No pity hugs, please.

I am new at this – but I am not. Maybe, I just feel new to being a mom to special ability kids because I still fumble to find the right words. I don’t think quick enough on my feet to diffuse a surprising situation, and I am still shocked over how folks will treat someone they see as disabled.

I want to start by saying that I don’t intend to rant or rave. I am not complaining, and I am not sure a blog post is the place to really help anyone understand kiddos with special needs. Inspired by this post, I realize that we have to tell the stories of our amazing kids. I really think that many people have not spent time with kiddos who might be labeled in society as disabled. So, I hope this post can serve as a peek at some of the things we face, comments that are made, and what we experience.

Little Man has spent times in and out of a wheelchair leading up to and after re-amputation surgeries. We always have to find a new rhythm. During these times, I realize anew how inaccessible the world can be to those who are immobile, as well as how unaware folks can be.

For example, there is one handicapped stall in the bathroom. Four other stalls are unoccupied, but for some reason the handicapped stall is being used. The desire for extra leg room means that Little Man has to wait unnecessarily to go to the bathroom. What stall your choose in the bathroom…it matters.

At the grocery story, children point, stare and ask rude questions like, “What is wrong with you?” – and all the while the parent stands by gawking. Saying nothing. Word choice matters. Body language matters. I so wish in these situations (Yes, I did mean to make that plural. You could change the location from grocery store to park, church, beach….it happens everywhere.) I wish I could pull the child and parent aside – smile and say- “Let’s not use those words. How about you ask us about the bandage or about the wheelchair?

At times even when comments aren’t made, folks will turn away (or even run from us) hoping to avoid uncomfortable situations or words. Like one day at the park when Little Man’s leg falls off coming down a slide. A child sees his leg flying down the slide first. She screams. Cries. Instead of helping his daughter engage and understand, her dad grabs her by the arm and literally runs. Their park visit cut short because they just weren’t sure what to say or do when my son’s leg came off at a bad time.

I am not new at this. We have been learning the language to use. Preparing our children how to be kind even when those around us don’t exactly know how to handle us. I step in to explain and hopefully help those we encounter to see the world through the eyes of our kiddos….just a little bit. Our goal is for our kids to understand that they are special, loved, unique. There is nothing wrong with them.

So, I thought I was ready. A teen in a wheelchair kinda fits with my experience.

But, not really.

I wasn’t prepared for everyone who really is trying. They want to connect – to include our son in conversation and to help him experience things around him. I think folks just don’t know how to do that. They look at him and wish his life was different – that he didn’t have to be in a wheelchair – and wonder why life handed him this difficult hand. (In other words – pity.)

I truly want to believe that this all comes from a very good place in the hearts of people – but there are just a few things I wish I knew how to change…..

I am walking through the store with two teenage sons. If you wouldn’t dream of patting my other teenage son standing beside me on the head, then please do not consider doing that to my teen in a wheelchair. No head pats. It also is not appropriate to push his chair for him, to offer to help with wheelchair transfers, to ask about his medical condition, to lean down into his personal space or to hug him.

(Frankly, hugging is a big deal. No pity hugs. No. No. No. And actually while we are on the subject – not pity waves, no pity hellos, and hold all pity comments to yourself.)

Why? Why do I become tongue twisted when a woman at church leans down to my teenage son kisses him on top of the head and hugs him? My son who she had never met before. My son who is in a wheelchair and can not lean away. That, my friends, was a pity hug. A hug that says I wish life wasn’t like this for you.

I appreciate the sentiment and the effort, but I really wish I had the chance to have a redo with this woman. I would explain to her that my son has strength, perseverance, and a good attitude thru tremendously difficult situations. I’d invite her to sit with us and get to know how amazing he is…just the way God made him. I have learned so many things from him. I know this woman could too – then she would be in a place to give him a real hug.

At an airport playground a boy came up to Little Man who was wearing shorts and pointed to his leg. “That is weird.” He said. My son replied….”It isn’t weird. Let me show you.” He takes off his leg and starts to hop. “My super power is that I can hop longer than anyone else.” The little boy and his brother stood and stared. I was biting my nails wondering when I should jump in myself. Then I heard the words….”Wow! That is so cool!” Before this lion momma did anything in defense of her cub, Little Man had half of the kids in the play place hopping on one leg. He did out last them all. The next hour was filled with good play. That is how change happens. Weird turns to cool. Pity never takes root. Abilities are seen and applauded.

B won’t be having hopping contests at a play place, but you can get to know him too. He enjoys conversation. You can do this by taking a step back so you can look him in the eyes, pull up a chair next to him or even squatting down next to his chair. (Not sure if I can explain, but that is all very different than leaning down into his space.) Listen to his newest tongue twister – he loves finding new ones in Chinese and now in English too. He loves playing board games and going for walks. You could hold the door for us. Let B carry your bag. He loves helping and is awesome at teaching folks new words in Chinese if you are interested in learning.

Hopping along side my one legged wonder or sitting next to my strong teen – that is where you will find hope alive. Those are the positions that make change happen. Help us write a different story – a story of open communication and seeing things from a different perspective.

More than the birds

Airport terminals, a sick room, government offices, a cemetery, and doctor offices…these are very intense places – places where I have spent a good deal of time since the beginning of the year. If I were to focus on this list, I might call 2018 a year of stress, sorrow and changes. Some days, if I am being honest, the adjectives that reflect stress and sorrow might be those I pull out first. The struggle is real.

But there is another list: cards, gifts, hugs, gentle words, advice over coffee, flowers, furniture, a vehicle, practical help, food, prayers.

Our lifestyle and work, it relies on the generosity of God and his people. I feel it often and am humbled. However, during this season – I can’t find the words to express how God has spoken to my heart through the small and large gestures of those around us.

When I was in the States, separated from my hubby and little ones – visiting with my mom knowing it was her last days and counting down the days until we would add our 6th child through adoption – life felt so out of control. I found rest at a chair in my parents’ living room next to a huge bay window that looks out over their backyard. The snow was persistent during my visit. It felt like a new beauty to me, since I hadn’t experienced a Michigan winter in so many years. I sat in that chair (a big, leathery one with a foot rest that bangs out with a lever) and watched the cardinals at the bird feeder. Their color is shocking against the snow. Breathtaking really. Even the female who is brown and not as pretty as her mate – there is something about watching for her bright orange beak seeking out her treasure. Day after day as I watched for the pair of birds, God reminded me of the simple truth that I had learned in Sunday School from Matthew 6:26

See the birds of the sky, that they don’t sow, neither

do they reap, nor gather into barns. Your heavenly Father

feeds them. Aren’t you of much more value than they?

Those birds were consistently sitting on the edge of the feeder swinging in the cold wind….like the storm around them didn’t matter. It was such a beautiful reminder. I kept telling myself, “I can trust God during my storms. I can trust Him with the days ahead. I can trust God with this new season.”

We have entered a new season. A season with six children and a season without my mom. Both are taking some getting used to. So we are pulling back a bit – spending some time near my dad and taking a few months in the States. We feel like this is God’s provision for us. As we help my dad clean out the basement and find a new normal, it is a treasure in the midst of my grief. Days well spent.

We also see these months as a time to get a new leg made for Little Man (can you believe he has outgrown that prosthetic again?!), and we have the chance to get some needed medical care and physical therapy for our new son, B. We have some digging to do to find out how to make him as healthy as possible – we would appreciate your prayers.

B has been with our family for almost two months now and is doing great. We are so proud of him. He is studying English with gusto, takes in our family chaos with a silent smile, and is ever willing to try new things. I seriously can’t even describe how amazing he is.

How? How can a kid grow up in an orphanage and still be this sweet, open, and courageous? It is one of the many miracles that surround B…another treasure. I look at him and see how God has provided – provided something I didn’t even know that I wanted or needed. He has given us new love and the chance to be a part of B’s miraculous journey. Could there be a better gift for me in this season?

God values and loves me even more than the birds.

A birthday to remember

I am one of those moms. You know the type. The sappy (let a few tears drip into the frosting as I make cupcakes for my babies who seem to grow a year older behind my back) momma. But this birthday celebration – a few tears did not do it justice. Every time I looked at our new son on his birthday, tears sprang to my eyes.

We have missed 13 birthdays with this boy. 13. Adding emotion to that fact, we have been counting down the days to this 14th birthday. It was the deadline. If we did not have all of his adoption paperwork completed by his birthday, it was a no go. By Chinese law children are unadoptable at their 14th birthday.

We adopted him 10 days before his birthday.

Can I just type that sentence one more time so that you can feel the force of its drama? 10 days before his birthday he got a family. His miracle (and ours) happened 10 days before it was too late. That is worthy of many grateful tears from this momma. Amen?! Call me sappy if you want.

We enjoyed celebrating our new son on his 14th birthday which happened to fall on Chinese New Year’s Eve due to the lunar calendar. We made cupcakes and had gifts, but added making dumplings (traditional Chinese New Year food), staying up till midnight and setting off fireworks. It is a birthday, for many reasons, that we won’t forget.

A few more photos of our dumplings and Chinese New Year celebration….

and a few more words about how our transition is going.

We were preparing for a rough road with a teenager who hasn’t lived with a family. Instead, we are experiencing grace filled days with a delightful young man who is embracing his new life….and our family. We feel incredibly blessed. Maybe it is the honeymoon phase – but we are taking every moment and storing up these sweet memories that will be treasured and will help if harder days come. We would appreciate your continued prayers as we get to know each other and find a new normal for our family. We are starting the Chinese New Year with thankful hearts for all that God has done to make our family and with great hope of all that will come to pass in this year of the dog!

Family Day

This is the story of a 13 year old boy who joined our crazy crew.

If I am completely honest, the story of this child being added to our family is one that I can only fully tell sitting at my kitchen table over a cup of coffee with extra sugar and cream. Even then, I am sure I would struggle with the words to describe…..the surprise factor. Miraculous provision. Hurdles that God overcame. Agencies willing to work over time on our behalf. Generous friends and family. Anxiety over the unknown – sweet confirmation in the face of the fear and grief. Obstacles. Tears. Victory.

Oh, the stories I have to share.

Friend, until we meet for coffee, these photos and few words will have to do. They will give you a peek at the miraculous adoption that took place.

I have never been so relieved to be in a government office signing papers and pressing our fingers into red ink. We promised to care for and not abandon the teen, who sat next to us taking it in silently with wide eyes. As the translator explained to “B” what we were signing, my hands shook as so many thoughts came to my mind. “Can he understand that we truly mean the promises we are making? How long will it take for him to trust that we are the forever deal?”

I thought that signing the papers felt big to me, but as I watched this brave, strong boy sign his own name as he agreed to enter a new strange life, I cried. I cried because of the hurdles had been crossed to make this possible. God had brought us together. I sniffled because a child should never have to sign this type of paper. My heart screamed at the idea of all that had happened before this day.

A child being without family is an injustice – everything that leads up to it should not be. But there is redemption. When I look at the smile on B’s face in this next photo….when we were holding the book that gives him our last name…it reminds me that there are second chances at love that only come about through grace.

A new beginning with three brothers and two sisters and some crazy white parents – that might just take any strong person down. But this guy entered our family and home with a quiet smile and a determination that puts me to shame.

We spent our first afternoon playing games and getting to know each other on these new terms we have agreed to. I am not sure what I expected, but for sure I didn’t think he would be laughing over Uno and Quick Cups. I never dreamed he would be calling us mom and dad. I never would have pictured him leaning in to tell his new sister a joke with a gleam in his eye.

We celebrated this new chapter in our lives at our favorite Chinese restaurant- Hot Pot. As a party of 8, we now fill a whole table by ourselves. I took it all in wanting to treasure the moment in my heart – all of us together.

As joyful as a new beginning can be, it also means an end. Our brave new son needed to say goodbye to the home he has known for the past nine years. The next day we walked the halls of the orphanage handing out small gifts trying to help B find a bit of closure.

The story I wish you all could hear and understand – it would be a story of the generosity and love that I witnessed as the children and nannies said goodbye. I wish I had a photo of the teen (who will never be adopted because he was not chosen before his 14 birthday) who pressed a few small bills of Chinese currency into the palm of B’s hand stating “Good luck in your new life.” I wish you could see the hat that another teen gave – a teen who B calls “big brother.” I can’t describe the tender moments of his teacher who cried as she hugged his neck. And for sure, I can’t even describe how wrecked my heart was by his nanny. She pulled me aside sobbing – “I will miss him. He has been like a friend. But I can’t tell you how happy I am that he is saved from a lifetime in the institution. Do you know how bad the place is where the 17 year old kids go?” She cried as she shook my hand saying, “Thank you for taking him.”

Over the past month, I have had a heightened awareness of joy and grief and how they go hand in hand. My heart has struggled to comprehend my deep grief as I said goodbye to my mom, but the sweet relief and joy I felt at knowing her struggle was over. I am over 40 and I can hardly handle the depths of those two emotions that stand side by side in my life.

As I look at my new son, I see the joy and the grief that co-exist. I understand it in a way I never did before. How hard it must be at 13 years old to say goodbye to all you have known, even when you understand something as good as a forever family is waiting for you.

Our first days together have been great. He is accepting us, trying all the crazy American food that I serve him, and learning all the rules to the games the kids pull out to teach him – but please do pray for him. Pray that he feels comfort and peace that go beyond his understanding. Pray he is able to experience new joy every morning. Also please pray for us – that God will guide us in knowing how to love and care for him well.

On Monday

On Monday I will become a mom again. Since this is my 6th time, you would think it would be old hat. But, there is something about it. By birth or by adoption when the time comes for a precious soul to be placed in your care, there is fear and trembling as well as joy and anticipation.

I will never forget walking the halls of the hospital in labor for Soccer Dude, our oldest. I knew my life was hours from changing. Then as I dressed him to take him out of that very same hospital two days later, I realized that I didn’t have a onesie to put on him under his perfect going home outfit. I wasn’t sure how to buckle the crazy car seat carrier thing. I looked at all the bags and stuff we had to carry to the car and panic started to set in. “I don’t know what I am doing?!” And I really doubted the sanity of the medical profession, “Do they really let me just walk out of the hospital with this kid?! Don’t they see how unqualified I am for this job as mom?!”

A hospital or a government office…the feeling is the same. We prepare for months for this (okay, a lot faster for this adoption! 14 weeks from start to finish. Our adoption agency is freak’n awesome and God has moved mountains!) We have done mounds of paperwork, I have clothes ready and a new set of bunk beds added to the boy’s room – but there is still part of my heart that is trembling.

The situation with this adoption is very unique. We know the teen that is joining our family since he lives at the orphanage in our city and attends the special education school where I am the art teacher. The orphanage gave us permission to be there when he was told that our family would be his new family. I was so super bummed to miss the meeting as I was in the States with my parents, but happily woke up in the middle of the night to FaceTime for a few moments. Isn’t technology awesome?

Hubby explained that we would like to be his new family. He gave him a photo of our crazy crew and introduced him to what his new life might be like. The news was shocking for sure – B sat and took it all in. He then smiled and said. “I agree.”

Our hearts were so full to hear those two simple words. He agrees to join us and become the newest Williams.

The few precious moments I had with Hubby and B on FaceTime were so good for my heart. I was able to tell him that I was sorry we couldn’t tell him earlier that we wanted him to be part of our family. He simply smiled and nodded.

As my knees quake in these last days before he comes home, I think back to that conversation. He smiled. He agrees. What a unique, special, ordained way to become mom.

You would think that a mom 6 times over would be filled with confidence, wisdom and strength….actually, the more I do this the more I see how inadequate I am for the task of shepherding these souls. The little things like forgetting to pack a onesie for the ride home from the hospital – HA! I know how much bigger the mistakes can get. But I also know who is in control and that His grace is the only thing that can guide me through the task of loving another person well.

Grace. That is what I am asking for in the coming weeks. Pray that God gives it to me in large doses. Pray that God gives it to our whole family in large doses. May this bend in the road of our family teach us to love more deeply and lean into his grace more fully.

Homecoming

My mom died.

I find myself whispering those three words to myself – just so that I can remember that it really happened. My mom was diagnosed with cancer. I flew to my childhood home to be with my parents after the disturbing news and while I was visiting she took a turn for the worse. Now I am sitting in her living room surrounded by the flowers from her funeral enveloped in so many memories.

Memories of her singing me to sleep while playing her guitar or accordion. Memories of elaborate puppet shows, birthday cakes, craft projects and meals that she gifted to us. I won’t soon forget sitting on the foot of her bed telling her all about my first date and her support as I told her that I wanted to travel to Mexico as a young teen. No matter how far I traveled from home, she was always waiting for me. The living room light was always on and the cabinets filled with my favorite treats whenever I walked in the side door. When I was stressed – I called mom. When I needed understanding, mom was the one I would seek out. Never did I need that more than when my own babies began calling me mom. She wore the role of mom well – but her glory days were her years as Nana. She drove two hours to Lansing just to babysit my sweet babies and give me a chance to get out of the house. She flew to China with suitcases brimming with treats and treasures to visit her grand babies and I can’t tell you how many times she opened her house to our chaos. She read books about adoption, printed out every newsletter, and prayed for each step that we took.

One of my favorite meals in her home was a Thanksgiving when she invited several of the international students from MSU. The students from India, China and the Middle East were soon calling her mom as she served them her apple pie. That particular holiday wasn’t unusual as I think back. There was always someone being added to our table, a guest to invite, a person that she wanted to make sure wasn’t alone.

When I called to tell my parents that we were adopting Benjamin – I was nervous. My parents have supported me through every crazy adventure, but I wondered if this one would be pushing even their boundaries. I began the conversation with, “I just want to remind you that you raised me this way.” Such a true story. They taught me to follow Jesus, to walk by faith and to love others. Before I could even get out the whole story of this adoption that was not planned, my mom interrupted and asked, “what is my new grandson’s name?” She knew. She accepted. She loved. There is always room for one more.

My mom died.

I can hardly believe that the next time I come home she won’t be sitting in the living room with the light on waiting for me. My only comfort – knowing that she is waiting for me in our eternal home. I just know that she is saving me a seat ready to show me all of the treasures that heaven has for both of us. What a homecoming that will be. Until then, I can hear her cheering me on – “there is always room for one more.” May I live that calling out – always inviting, always loving, and brining more folks home to heaven.

So much to celebrate!

One year ago we got the news that China had approved us to be Joseph’s parents. On his 2nd birthday the Letter of Approval was stamped. He would be a Williams. Today, on his 3rd birthday he is celebrating in a family. It takes my breath away every time I think about the difference one year makes. Today, he was celebrated as a son. His life matters to us. He is treasured. He is 3! Can it get any better than this? Cupcakes, a ball pit, and some new Thomas the train track….we celebrated our Christmas baby big!

As if that wasn’t enough!

We got an email today – another letter of approval for a second boy. Can you believe that we got the approval on the same day one year apart? It is the Letter of Approval we have been waiting on to take us into the final stretch of adopting Benjamin. (By the way, we need to think of a fun blog nickname for this new guy! Ideas?) We still have several steps in order to make him a Williams and only a few more weeks to get it done, but we are at peace knowing that God is orchestrating this whole adoption.

Having the letter of approval gives us even more confidence. All the paperwork was turned in. They didn’t find any mistakes and all was accepted and approved. Phew! Now we pray for the same thing on the US side. We now submit all of our adoption approvals and paperwork to the US government to get the approval from that side of the ocean.

We also would appreciate you praying specifically for Benjamin in the coming days. He will soon find out that he will join our family. Hopefully he will be glad to join our crazy crew, but this also will be a difficult transition. He has lived in the Children’s Home for many many years. He will be leaving all he knows and entering a new season. Pray that he has courage, peace, and acceptance for what God has for his future. Can you imagine going and living with a Chinese family at the age of 13? Pretty crazy shocking. Pray hard for all of us.

We also want to thank you again – our matching grant to Brittany’s Hope was fulfilled because of generous gifts from you! Seriously, we are blown away by the support, love and gifts that have been poured out on us through this adoption. The financial commitment of adopting again was daunting – in two short months due to the generosity of God’s people and because of two grants we are only $1,500 short of being FULLY funded. It really is a miracle. Thank you seems so inadequate. We could not have done this alone. Thank you for being a part of the community who is praying and giving in order to bring this boy home.

Benjamin should be joining us in the next 6 weeks or so. We will be updating our blog through the process. We would be blessed to share our journey with you if you would like to follow along.

China said that he can be ours. This time it is a 13 year old boy. A boy we will call son, will treasure, and his life matters to us. That is the best Christmas present EVER. Next year there will be 6 stockings hanging from our mantel (well, um, from our bookshelf!)


Still want to give to help bring Benjamin home? You can give to our new matching grant through Lifesong for Orphans (they double dollar for dollar every gift and 100% of the gifts go towards bringing Benjamin home). We only need $1,500 more. You can give here. Direct your donation to adoption, complete the online form and fill in our family name and number (Williams 7399) Thanks again! Can’t wait to write the post that God provided every dollar we needed for this journey!