Twists and turns along the road

Pizza and catching up with an old friend – two rare treats that came my way last week. This friend, although absent from my daily life for years, has made significant impact on my life. Just been pondering where I would have been. Just been walking down memory lane.

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

7 years ago (Could it have really been that long?) we were in the throws of adoption paperwork for our little Monkey. The process was taking so very long. We watched other families get approval and travel to their sweet babies while we waited…and waited…and waited. At the same time, a natural disaster had struck in the part of China where little Monkey was living. It was heart breaking, excruciating, mind numbing…and then some.

I remember venting all my woes to my dear friend over dinner in our home. She was the special education director at the orphanage in our city. She challenged me. “Do something while you wait. It will make it easier.” That is where it started.

As I waited for little Monkey, I taught one art class once a week. One class of 8 students. I thought it would keep me busy and give me something to do rather than check my email like a crazy woman, hoping for news about our adoption. Instead, the children in my class helped heal my broken heart; they taught me to serve and to love in a way I didn’t know was possible. It amazes me.

Our journey to adopt had begun as a seed in my heart as a college student. Hubby and I knew it would be a part of our family story from the beginning. What we didn’t know – that adoption would take us on a heart journey that didn’t end with our youngest two children. Our hearts and eyes were open to the world of orphans, children with special needs and we would be forever changed.

I shake my head and laugh as I look back on those times, 7 long short years ago. I thought it was about waiting for our daughter, Little Monkey, to join our family. It wasn’t about the wait at all. I was learning about the Father’s heart.

This was a pretty big twist in my life story. I had no idea the joy my heart would glean from painting with a child suffering with Cerebral Palsy. The surprise was mine when I learned to communicate with a non-verbal pre-schooler with Downs Syndrome. I didn’t know the peace that would wash over me while holding the hand of a child with Autism. I have learned that every life has value and my life is deeper when I see God’s image in each one of His children. Pretty big stuff. It has shaped me.

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The twists and turns that my journey with Jesus has taken – they take my breath away. It is easy to see how He was leading my heart as I look back. It gives me courage for the future. I am so sure that there are more bends in the road. He is leading us down a path and we can’t see the end. I want to trust Him. The lessons He has for me to learn…they are good. The road He is taking me down…will make me better. Even when I don’t understand the bends in the path, He is good. He is leading.

Recently, I was asked to share at a conference about how and why I work and live where I do. I laughed at the request. Seriously, I am the last person that should be inspiring others on knowing where God is calling them. As I prepped that talk with honest words of ending up in a place that I didn’t expect, I was reminded again that my story with its bends twists and turns probably isn’t that unique. When we make our own plan…it is just that…ours. He has so much more for us than we ever could hope or dream for. I am living His dream.

I was so desperate 7 years ago. I wanted my waiting to be over, to hold my precious daughter in my arms. What joy to look back and see how God used that time of waiting for so much more. In this season, I wonder again. What will I see with such clarity 7 years from now.

Trusting Him in the journey. Taking one bend in the road at a time.

Silence

Been pretty quiet over here on the blog lately.  Oh, we have been doing stuff.  Two of my kiddos have celebrated birthdays.  We traveled to Thailand for a training conference and some much needed vacay time.  That, of course, says nothing about art lessons, orphanage visits, English classes and homeschooling.  So there has been stuff.  I just haven’t felt like writing about it.

This past Fall I have had my heart broken like never before.  I couldn’t really explain it, write about it, or even verbalize it.  I just cried.  Jesus was taking me on a journey into the depths of his heart and it hurt to weep with him, but that is what I felt called to do. Children who wait for families.  Not enough families.  Kids without access to medical care or education.  Sweet loving children with no hope of a future.  Students who have never heard.  Not easy stuff and – for sure – not stuff that makes for award winning, light-hearted blog writing.

Through my tears, I have tried to come up with many plans to do something about it all.  Maybe I should get my masters in social work in order to have more influence.  Should we adopt again?  Maybe if we were in the States, we could tell more people about the needs and more families would feel led to adopt or give towards adoptions?  How could I advocate more?  Is becoming a foster family the way to go?

I want to DO something.

Silence.

More weeping.

 

I had the opportunity to hold two pretty special kiddos this week.  After I teach, I go to the third floor of the orphanage where children who are bed ridden spend their days.  They are not able to feed themselves, move from their wheelchairs or beds and many of them are unable to communicate.  I go there to help feed these precious souls.  I spoon feed them mush, wipe their faces, and rub backs.  You wouldn’t believe the smiles that are my rewards.

This week, I walked in and immediately noticed that one of the teens was laboring for breath and was swollen.  My heart knew.  His time is coming to an end.  I sat next to him, held his hand and brushed back the hair from his face as a prayer bubbled up from within me.

Last night we hung out with some special friends who have unexpectedly become foster parents.   I took a turn holding the smallest of babies with perfect eye lashes and tiny fingers.  I marveled at the perfection, wondered about her future, sighed with contentment knowing that she is in the best of care while she waits.  A prayer bubbled up from within me.

This business of weeping – I think it is teaching me to pray.

When I am surrounded by situations that are out of my control and when the river of tears can not be tamed…praying is the only response.

 

 

 

 

 

 

They are not faceless.

IMG_0587So many sweet moments at the orphanage these past weeks.

I love seeing a child sprawled out on the floor coloring on newsprint.  It might seem small, but when the child struggles with autism, pushed through her anxiety to lay on the floor to be traced, and then stayed on task to color — It is miraculous.

I love hearing the responses of my students when I pull something unexpected out of “the big art bag.”  I carry all of my supplies back and forth from our apartment to the orphanage.  I must admit, the anticipation of seeing what will come out of the bag can cause some of my dear friends to come unglued!  This week, when I pulled out modeling foam, several children gasped out loud.  Pure joy.  I want to be more like my students.

I love seeing that children in the orphanage are normal kiddos.  We used a spray bottle to blend washable markers on a coffee filter.  Sounds random, but actually the process is simple for everyone and the results are amazing.  One of the kids turned that spray bottle on me and gave it a big squirt.  At my surprise the whole class roared in laughter.  Yes, a little water fight broke out.  We were damp by the end but feeling good after some belly laughs.  All kids are tempted by water mischief.

Many moments are filled with laughter, joy and victory, but there are moments of tears and deep grief as well.

I love talking with my students.  One class found out that a 13 year old boy has been chosen for adoption by an expat family who lives in our city.  They were full of questions for me about this whole adoption thing.  “Teacher, will he go to America?”  “Does the family speak Chinese?”  “Do you know them?  Are they your friends?  Do you have more friends who might adopt us?”  The conversation kept getting harder and harder.  Just when I thought my heart might break the conversation turned and they almost forgot about me.  “Why do you think they chose him?” One teen asked another.  “Oh, he is smart, short and can run fast.  That must be why.”   Tears came to my eyes as I saw the wheels turning in their minds.  They didn’t say the words but the silence in the air was thick.  They all wished they were smart and could run fast.

My students….they are normal kids who love to color while laying on the floor, enjoy a good water fight and get excited by something new to play with.  The difference between them and most children – People don’t see them.  So they are left to ask questions like….why do I get left behind.  Why doesn’t anyone choose me?  What is wrong with me?

Yup, I know this has gone from a sweet blog post to a downer.  Welcome to my life – joy and sorrow mingle in my heart as I look into the faces of each of these children.  Thousands of Chinese children are waiting, hoping and wishing for a family of their own.  They are not a statistic.  They are not faceless.  They are my students.  Let’s make sure they are not voiceless.

 

 

 

The best birthday gift would be….

IMG_1381I turn 40 this week. (My phone calendar even sent me a reminder just in case I forgot about it!  HA!)

I have given it a lot of thought and have decided exactly how I would like to celebrate getting old. Because, my head is not buried in the sand…I have a teenage son, a daughter who knows what is cool (and I do not) and I am pretty sure my body creaks when I get out of bed in the morning. I am not even going to tell you the story of when one of my dears during homeschooling asked if I knew any of the Pilgrims.  How old do they think I am? All that to say, I admit I am getting old.

 

I am embracing this birthday and I want to celebrate big.

How?

So glad you asked.

I would like my birthday gift to be a forever family for one of my favorite students.  His birthday is this month too.  He turns 4 years old.  This month also happens to be Down Syndrome awareness month and his super power is Down Syndrome. Finding out that he has a family and will be adopted….that would be the most amazing gift!  Would you pray that happens? Would you pass the word that he needs a family?

So let me tell you more about him….

He is beyond precious and may have one of the sweetest personalities ever known to man. He lives in a group foster home and attends kindergarten for special needs children.  He knows his numbers, enjoys finger painting especially with the color yellow and always helps his teachers clean up  after class.  Although he is non-verbal, he expresses how much he loves his teachers by blowing kisses and often claps for his classmates to cheer them on during a project.  He dances to music, is learning sign language and has a very large sweet tooth.  Not surprisingly, this little guy is an orphanage favorite and the staff hopes he finds his forever family soon.  

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I wish you could meet him in person.  The way he sticks his tongue out as he paints….well, it has captured this art teacher’s heart!

I would consider it a birthday gift if you would say a prayer for my 4 year old friend.  Pray this is the last year he celebrates his birthday without a mom and dad of his own.  Kids need families.


If you’d like to learn more about how you could adopt my 4 year old friend or other children like him who wait, please contact me.  I’ll be glad to put you in touch with the folks at CHI who can tell you how to get started.

Resting Comfortably

IMG_0964The first several days after surgery were rough, but we are seeing light at the end of the tunnel.  Yesterday, Little Man was acting more like himself.  His fever has broke, last night he slept through the night without pain medication, and this morning he is asking to go for a spin in his wheelchair.  This mom is breathing easier!

He loves the wheelchair.  Even when he was experiencing a lot of pain he was willing to push himself around.  After a month of not being able to wear his prosthesis, mobility seems like pure heaven.  He has mastered doing donuts and his favorite new game is pretending to be Pac Man.  He chases everyone (ghosts) to eat them.  Love hearing him laugh as he chases us – Don’t love those huge wheelchair wheels running over my toes!  He has also figured out how to crawl without touching his leg on the ground.  It is like some crazy knee lift push up while crawling.  He is amazing.

This week we are focusing on his continued healing and exercising his leg to keep his mobility.  It is more natural for him to keep his knee bent so they have given him a brace so that his knee doesn’t lock. Next week, we go back to the hospital for them to check his leg and fit him for a compression sleeve to continue the healing and prepare him for a new prosthetic.

We can’t thank you all enough for keeping him in your prayers.  Our family feels very blessed by your love and support!

The Leg – Surgery it is

Surgery has been scheduled for July 9th.  Although it is a bummer that Little Man needs surgery, we really are seeing God’s provision in how all the details are falling in to place.  His team of doctors in the States were able to review all of the information we sent them from here and they have concluded that there is a 90% chance that surgery will be needed.  So we are getting ready.

The surgeon “happened” to have a slot for the surgery the morning after our already scheduled appointment so they switched it to a pre-op appointment and surgery will happen the next morning.   Provision for sure!

The procedure is routine in the States – a bone reconstruction in his limb or in the words of our family “the doctors are going to fix the booboo in Little Man’s stub so that he can wear his prosthetic again!”  That is what matters.  It is killing our little guy not to be able to wear his leg.  He likes to be on the move!  I am afraid the frustration of immobility will be a theme for the next month if not more, but in the end he should be more comfortable than ever.

Our summer plans really are on hold while we seek the best care for Little Man.  We had hoped to do a lot of visiting and speaking – now we might be making a lot of phone calls.  We hope that you all will understand our lack of visits this time around as we focus on getting our little guy up and running again.

We for sure will be keeping you posted on how he is doing and how the process goes. I would love to hear any suggestions on how to entertain an active four year old while in the hospital!

 

Against the Norm – Leg Update

We live in a city where you often see adults with limb differences lying on street corners.  They might be playing an instrument, singing, or painting characters with a paintbrush between their teeth.  What they all have in common is a metal bowl sitting next to them to collect small bills.  They beg for a living.  People stand around and stare.

IMG_0961Our family gets stared at a fair amount, but it has intensified the past few weeks.  People just don’t know what to do with us…we don’t all look the same and we go against the cultural norm.  (Where we live, staring is not considered impolite.  When you don’t know what to do with something, you just stare at it.)  Usually, I take the stares in a stride.  It is part of living here.  I hate to admit that the past few weeks have been harder for me.  The momma bear in me raises her ugly head when it is my son’s leg that is being stared at.

We were out for an evening walk in our loaner stroller  (High five to a great expat community who is coming to our aid and helping us with our needs!) when we came past two grannies sitting on a bench.  They live in our apartment complex and I have seen them a few times.  I knew right away that they wanted to talk about Little Man’s leg.  I started to bristle until my sweet four year old reached his hand over to the woman.  They held hands as we talked.

“What happened to his leg?” she asked, and I answered with our standard reply, “He was born this way.”

“Oh, you are such a good person.”  Again, I have a standard response for this common statement.  “No.  He is a good person and I am happy to have him in our family.”

“He is your son?”

“Yes, we have four children.”

This is where the conversation took a twist.  Usually the conversation turns to how crazy I am to have so many children and how tired I must be!  HA!  I have a standard reply for that conversation too!  Instead, my son, interrupted.

“Want to see my booboo?  I can walk, but I am hurt right now.”  I guess the English word booboo translates into Chinese because she understood! 🙂 He pulled up his pant leg and stuck out his residual limb to this unsuspecting granny.  I felt myself cringe and I prepared my heart for the look of horror that would most likely come across her face.  I had seen it so many times as folks stood around staring at us, staring at his missing leg.

That granny….she leaned down looked at his leg and while holding his hand said, “I am sorry you are hurt.”

Tears sprang to my eyes at the sweet, gentle nature of this old woman.  To add to the healing power her words had on my soul, she looked up at me and said, “This boy will bring so much music to your home.”

I laughed as she told my son to be thankful he had a home to play music in and he would never play music on the street. Only a Chinese granny can be sweet and then fuss at you in the same sentence!

We live in a city where limb difference is equated with life on a street corner.  To the man who helped me carry the large stroller off the bus, to the mom at the bus stop who told her son not to stare, to the granny who held my son’s hand…thank you.  Thank you for going against the cultural norm.

 


 

Update: Little Man is doing much better.

The sore on his leg is finally starting to heal and this momma is breathing easier after two phone calls to our team of doctors in the States.  I can’t say enough about Shriner’s Hospital in Tampa.  They are just amazing!  We still are unsure what the next month will hold, but we are confident that Little Man will have the best of care.  This coming week the surgeon is reviewing x-rays that we sent to him from here.  High five to technology!

The antibiotics are done, the pain has subsided, now the hardest part for our little guy…not being able to wear his prosthetic!  It is hard for such an active guy to be slowed down.  Thank you to everyone who is pr.ying for him!

Introducing….

As I was handing out high-fives and saying goodbye to my Thursday art class, one of my favorite students, a 13 year old boy, handed me a note.  It was a torn corner from a piece of notebook paper.  “Does your son read Chinese?  Please give this to him.”  So sweet, right?! When I delivered it to Soccer Dude at the dinner table, I had no idea what the words on that paper would do to my heart.

“May I come to your house to play and visit your family?” was the request scrawled across that torn paper.  As Hubby read the words out loud to our family, I began to cry sob.  My kids looked at me in dismay as I was loosing it over a playdate request.  But, it seemed like so much more.

By law in this country when you turn 14 you are no longer able to be adopted.  I thought of this sweet 13 year old boy who wants to “visit” our family and it hit me so hard that visiting is all he would ever do.  To him a family is something you visit, not something you have.  That my friends is something to weep over.  Something we need to fight against.

For the boy who handed me the note, it is to late.  But for many others there is still time.  Please pray with me for miracles.  The miracle of a family for Manning and for the two waiting boys I will share with you today.  “Jenning” an amazingly smart 10 year old boy who has overcome so many obstacles and 4 year old “Kipling” who seeps joy from his pores!

These children are able to be adopted through Children’s House International and the following information comes from CHI’s Waiting Children website.

Jenning_2_032715Jenning’s current obstacle is finding a family before it is to late and I tell you what, he will be amazing in a family.  There truly is something special about this boy!  He is a kind, polite, strong and eager boy who has stayed with his foster family for 10 years now. He is doing very well in school.   His special need is post-operative CHI, hyperdactyly of hands and feet.  After four surgeries on his legs he can walk normally now, but his protective foster mother says that he should not walk too long! She said that his legs grow tired and can be painful. However, Children’s House International’s own caseworker, lives in Jenning’s city, has seen him a few times and notes that he seems to be able to climb, walk, run, and carry on normally without complaint. He is healthy and seldom catches any illness; even colds are rare with this hearty boy! He likes to eat noodles, and he especially likes spicy food, but is very unique in that he doesn’t really like rice. His favorite fruits are watermelon, pineapple.

When the CHI team observed him playing with the other kids at the orphanage, he was very outgoing and willing to help the younger ones. He was eager to get people’s attention and showed a bit of a sensitive side. His foster mother said he feels a little nervous when he visits the orphanage because he doesn’t like where he comes from and doesn’t want others to know, especially those at school. He wants to be just like the other kids, and he feels pained that he is not. After the surgeries that at long last enabled him to walk, his confidence level grew greatly.  But he hasn’t forgotten the days when he could not walk.  When he comes to activities at the orphanage, he has been seen taking special care of the younger children in wheelchairs, pushing them into the sunshine and trying to make them smile.  I can just imagine how much joy and compassion will be added to a family when Jenning becomes a son!   His birthday is in April.  What a birthday gift to have a family committed to him when he turns 11!

 

Kipling_1_032615Kipling, is described by the Children’s House International social worker as “JOY in a 4 year old body!” Kipling has been fostered since he was 4 months old.  Kipling was born in May 2011 with a recessive cleft lip, brain scan difference and undescended testicle. His file doesn’t mention it, but he also seems to have low vision.  Although these minor needs put together might seem daunting, don’t let them put you off.  He is a laughing, smiling, singing, dancing bundle of lovable boy!  He has lots of energy and seems to very much enjoy being in the spotlight. This is part of the exuberant exchange between the CHI team and Kipling.  He came in to the room, greeted us warmly with a smile and a giggle, then set to work playing with blocks. When the team spoke with him to ask him questions, he would tread excitedly in one place, his little feet coming up and down in such joy that it was apparent he could hardly contain it!  He was happy playing and liked to throw things on the floor to make noise, and he loves music.  One of the orphanage staff played a very popular Chinese pop song, “You are my little apple” and Kipling was thrilled. He danced and sang the words of the song, missing very few. When cued by his foster mom he would shake his backside, and put his hands up in the air waiving them around in glee. He has two little cute dimples. When he was done performing he giggled and said, “Okay?” Our laughter only encouraged more dancing, singing and laughter.  The CHI team was smitten!


 

If you would like more information about adopting these boys or other children who wait, contact me and I will gladly put you in touch with the right person at CHI to answer any questions you might have.

Waiting Treasures

It has almost been two years since I returned to teaching art at the orphanage, and seven years since I began this journey. If there is one thing that I believe more today than I did my first day walking down the hall of the orphanage, it would be this: if everyone could look into the eyes of these kids, spend an hour coloring with them and hear their stories – there would be a line a mile long of folks begging to be the special, chosen, adoptive parents of these amazing kids.

Instead it is the other way around. We are begging people to take a look at a photo, a file, and to take a leap of faith to add one of these treasure to their families. Unfortunately, they are unfound treasures. Waiting.

Today I have hope.

I am so excited this paradigm could shift.

There is an American adoption agency, Children’s House International, who have started a relationship with the orphanage where I teach. They have a social worker who lives here, is updating adoption files for our kids and they are advocating for the future of my sweet little friends. How awesome is that?!!

They have seen the kids and seen what I have seen….their special potential.

This also means there is a way for me to advocate and I now can share the kids with you. Would you join me….advocate and give voice to those who are waiting and hoping. Look at their photos, take in their stories, consider adoption, give generously and mostly pray for miracles.

We need miracles – because the kids in my classes are not cute healthy infant girls who seem easy to adopt. They are older boys who need the second chance adoption would bring.

Let me share the story of one dear with you today that comes from the CHI website:

Manning_2_032615UPDATE:  Manning has a family!

At 6 years old “Manning’s” grandfather and father died. His mother ran leaving him to wander the streets until the police brought him to the orphanage. At 13 he still has never been chosen to be adopted because frankly families don’t want to risk taking in an older boy. He asks why families come for the young kids and not him. “I have waited longer. Why don’t they come for me?”

He is living in a group foster home on the grounds of the orphanage with three other younger children. His foster mother told us that he is the first one to get on his feet and help her when she asks for help. Because he is the oldest one in the family, he really works hard so as to take good care of the younger brothers and sister. The younger kids all love to hang out with him because he is so fun and so kind. He is a little introverted, gentle, and a bit shy. He loves art and riding his scooter around the orphanage grounds. Both socially and physically, he is a typical boy of his age. He is doing very well in school in all his subjects and recently received 4 medals in P.E; he can run fast! He likes Chinese class and art class the most. He is full of imagination and draws very well. He doesn’t like math. He doesn’t like “leftovers day” in his home, and always prefers noodles.

Upon entering the care of the Children’s Home he was found to have epilepsy, so he was given medication and now after 7 years, his medication is reduced to a half tablet each day and he has not had a seizure in over four years. He is small in stature, but mighty when it comes to responsibility, integrity, and personality.

The family who finds the treasure in this boy and adds him to their family will be blessed beyond measure.

If you’d like to learn more about Manning and the other children like him who wait, please contact me. I’ll be glad to put you in touch with the folks at CHI.

Speechless…there is more

I just haven’t known what to say.  Every time I sit down to write a blog post, I just stare at the screen knowing that I will say to much or not enough.

 

It all started the first week of October.  We got a call from the orphanage asking us to consider becoming foster parents.  They needed emergency placement for three different children.  We heard the stories of all three kids and then the questions started rolling.  Could we really do this?  Should we do this?  Where would we fit another body in this small apartment?  How could we possibly say no when they called and asked us so directly? We had said someday we might foster.  Was that someday now?

We pr.yed and went back and forth about it for two weeks.  Finally, Hubby and I felt at peace after pr.ying, “We will do this unless You provide another way.”  The next day we got a call.  One of the children had an adoptive family who was coming with in a few weeks.  No need for her to be fostered.  Then while at the orphanage I was told a Chinese family offered to foster the second baby girl.  That left a two year old boy.

I went to meet him and thought we would bring him to our home.  As I held the tiny boy in my arms the assistant explained that the director had changed her mind.   We could not foster him because he would not be put on the list for international adoption.  I wept for him…and me.

I felt at a loss as I realized that our pr.yer had been answered.  G.d was not asking us to foster now.  Funny how you can feel so reluctant to do something when you think you can.  There was part of me that was relieved, but sad at the same time and I wasn’t sure what to do next.

I love my art classes, don’t get me wrong, but the next few weeks I struggled.  Was it enough?  Actually the thought of fostering didn’t help me with that question either.  Deep down I knew fostering wouldn’t be enough and we can’t adopt all of them.

In the midst of my struggling I was made an offer.

I was shocked.

I would have said no.

I think G.d knew that I needed to hold that two year old boy and feel his helplessness to be reminded that we are in a battle for these kids.  More needs to be done.

I was offered a new role at the orphanage.  They have asked me to help with international adoptions…to advocate for the kids, help in preparing files, train foster families, and help the adoptive families who come.

At first I was tempted to doubt that I was up for the task and that our family could handle me putting in more hours at the orphanage, but everything that had led up to this…

This is the more that my heart was longing for and Father has been preparing me for this all along.  Isn’t He so good?

So there you have it.  Possibly adding a foster baby to our family or a new position….that will make even the most talkative gal silent on her blog for a few weeks! 😉  Now that it is all worked out, I am back and I am sure you will be sick of hearing about all the new craziness I get into as I jump into my new role.  My new responsibilities at the children’s home start December 1st.  I am scared out of my mind and so excited.

We would really appreciate your pr.yers as we begin this new season.