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.

Front row seat to a miracle

Who are we to be a part of this miraculous story?

We are beyond humbled and in absolute awe as we see how God is providing for Benjamin to join our family. What seemed impossible is possible. $20,000 came in to pay for this adoption in two short weeks. It is miraculous and we have a front row seat in watching this miracle unfold! Gifts from family who are being so supportive, friends who aren’t calling us crazy (but blessed!) and even gifts from strangers – God has planted the desire on so many hearts to help this teenager find family.

Thank you. I wish I had more eloquent words, because these two small words in no way can convey the deep gratitude of my heart. Your gifts….they have encouraged us. They are making the way possible. They are placing a boy in a family. One less orphan. They are blessing our family with the treasure of another soul, and they mean the difference between us being able to do this or not. Huge. Thank you.

The paperwork is going at lightning speed and the invoices are rolling in – every need has been met and every deadline crushed. All of our paperwork to adopt Benjamin is being authenticated this week and we hope to have it sent to China next week. (In adoption lingo: our dossier will be sent to the CCCWA and we hope to have a letter of approval soon after.) Everything is on track for our family to grow by one at the beginning of the year. 5 short long weeks.

In between mounds of paperwork and grant writing, we are preparing as much as possible. We swapped bedrooms. The girls are now in the smaller room and the boys are in a room that will hold two sets of bunk beds. (That is a reality I never dreamt for my family!) Little Man feels all grown up in the top bunk with Mo sleeping up under him. I look at the empty space under the other bunk and long for the day to have it filled by the newest Williams. I thought this journey – because it is going so fast – would be easier. The waiting has always been the hardest part for me. This adoption is being expedited – the wait is nothing in comparison, but there is just something about knowing your child is sleeping in an orphanage. I can’t wait for those days to be done.

We would appreciate your continued prayers over this next month. Pray that each step of this adoption is expedited and that we will have Benjamin home by mid-January. Pray for us as we continue to prepare…not just our home but our hearts. A big transition is ahead of us, and we know we will need all the grace and mercy God can provide . Benjamin also is facing unspeakable grief as he leaves one world behind and enters this new one. Pray for his heart – for comfort, healing, and peace.

I hesitate to even write this next part, because you have all been soooo generous, but a few people are still asking how to give and how to help us on this journey. We have been given a matching grant through Brittany’s Hope. They will match dollar to dollar every gift given towards our adoption up to $5,000 which means we will end up with $10,000. 100% of the gifts will go to our adoption as they have generous donors who cover all of their overhead expenses. So if you are still feeling led to financially help us bring Benjamin home, then a gift towards this matching grant would be greatly appreciated. You can give your tax deductible gift here。 You can also share about this opportunity by giving folks this link http://www.brittanyshope.org/seedling/williams With this grant we will be very close to being fully funded. Amazing!

Thanks again for following us on this journey. I hope our next update will be telling you that we have all of our paperwork approved and that we were able to tell Benjamin that he will be joining our family.

Our Big Surprise….5+1=6

IMG_0229If the news we are about to share with you in this post shocks you, well, I can guarantee it shocked us more. We were blown away to receive a phone call from our adoption agency last month.  It was all so surreal that I really couldn’t make sense of the words our social worker was saying.  The agency that oversees all adoption affairs in China had called our adoption agency and asked us to consider adopting a child from the orphanage where I teach.  What?  Our adoption agency went on to explain they have never had anything like this happen before.

A million thoughts rushed through my mind as it tried to register the news.  We don’t qualify to adopt.  Hubby and I had said our family was complete with the five blessings already in our care. Why did they call us?

Wait!  I asked questions rapid fire-trying to gain clarity.  My mind was still trying to register the miraculous open door that was being given to us.  Who do they want us to adopt?  The boy who I have taught and loved for 7 years?   The same boy whose photo has been on our fridge for three years?  The child we have prayed would miraculously have the chance at a family?  The now 13 year old who only has until February to be adopted before, according to Chinese law, he can no longer be eligible for adoption?  That child?  They did his paperwork this summer?  They are asking us to adopt him? Seriously?

I wept.

We prayed.

A second shocking phone call came a couple weeks later.  China surprisingly agreed to grant us the special permission we need to adopt this precious boy, if we were willing for him to join our family.

We sat down with our kids and prayed as a family.  The words of Little Man summed up the feelings of all of our children, “Why wouldn’t we adopt him?  How cool we get to be the chance he has at a family and not to live all his life in that institution.”

Sometimes God uses us to answer our own prayers.

If they had called us and asked us to adopt any other child, we would have said no.  But, it just “happens” that they asked us to adopt the now 13 year old who has been on our hearts for years.  We said yes.  As a family, this is who God has called us to be.  We didn’t go looking to adopt again.  We thought we were done.  God had a different idea.

Who is this child that is changing our plans?  He is “Benjamin.”  Benjamin is super smart and loving.  He likes legos, playing with bouncy balls from his wheelchair, and listening to music.  He is also an absolute ham in my art class, making me and others laugh.  For all these reasons and more, he will thrive in our family.  He will make the most of joining our family and the opportunity for an education.  We have consulted the Western doctors here in our city, and they can help him get the additional medical attention he needs, which has not been possible while living in the orphanage.  To us, he is worth the leap of faith on our part.

We would really appreciate you being a part of his miraculous story.  We have to complete his adoption before his 14th birthday. The adoption process usually takes 11 months.  When you consider both American and Chinese holidays, we are working against a 10 week deadline.

We have about 10 weeks to raise the funds and complete all the paperwork to finalize his adoption.  It is going to be a crazy ride with many miracles needed along the way.

May I be so bold to ask if you might be a part of this journey with us.

Would you consider praying with us that all will be able to be completed in time?  Pray all the paperwork would move smoothly and quickly through the process.  I assure you, this will require miracles.

Would you also consider being part of the financial miracle that will bring “Benjamin” home?  Would you consider giving towards his adoption fund?  If being part of his provision story resonates with you, you can give a tax deductible donation here. We are simply trusting that what is needed will be provided every step of the way. If God is in this, He’ll make a way.

We weren’t looking to adopt again.  We have no idea how the agency that oversees Chinese adoptions knows about us, or why they care if this 13 year old boy is adopted.  It’s a crazy miracle- God has plans.  He moved mountains to make this adoption even a possibility, so we are trusting Him to continue to provide all that is needed to make it happen.  Oh man, is this going to be an amazing God sized story that will bring him Glory.  We feel deeply humbled and blessed to be a part of this story and I know you will be blessed for your part in it too.

She squats

Once upon a time, a crazy American art teacher was super thirsty and downed a whole bottle of water before class began.  Half way through the class she had the desperate need to use the bathroom.  Usually she does not leave her dear art students in the middle of a messy paint project, but nature called.

At the orphanage the bathrooms are not private.  There are four squatty stalls with no doors.  On the first floor you can find an adult bathroom with more privacy, but the art teacher was on the 4th floor.  She wanted to be quick.  Other teachers have done it before.  So, she took her cue from those local teachers and slipped into the public bathroom, locking the outer door.

She heard the lock click.  All was good, until she heard a different class in the hallway.

She tried to hurry not wanting the kiddos to wait.  That should have been the least of her worries as the door began to rattle – then open.

“Someone is in here!”

The joy of teaching this group of special kids comes due to their innocence and curiosity.  That was not in Art Teacher’s favor when trying to keep the kids out of the bathroom.  Before she knew it, there was a mixed audience of 8 children as she struggled to finish with dignity.

They stood there and watched like good, curious, Chinese children.  One of the more observant fellows mentioned to the others, “Foreigners pee too!”  To which his friend replied, “Did you know Teacher could squat?” Thankfully none of the other teachers came in to witness the grand event of foreign teacher squatting.

Just a day in the life of an art teacher at an orphanage.  The children learned how to paint leaves on fall trees, and they learned that even their foreign teacher squats.

The end.

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Broken Hearted

bingoglassesIt comes every year.  I try to prepare my heart – but frankly the pain and injustice, I just can’t get used to it.

Due to our summer travel plans, this week marks my last art class of the semester.  Children who live at an orphanage….well summer vacation has a whole different meaning for them.  They live where they go to school and since it is often better to keep the kiddos busy and on a schedule, they don’t take long breaks from classes.  I explained to my kiddos that I needed to travel with my family so there would be no art classes for July and August….but I would be back to start art classes again in September.  The kids often will ask me over and over again….”Are you really coming back?”  One little guy who was in a near panic over missing art, just couldn’t drop it.  Finally I asked him, “Friend, will you be here in September?”  After thinking a moment he said, “Yes, I am always here.”  My reply, “Then I will find you when I come back.”

But, that isn’t always the case.

When a teen turns 17 years old – they must leave the orphanage and are sent to a social welfare institute.  It is not a nice place.  This week I said goodbye to a student I have had since the beginning of my days at the Children’s Home. He cried as we hugged. He wasn’t upset about the idea of missing art class for two months.  He was crying because he knew this was the end.  He will not be living at the orphanage when I come back.

I cried too.

I cried because I will miss him.  I cried because he has no hope for the future.  I cried because if he had been adopted his life would have been so different.

These boys who were never chosen….Lord have mercy.

Kids need families.

Let’s make a difference. Foster. Adopt. Give. Tell their stories. Cry for the orphan. Pray.

 

What happens when you pray…

I often ask you to pray for the kids who are heavy on my heart – the kids without families.  My students.  The ones I love and hope to see in forever families.  Ever wonder what results from those prayers?  You are in for a treat today.  Here is a guest post from a friend of ours who can tell you from first hand experience what happens when you, my amazing blog readers, pray.

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Dear followers of this special blog who pray:

I’d like to say that these days I don’t have the life I was going to. For one thing I’m homeschooling, a thing I don’t particularly love. I’m also juggling eye-opening tantrums, both public and private. And, as I guy who’d rather change activities every five hours, I’m sometimes changing them every five minutes and finding it a challenge.

My soul is worn.

And my plans were better.

Maybe they weren’t super-clear plans, but, as this past fall we joyously marked the conclusion of 15 years of babies and pre-schoolers in the house—boy, did our ears ring that day—I had all sorts of plans that could have made use of that quiet. Any number of dusty pursuits that could have been brought off the back burner.

But. My plans aren’t what happened.

What did happen was the impossible. Or, at least, something that, just one year ago, I would have called inconceivable in the extreme. And our house is quiet no longer.

The paperwork says he’s fourteen. Though he looks certainly younger, and his emotional, psychological, or social age—whichever you please, I’m not being technical, here—seems usually closer to two. Our ears are ringing plenty, now, too, though not from quiet. For this guy—perhaps not unlike a kid you’ve known?—didn’t come with a volume control (or many other kinds of control, for that matter). So it’s not just our ears, but our heads, even our whole selves, ringing some days.

And it’s largely your doing.

Adoption is hard, isn’t it? At least the worst of the feral screaming and self-injurious flailing seems to be over (or so we hope). But it’s still difficult, for he’s a kid from a hard place, and the transitional throes of switching to beloved son from institutional inhabitant can be extreme. And even when he is fine, we at times still aren’t. An energetic, self-absorbed, as-easily-wounding-as-getting-wounded entity of tireless underfoot-ness—no matter how happy—truly can make your day drag by.

But saving one kid is good, right? It is. It truly is. And, way back when, that’s what we signed up for: one. One adoption.*

How did this guy ever become number three?

That wasn’t my plan. In fact, you could have pretty much said about me last year that I was anti-adoption. Not again. No way. Not us. But. You were praying.

And, more unexpectedly than snow in summer, God spoke. To—of all people—our oldest teenager (the one who’d said he’d run away if we ever considered adopting again, and to whom I always replied with laughing assurance about that being the last thing he needed to worry about):

“Mom, I think we’re supposed to adopt this one.”

What?

He was putting together videos—to help update their files—of six older kids from the local orphanage. The boy that our teenager was talking about said in his video that he wanted an American family, a big family, and a family with younger siblings. Our family was check, check, and check, and my wife’s heart began to melt.

But not me. Not in the least. Sure, I’ll pray this kid gets a family, but that family as sure-as-shootin’ ain’t going to be ours. No way were we going to think about adopting another kid. And a teenager to boot? Be serious. Even my wife concurred as readily as I did that our family was stretching its limits beyond what we could handle already.

But you were praying. And her burden grew.

She resisted it. Asked repeatedly for the burden to be taken away, and I was all encouragement: “It will go away, dear. It will. The burden will fade. There will be another family for him.” I knew: All I had to do was outlast her. Outlast that completely irrational burden brought on by übercompassion and her over-sensitive heart. “Honey,” she pleaded with me one day as her burden only got stronger, “would you consider at least just praying about it?”

“Uh…no?” Why would I pray for something I didn’t have the least intention of considering?

But you were praying.

And the rest of that long, long story (that I now call “God’s 2×4”)—of how a boy called Manning come to be in our family, and how I was the only one who needed to be outlasted—has been told in other places already.**

Sometimes it isn’t our compassion that saves. Some of us don’t even have a whole lot of what might be called compassion. God can save just the same.

You prayed for Manning, and, because of it, things and powers and hearts that were not otherwise going to be moved were moved. A boy on the verge of a life sentence to institutional existence was spared. Though he might possibly have known abuse and neglect and hopelessness as companions forever, now this same boy notices and repeats (well, shouts, rather) the word “Jesus” every time he hears it in speech or song. Though not long ago he may have been doomed to never mature beyond hurt and anger and revenge and manipulation, now we’re building up trust. Just tonight he put his headphones on my ears so I could know which was his favorite Chinese worship song: “Isn’t it moving, Dad?”

It’s largely your doing, you know.

You prayed. And he’s home.

 


 

*The story of the Johnsons’ first adoption (and how that unexpectedly became two) can be found in Lily Was the Valley: Undone by Adoption, available on Amazon in both Kindle and softcover formats.
**Those who would enjoy reading the full story of the genesis of this most unlikely of third adoptions can do so at dannrobertjohnson.com, the earliest ten entries.

 


 

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Your next project?  Pray for “Hemingway” my youngest, happiest and sweetest student.  He is four years old, a Down Syndrome super star who loves painting with the color yellow.  He is waiting for his family to take a step of faith and come get him.  Pray that he isn’t destined to life in an institution.  Instead, may a family see his sweet face and recognize the value of his life and embrace him into their family.

You can contact Amanda (amanda.h@chiadopt.org) a social worker with Children’s House International to get more information on how to adopt him.

Just a side note: if our family can get approved to adopt and overcome the hurdles…ANYONE can.  Seriously. I am sure the Johnsons would say the same!