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!

update on our boys

Our borrowed vehicle is full again.  It’s brimming with bags and snacks for 7, as we wear a path between North Florida and Tampa.  But I am thankful for all of the loud voices and our space challenges.  It means that we are all together again.  I find myself taking in our craziness with tears in my eyes – thankful for all of it and thankful our season of separation has come and gone.  We survived and I now have a deep appreciation for single mothers.  Wowzers.  Parenting three kiddos on my own for 7 weeks was totally enough for me!

Granted, the last 7 weeks have not been normal ones.  With one kiddo healing from major surgery and a second who is learning how to be in a family (but his family was oceans apart) created some interesting days.  Like the day I was driving 6 hours from the hospital to our summer home and it took 8 hours because I learned our newbie gets car sick and Little Man was allergic to one of his medications!  Fun times.

But, honestly the hard days were few and far between.  Things went so much smoother than I could have dreamed.  Little Man continues to heal and is delighted with the progress that is being made on his new prosthetic.  Weekly trips to the hospital are tiring, but will be worth the effort once he is walking again.

He has been measured, casted, and chosen a color and design for his new leg.  This past week he went for a fitting – everything has been made except the outer shell.  He walked on it.  The prosthetist adjusted the rod and metal plates that make up the inner parts of the leg after watching him walk.  So cool how they can match his legs and help him walk with an even gait.  Every time we have a new one made I am amazed at the process.  One more week and we should be done.

Little Man isn’t the only one making progress.  Mo has gone from being car sick every ride and screaming in his car seat….to being a better traveler.  I wouldn’t say a great traveler, but he is doing much better.  He also is learning new English words every day – dinosaur, corn, and neck to name a few.  He often will say a new word over and over – proud as punch that he has figured out another piece in the puzzle of communicating with this crazy new family he has been dropped into.

We are learning new things too.  We have discovered that Mo LOVES swimming.  I mean all kids like swimming, but this kid wakes up every morning and only wants to wear his bathing suit and has taken to sleeping with his puddle jumper.  Teddy bear?  No, thank you.  His new comfort thing is a flotation device.  I can’t make this stuff up.  He also likes trains, singing, eating (almost anything) and jumping around after his big brother.  His first 4 months with us have flown by.  He continues to delight us with his sweet ways and I often wonder how we have been chosen to be so blessed by these kids I get to call my own.

If this post is going to be true to its title, I should update you on Soccer Dude as well!  He is about to start an online driver’s ed course and before long he will be starting his Sophomore year of high school….say what?!  Time is flying with this one.  Hubby and I keep asking ourselves what we need to pour into him before he leaves our nest.

Today at the beach Soccer Dude carried Mo on his shoulders out into the waves to give me a break from the toddler who never wants to stop swimming.  (Such a good teenager, right?!) I watched them wrestle in the water and play way rougher than I ever dreamt necessary – laughing, sputtering water, and enjoying each other.  Love my boys.  This mom, who grew up with only sisters, is a much better person now that I play with trains, wrestle and can shoot a nerf gun.

 

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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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Breaking News. 4 +1 = 5

5We have news.  News that probably won’t surprise any of you, but news that might be shocking all the same.

I have gone over and over how to write this blog post – sharing our decision.  Some cute photo perhaps? A snappy saying?   In truth, this long-in-coming decision can’t be summed up in a cute phrase or a witty blog post.  So, I will just blurt it out.

We are going to adopt again.

 

 

Yup.  Five kids.

It is kinda crazy.  We know it.

Something that is even more crazy?  Children are growing up without parents.  I know them.  They are my students.  Often, my students will plead with me, asking me if I would please adopt them.  I really don’t think I can explain how my heart hurts for each of those kids who long for a family of their own.  It is so very hard to say, “No.”

You see, when you teach at an orphanage…you face the need.  There are not enough families and there are so many amazing kids waiting, hoping, praying.   We can’t adopt them all.  But, we feel that by God’s grace we are able to be the family for one more.  We will grieve that we just can’t care for them all, but we will do all we can for one. We know we are able to love and care for one more.

We are facing the need I see on a daily basis and choosing to do what we can.  The true crazy part…we will be blessed for it.  I know that is truth.  As a result of our two adopted kids, my life is so much fuller, brighter, happier, and filled with more slobbery cheek kisses.  As a dear friend of mine (who has adopted 8 times!) once said, “We are just gluttons for blessing.”  Amen.

I never set out to have a large family, though my high school Sunday school teacher might argue otherwise.  I did once say I wanted 13 children and a station wagon.  No husband.  I am so thankful God hasn’t made all of that a reality.

There are moments – like today when we were shopping for jeans for our current four children and it took two extra strength tylenol, a half a gallon of sweet tea and the entire afternoon to get the job done, I wonder what kind of crazy woman I am.  And when I think about adding another child to the mix for next year, well, sanity may be a bit overrated.  Just keepin’ it real.

Then there are moments – like holding a small hand, reading a book, snuggling in bed, saying evening prayers, playing ping pong, and talking about the joys and pains of growing up – so many moments that I will not trade for anything.

We have never regretted adding any of our four kiddos to our family.  We won’t regret #5.  And at the end of our lives, we won’t look back and regret providing a home and a family for one more kiddo – even if it means stress and craziness and pressure in the short run.

I can’t wait to look #5 in the face and say, “Yes!”  I can’t wait to tell them, ” We are now your family. No matter what life throws at you we will all be in your corner, walking with you, cheering for you, grieving with you.  We are yours, and you are ours.” Oh, what a moment that will be!

 

So, we would really appreciate you praying for our family as we step out in faith to adopt again.  We have just completed our home study and we are facing much more paperwork and a lot of fees.  Please pray for God’s provision and strength as we wait, as well as His will as we seek being matched with the child He has for us.  We will keep you posted as God unfolds another story of His miracles and grace in our family.

 

 

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!

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

My Crazy Life – December edition

December is just one of those months.  Every year I get so homesick for my extended family and Christmas traditions that I could burst into tears at any given moment.  But, every year we have the privilege of celebrating Christmas cross-culturally, I am filled with joy at the opportunities to experience the true meaning of Advent.  I could explode over the wonder of it all.  My crazy life.

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This year was like the others, busy with open houses for students, story telling, cookie baking, Christmas art projects, frosting and sprinkles.  It has been breath taking…and so very fun.  I really think that this month will go down in the books as one of the best Christmas seasons ever.  It wasn’t perfect.  I burnt cookies, got overwhelmed by the number of guests that came through our home, and Little Man picked his nose through his debut in the Christmas play.  (Friend, that could be a post on its own.  My son dressed as a wiseman digging for treasure up his nose.  Yes, he saw me give him the “momma stink eye.”  Then says to me FROM STAGE,  “Just a second, I almost have it!” He then pulled it out and flung it.  True story.  Sigh.)

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So it wasn’t perfect, but there were moments that I will treasure for years to come.  I was able to be the first one to share the Christmas story with a student.  How perfect is that?  Decorating sugar cookies with all of my art students who called the frosting paint and couldn’t keep themselves from licking everything…Okay, a little gross, but oh so priceless.  My children hosting and helping.  I think that treasure is the one I will ponder the most.  Soccer Dude pushing a wheel chair and breaking off bits of cookies to put in the lips of children who are paralyzed.  That is a gift.

 

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There are many days that I long for Christmas of the past when I was at home with my parents and eating western food and attending a Christmas eve service.  But honestly, if next Christmas would find us back in the States, I would miss what I have here.  My crazy life.  True story.

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