found the balance between fighting back while drawing near to the source of all hope and comfort. You can read his entire story here. I pray his story offers others the same solace and hope that he has found because no matter what your trial, no matter what your pain, you are never, ever alone. Finding the circles of blessings during difficulty, enduring simply because our God has asked you to, drawing ever nearer to the one who knows the end of the story.....that's countering suffering head on. Enjoy the story of this remarkable son.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

When You Were a Baby Girl Born in China.....

.....and lived in the countryside, you were probably born into a very poor family. So poor in fact that your parents could not keep you. This part of Jiangxi, China was made of beautiful rugged mountains yet most people didn't have electricity or running water, even though it was 2005.  You may have been a second born but the problem were not a boy. That means your parents could not afford the high fines to keep another baby. Because of the one child policy in China it was about $12,500 USD to have a second baby. Most people in this part of China lived on $600 a YEAR with 1/3 of that amount going to purchase coal in order to heat their houses during the winter. 98% of people where you are from don't have an education past the 8th grade, especially girls. Keeping a second child or even a first if it were a girl was simply not an option for most peasant families. Because your birthparents loved you, you survived. Many don't. Girls are oftentimes considered worthless mouths to feed, while a boy brings honor to a family's lineage. Being born a girl in China means tough times are ahead, sometimes even death.
     When you were a baby girl born in China, you were put in a box and left at the gate of the county orphanage in the secret. See? Your birthparents wanted you found! They took you to the safest place they knew! Sometime this day an orphanage worker found you and took you inside. You weren't even a week old yet....this girl. No one knows but you how long you had to stay outside alone until you were found. You would have been placed in the baby room in a bamboo or wrought iron crib. There would have been a mat or board to lie on but no mattress. There were ropes attached to the crib to tie you down once you got active. This was not considered abusive but the cultural norm in order to take care of so many babies at once. You would have been fed a watery formula propped up on pillows with a giant hole cut in the nipple. The nannies although they tried their best, could not hold and make eye contact with all the babies all the time. You would have cried. No one would come. You would've wondered where your mommy was and why you were left all alone in this place. There were other babies there in this big room. Almost all of them were girls....there for the same reason as you. They would become important later in this story.
     When you were a girl born in China you lived everyday in this orphanage and you grew older. There were no toys. The summer was blazing hot with no air conditioning and the winter brutally cold with very little heat.  You lay in your bed all day, everyday. Sometimes the nannies would put you in a walker but not very often. You had a wonderful orphanage director. He wanted you to have a better life. He knew if he did certain paperwork you might have a chance at a future .....a family might be waiting outside those orphanage gates for you, so he sent lots of forms to Beijing with your picture attached. Then you waited......
       When you were a baby girl born in China, you did not know that God was speaking to a family in Florida. This family already had alot of children but felt that their home needed one more shining, sweet face. God had told them about the hardships little girls faced in China and how many times parents had no choice but to abandon their girl babies. There was a window of time where these girls were made available for adoption, then after this they would permanently live their lives in an institution....only to be turned out at age 18 with no where to go, no one to help them and no skills for finding a job. Many of these girls ended up in the sex trade or as child factory workers. This made our family more determined than ever to make room in their home. Our family believes that when God says care for the poor, needy and the orphan those are not just suggestions, but actual commands from the scriptures. God spoke to us to 'hear the cry of the broken' because you see.... God's heart is for the poor. He rescues the weak, and He's the mender of the broken. The call on this family to go was loud and clear. We believed God was calling us to be the means for one of these girl babies to find her way to safety, and hope of a future. You see, when you rescue just one of God's weak children not only are you changing the course of their lives by providing for them in this generation, but the cycle of poverty is broken for generations to come. You would be given proper food, care, love, and something not easy to come by in education for a girl.  Before you were even born we were doing lots and lots and lots and lots and lots and lots of paperwork to ask China if we could bring one of their daughters to America to be raised as our own. China said yes!
       This family flew 20+ hours across the North Pole to go and get you....while you were still in China and waiting. You were driven 4.5 hrs. on your first car ride to Nanchang, Jiangxi and into a giant government building. The nannies waited with you until our name was called. One moment you were an orphan, the next you belonged to a family! It was wild! You came to your family very, very sick and covered with scabies. When you were a baby girl in China you had no idea what it was like to be held, fed as much as you wanted, bathed (!!), have soft blankets, clean clothes, and a fluffy mattress. Immediately from that time on you had all of these. You refused to eat anything the entire time we were in China with you (partially because you were so sick).....until we bought you ice cream. So, that's what you got because that's what you wanted...$6 Haagen Daz bars. When you were placed into our arms you were just shy of being 11 months old, yet you could not even sit up by yourself. You wore size 3-6 month clothes. Because you had never had any toys to play with you had learned to configure your hands into all sorts of convoluted contortions and held them up right in front of your eyes. It was really strange and had your parents worried. Then you did what so many do on sensory shut down. You would have to learn over the next year or two what love was, what trust was, and how to really live instead of just exist. It was really hard for you. The brain does funky things with neglect and as we were to learn, our greatest challenges lay ahead. 
      America welcomed you as a permanent citizen. You found out you had insta-sisters, a brother and low and behold, a nephew only 10 months younger than you! Little did you know that this baby boy would become your BF over the next few years and you would share a very special bond. When you were a girl born in China you probably had no idea the brain does funny things when it has something called 'disruptions'. You did the best you could but attachment to adults was something you had never done. There was no one to attach to where you came from.  Now you were 'home' you didn't understand. You were angry. You didn't like us very much. You had something called RAD (reactive attachment disorder). It took you a very long time of constant interactions and work for you to begin to trust the adults in your life. These adults were not going to leave you. Ever. You just didn't know it yet, so you fought back while your brain worked through the grieving process it needed to. That was ok because these adults were seasoned now for you were their 5th child and their 3rd adoption. They were patient and waited for you to love them back. And you did but it took you a very long time. With adopted children sometimes it is so hard to determine when it is a child's personality, DNA or an attachment or developmental issue talking. Many times it was all 3 at once and discernment became like needing food to us. Coming home with you was probably one of the hardest things your parents ever did because you struggled for so long, and you had a 3 yr. old sister and a special needs 4 yr. old sister. But you know what? We had no regrets and would do it again in a heartbeat. The path to Godly obedience in never easy and is often laden with trials and difficulty. We needed God's grace every moment of every day those first years.  Soon after these oh so hard days of little sleep, not knowing if you would attach, and additional medical needs, your dad was in an accident. He was hit while riding his bike by a driver talking on a cell phone.  For a while our world went dark.
     He's the mender of the broken. God. He brought us through when we were nothing but broken. It was all God because it was so overwhelming. We were humbled, and He gave us strength. God has restored you and has knitted our family back together in miraculous ways. Today you are the most incredible 7.5 year old on planet earth! We love watching you be a vivacious, talkative and friendly second grader! You are part of a school that has a remarkable percentage of like minded families and that is FULL of adopted kids like you! God is so kind that he even put twins in your class this year that look alot like you!! Even your teacher lived and taught in Asia! You have blown us away with your ability to focus and work through difficult. At almost 8 years old you are only 44" tall (the size of the average American 4 yr. old) and it makes you so mad! However you have discovered you have a talent for gymnastics and are learning all the skills to compete at Level 4 soon! That fierce determination will take you far little girl! We have no doubt that this little baby, left in a box in the middle of central China was meant to be our forever daughter. You have taught your parents what it means to live sacrificially for the good of others. You have taught us that laying down our lives for the gospel of Jesus means physically giving of yourself until you have nothing else to give. It is a raw, fierce kind of unconditional love. You have taught us how to love when that love isn't returned. This is the kind of love I imagine Jesus having for each one of us. You love anyway. Period. You taught us unwavering, undaunted patience. Patience is a calm undercurrent in the midst of chaos and uncertainty. Patience isn't afraid to wait.
       Those little babies in that orphanage with you are now part of families that have become some of our dearest friends. From the farmlands and dirt roads of Taihe, Jiangxi came 8 little girls who now live in various parts of the United States. We still see them as much as possible because these are chords that are not easily broken both with the parents and the girls.

     There are an estimated 87 million orphans on this planet at this current moment. You are no longer a statistic but have been brought out of darkness into a full life of love, nourishment and hope. Adoption is to us, the most tangible demonstration of the gospel lived out in daily life in this fallen world. We could not be more grateful for you, our daughter and all you have taught us in your years as our child. Every night we get to tuck in a miracle......a living, breathing heartbeat that now readily gives as much affection as she receives. Oh, that took a long, long time to get to that place! So, when you were a baby born in China.....surrounded by mountains and rice could've anyone imagined this? That little baby, taken from everything familiar and the only home she ever knew. That little baby that was so scarred, terrified,  and wouldn't smile for what seemed like years. Actually, it was! That little baby whose brain was so detached and unable to love is now firmly rooted and grounded in the Grace that only God can bestow. God knew we needed you....not so that you could change but so that you could change us. Keep thriving little Mei Mei! You will do great things, no doubt!

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Meet Nature Girl!

     At almost 8 months old, Nature Girl became our first adoption. She had already lived through more trauma in her little life than most of us in a lifetime and came to us in pretty bad shape. This little girl was exactly the vision God had planted in our hearts about defending the orphan and fatherless, and was a direct answer to prayer. We knew her start had been rocky, and she was definitely malnourished and delayed, but we had faith that with proper care and nutrition she would soon be right on track. We had agreed as a couple to adopt at risk children, but without special needs, and to take them as young as possible. Low and behold....God had other plans.
     A couple of years and another adoption later (her sister who is only a year younger), we realized we had an issue with this little girl on our hands. She just was not progressing normally like her sibling but most of the time still fell in the 'normal' range according to the developmental experts. Our gut instinct was that something wasn't right but when you still fall within 'normal' it wasn't a concern to the so called experts. Blood tests came back normal, she was not the most coordinated child on the planet, but neither are alot of children. She suffered from horrible asthmatic attacks which kept us up pulling all nighters for weeks at a time. She was even hospitalized for a lung biopsy at one point. She never complained and was always the model patient. We kept going. We saw lots of doctors and had multitudes of tests. She slept alot. I KNEW something was wrong. one seemed concerned and would you believe those tests all came back normal?!!!
     Years past, school started, and the delays got worse. She was slipping farther and farther behind and into her own little fantasy world. At 8 years old she still couldn't read, and day to day couldn't remember anything she had learned the day before. She was so very weak and getting weaker by the day.  She couldn't even ride a bike because she had no muscle strength.  Even her youngest sister 4 years her junior, began to pass her developmentally. We began to get very concerned and realized we had significant special needs on our hands but at the same time no one could give us any definitive answers. We were told by one very- smart -but- clearly- dumb 'expert' that Nature Girl would be learning 'impaired' and have limited ability to function the rest of her life. We had another friend who we shared our concerns with who blew us off with the statement 'What's the big deal? Why are you worried? Nature Girl doesn't know she's delayed or behind! Just leave her be. Let her live in her own little world." (Uh....bye bye friend! Who says stuff like that? We are the adults for a help the weak...not just let them be. Sheesh!)  Finally, tired and exasperated and tired of getting no where, we fired all the specialists (14 of them total) who had cared for our girl and started over......and began to get answers. Finally! It had been 8 years.
     My husband ordered the newest and most thorough blood tests. We had MRI's, EEG's, nighttime AND daytime sleep studies. This time we had different doctors who along with the hubs got different answers. We began to peel back the layers that had haunted us and kept this child in a prison all these years. What was wrong with our child? Nature Girl we discovered had multiple issues. One being Narcolepsy (google it) which explained the weird sleep patterns and the inability to learn. She ended up having a rare autoimmune cell disorder which explained the overall weakness and lack of coordination. Her cell disorder affected her entire body including her brain's ability to accept and process information. With therapies and meds it could be not cured, but helped....but to what degree we still did not know. We learned she would be on medications the rest of her life. As we watched this child suffer with even the most basic of activities you and I take for granted, it lit a fire inside of us. We would not take no for an answer and would keep pressing on until this child had reached her full potential. We had never felt equipped nor had the faith for a child with special needs but now it was our life 24/7.  We lived determined to not let anyone or anything stop us from getting her the help she so desperately needed.  We charged on full speed ahead!
     Today Nature Girl is 11. Three years have passed since those diagnoses and what a three years it has been! Nature Girl takes 40+ pills per day to keep her cells healthy and operating with the highest strength amino acids possible. Her Narcolepsy is sometimes an issue, but we are able to treat it with meds so she can stay awake during the day. We've had tutors and national learning 'programs'. We've had hours and hours of therapies including physical, occupational and coaching every week to get her caught up all the while not knowing whether or not catching up would even be possible. This Mama (oh and the wonderful Daddy Doc) has dedicated her life to making sure this child has every possible tool she needs to be successful and reach her potential. Who needs TV? We are watching the most incredible mini series ever written and it lives in our house! This year was the first year she's been strong enough mentally and physically to go to school with her sisters and her peers....but she's AT SCHOOL! She's learning! Not only is she in a regular classroom at school (take that all you bully specialists who were W.R.O.N.G!!)  but has made straight A's the entire year so far. Next year she will be skipping a grade (are y'all getting the gist of this??) because people.....she's that smart. Hiding behind layers of delays, multiple autoimmune disorders, asthma, ADHD...and the accompaning-issues that go with these disorders, was a bright, smart, completely normal brain waiting to grow and learn. We found it!! (insert a little dance here!!)
     Nature Girl is named just that because she is a living breathing encyclopedia about animals and all things nature related. She recently began equestrian lessons and horse care. This kid seriously needs to be a Vet or animal trainer when she grows up.....and what's even more exciting is that she has the ability! So many wanted to write her off. So many said she couldn't. We were told at one point to put her in a special needs school....because she couldn't handle 'regular' school academics. She would have been trapped in labels and never progressed beyond what that school would've tagged her to be. We are so grateful that we listened to our hearts and God speaking through the dark, twisting mazes to the end of this medical mystery. The girl with the rocky beginning is now turning into a butterfly! Fly girl, FLY! Stay tuned for more from this remarkable kid and more chapters to her story! She is no where near done!!

Monday, February 11, 2013

I Wonder If She Knows......

Our Blondie turns10 years old today. I wonder if she knows....Birthmom that is......if she remembers or if she's blocked it out of her mind by disassociation. Ten years ago today we were in the OR with Birthmom as she delivered a beautiful 7lb.15 oz baby girl by C- section. The nurses, knowing the situation handed Blondie to me first.....while Birthmom watched. It was gut-wrenchingly hard yet beautiful. Hard because the stress we felt in this moment was overwhelming. Birthmom was a teen with no family, no job,  no support. She had nothing and she knew it....yet it was in her right to keep this baby. Florida law gives the birthparent 48 hours after birth to choose to retain their parental rights. Would this be the case here even though we had taken care of Birthmom for months now? It was perfectly legal for her to allow us to pay her bills and walk away within those first hours with the baby we had prayed for, thought about and rejoiced over. We were scared. She was terrified yet covered it with a tough street-smart exterior. Two long days passed as friends helped us pass the time at the hospital. We prayed literally on our knees round the clock. I didn't let that baby out of my sight except to sleep a little. At 48 hours on the dot ....she signed. Blondie was carried by us out the back door of the hospital escorted by security.....while Birthmom exited the front. We knew....oh how we knew that with a few words from the mouth of a bedraggled teen we could have left that hospital without a baby. Do you believe in Spiritual Warfare? We had been warring for months for the life of this little one. And now.....with one swipe of a pen she was ours. Amazing grace how sweet the sound. Oh the life this little babe was being spared from! We were standing on holy ground and we knew it.

Today she's 10. I wonder if she knows. I doubt even she could imagine the girl that little baby has grown into. If you talk to any seasoned adoptive parent you know that even the children adopted at birth come with issues. There is so much emotional baggage the adoptee carries that makes the heart hurt. So many things that don't come out in the first few months....ok, years. Yet God is our healer. God is/has healed HER physically, mentally and emotionally.....and she is awesome! Blondie is a life of the party kind of kid. Always has a group of girls around her laughing, joking and LOUD! Last year her teacher gave her the "Thoughtfulness" award for always anticipating the needs of others then meeting them. I cried. She attends to the needs of our house with willing hands and a mother-hen kind of nature that is a joy to watch. This year she decided she wanted to be a gymnast and with the same spunk and gusto she is making it happen. She has yet to make a B or below on her report card. She has given her life to the Lord to shape and mold. This child was rescued from the hands of the enemy and was now being transformed into the likeness of Christ. It is a work in progress as we all are, but the more we bowed in prayer the more our answers are being provided in the changing character of this daughter.

A few months before she was born, the Lord spoke quietly to my soul. He told me that this baby would be a girl.......and this child would be the eyes and ears to her older sister. A few weeks later a sonogram did reveal that this baby was indeed a girl and in the years following we would discover that her older sister was special needs (another story for another day).  I will never doubt that 'the sheep know my voice' as it says in John 10:3. I know beyond the shadow of a doubt God spoke to me that day which has been a calming force in recent years when I was tempted to doubt his goodness and sovereignty in my life. He works in mysterious ways indeed. 

So today....we are grateful. Grateful for the faith embedded in our hearts to care for the weak and fatherless. Grateful for the life and soul of this daughter that could've so easily been an abortion statistic. Grateful to a Birthmom who chose life for this baby.....then chose it AGAIN when she placed her into our arms. We are grateful for 10 years of Blondie who has lit up our lives with her sparkle and zest for life. We can't imagine her not in our lives.  I wonder if she knows?

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Being back.

We had a blog. We had a great blog that journaled  our adoptions, the lives of our beautiful girls, our older kids, and our daily life. It had to be removed due to a stalker. So this time, the goal is the same, only our real names won't be used. Please respect this if you know who we are and choose to comment. We would love to hear from you but the privacy and protection of our girls is foremost. Mostly this will be the story of our lives.....a living journal for our girls to remember, read and put in book form.....but warning....there could be rambling.
     I'm the mom.  I'm passionate, forthright,  say what I think....and may hit a nerve. I've learned though that Grace (with a capital G) is the answer. Oh that Amazing Grace I'm fortunate enough to thrive in as God's daughter.  I'm way too busy to scrapbook and Pinterest gives me heart palpitations. How those mom's spend so much time on perfect projects? Yea, not me. We live simply. We live loud. I've learned you can be a Proverbs 31 woman and still have a messy house. It's ok. These kids need their mom.....not shiny faucets. We don't want a lot of stuff. We don't do the newest trends in pretty much anything. We live to give our lives away. We live missional. We live to be the hands and feet of Jesus to a desperate fallen planet. Join us as we walk together on this journey.....