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.

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.

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.

On the road to recovery

Little Man was very nervous rolling into his 2 week post-op appointment.  His surgery went really well, but the first few days of recovery were a bear.  He was so worried about the bandages coming off and what was expected from him next.

We both sighed with relief when they told us how great everything looks.  The nurse actually said, “it looks beautiful!”  Because it has healed even better than they had hoped, we don’t need to make the 6 hour drive back to the hospital again until June 14th.  They also had prepared us for the possibility of needing physical therapy, but right now his knee has full range of motion and he is keeping his leg strong on his own.

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In other words, we have an easy 3 weeks ahead of us!  I am one thankful mom. It is downhill from here. While Little Man continues to recover, we have our minds set on enjoying parks, playing outside, eating a lot of pizza and trying not to miss the other half of our family too much.  They will be joining us in 23 days.  Not that I am counting.

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The next round of appointments, starting mid June, will begin the process of building him a new leg.  He already is starting to think about what pattern he wants them to use and is also counting down those days.  This boy is ready to run again. He is having fun popping wheelies and winning races against his sister on her scooter, but I don’t believe he will be sad to say goodbye to the wheelchair.  We should have his new leg the first or second week of July.

Thank you for all your prayers.  I know people say this all the time, but I really mean it….the prayers are getting me through.  The night after Little Man’s surgery, I was exhausted and he was in so much pain.  We both were reaching our limits.  I asked Hubby, “do you really think everyone who says they are praying is?”  His simple “yes” helped me to pause, take a deep breath, and push through that night.  I also believe that it is by G0d’s grace that Little Man is healing so well.  So you guys keep praying and this mom might keep surviving!

 

I can do all things

I usually end the year by making pizza for my students at the orphanage.  Some of the teens knew something was up when I came in this week with all the contents for a pizza party.  I explained that I needed to go to the States so my son could have a surgery.  Most of the kids simply accepted my need to go and asked if I would come back – everyone except one teen.

He is wheelchair bound and unable to use his hands well.  His speech is unclear, but his mind is sharp.  This amazing teen is caught in a body that just can’t respond.  He inspires me often.  He uses his mouth to hold a paintbrush, will encourage the other students to do their best during projects when he is unable to participate, and has used his spare time learning all of the colors (and many other art words) in English during my class.  Amazing.

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After he processed that I would be gone for several months, he asked if I had an app on my phone that would allow me to call some of the local teachers.  “Then you could keep in touch.” He claimed satisfied with his plan.  I shrugged and said that my Chinese is bad and I really can’t use those apps.

He looked me straight in the eye and said, “I speak bad.  There are many things I can’t do.  Teacher, YOU can do this. Don’t say that.”  He finished his verbal reprimand saying that he would help me!

There have been several times facing this upcoming season that I simply want to sit down, cry, and tell God that I can not do this.  I can’t say the goodbyes.  I can’t travel with three kids.  I can’t face my baby’s surgery without Hubby.  I can’t be separated from half my family for this long.  Oh, my list (and self pity) could go on.

I have decided that all I need to know I have learned from disabled children and Sunday school.

Really. Who am I to say that I can’t do these things?  I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.  We are going to do this – one step at a time, remembering that it could be harder and that Christ will strengthen us as we go.

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Not unlike my sweet student who was so willing to help his technology challenged teacher – so many of you have offered to help us through this season.  Thank you.  Every encouraging note, prayer, and gift have been deeply appreciated.  They help me to know that Father is providing for us….holding my hand every step of the way.

I have help for every leg of the journey.  A friend is driving hundreds of miles to pick us up from the airport and loan us their car.  Family is taking time off work to sit with us at the hospital.  A local church near Shriners has offered to be my community and help.  We have a furnished apartment to live in as Little Man recovers.

That is a pretty amazing list.

With each of those things in mind, I am going to say goodbyes with confidence.  I will trust that Moe will be filled with peace as we travel.  I won’t worry in the waiting room and I believe our family will thrive during this season of separation.

Through Christ.

By His own hand He leadeth me.

The decisions we have been making over the past weeks haven’t been easy.  Ironically, the hymn our family has been working at memorizing together is “He Leadeth Me” by Dr. Joseph H. Gilmore.  As we move forward one step at a time, we feel blessed to serve a good Father, who even had our homeschool curriculum present us with a hymn that reminds us that His hand is leading us even when life feels out of control.

He leadeth me. O bless-ed thought! O Words with heavenly comfort fraught!

I need that reminder as I pack up the youngest three members of our family preparing for a journey to the States that will not include their dad or siblings.  For sure, a two month separation would never be what we would choose (especially right after an adoption) but as we have pr@yed and talked to Little Man’s doctors we feel confident that this is what we need to do.

Little Man, Little Monkey, Moe and I will leave for the States May 8th.  We will land in Tampa, Florida where Little Man will have a bone reduction surgery on May 11th.  He then will have follow-up appointments over the next month.  6-8 weeks post-op they should be able to start making our guy a new leg.  He is looking forward to that.  He hasn’t been able to walk for three weeks and he already is tired of us pushing him around in the stroller.  He asked me to pack his old leg so that he would have it when he came out of surgery.  It wasn’t fun to explain to him that surgery wasn’t the only step towards getting him walking again.  The awesome thing about our Little Man – He has a joyful spirit and doesn’t let much get him down.  He has been telling everyone that he is excited to have surgery because the hospital has a great playground and the food in the cafeteria is wonderful!  That’s our boy.

Hubby and the oldest two kids will join us in the States as soon as the semester is complete – sometime the end of June.  We haven’t even left yet and I am already counting down the days. We then will all return to our Asian home the end of August.

Surgery isn’t the only thing that will keep us busy while Stateside.  We will be working at getting Mo’s immigration paperwork filed, will apply for his new American passport and be getting him a visa to return with our family to Asia.

We would truly appreciate you lifting up our family through this season.  So many transitions, goodbyes, and emotions will fill the weeks ahead.  Please specifically lift up:

  1. Me as I travel with an immobile kiddo and a two year old who has never done this world wide travel thing.  So thankful for Little Monkey who is one of my biggest helpers!  I know she will make the task much easier and more fun as she chats with me along the way.
  2. our new little guy…may Moe handle all of the transitions and continue to feel safe and loved in our family.
  3. for Little Man’s surgery and healing process.
  4. think of Hubby as he continues to teach his classes, finish homeschooling Soccer Dude and Roo, and keeps our home running while I am away.
  5. and last but not least, for our family dynamics and relationships.  Two months is a long time.

I know we travel a lot and our lives seem a bit on the crazy side….but really we are a family who enjoys pizza and movie/game night every Friday, shopping at the same veggie stand, and sipping hot chocolate and reading a good book equals an exciting night. Can I say routine?  The next four months are going to shake us up a bit – pr@y for us.