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God’s Plan is NOT MY PLAN! How God is Pulling Me Kicking and Screaming Toward Foster Care Adoption.

There is a little girl in one of my preschool classes. She can be tender hearted towards kids that need help, and is very bright. She also has a will made of iron. The other day a teacher asked her to do something she did not want to do. She ended up under the desk, shaking it while crying out “God’s plans are NOT MY plans!”. We go to the same church as this little girl so I am sure she has been in many Sunday school classes where she has heard that we need to be obedient, and bend our will to HIS will.

I know exactly how she feels. Now, I haven’t screamed at anyone or shaken any desks over it, but I have been struggling with obedience, and trusting in His plan.  We never expected to go to China for our first adoption, and we sure didn’t expect to adopt a second time from China. Over the last few years China has become our normal, our comfort zone. We have done it twice, and know what to expect. We have the paper chase down to a science being able to anticipate what needs to come next. We know a little bit of Mandarin, and even know where our favorite restaurants and shops are in Guangzhou.  We have grown to love China and its people, and wanted to go back “one more time”. We were so looking forward to going back again. That’s been the “plan” for the last three and a half years. I can’t count the times I’ve said “Well when we go back to China I’ll…..”.

As it turns out, we won’t go back to China. I was shocked, and broken hearted to learn that the Chinese officials rejected our pre application for a third adoption due to our visual impairments. Of course we appealed. We made videos of us doing regular mom and dad things. We wrote an appeal letter, our 13-year-old adopted daughter wrote an appeal letter, and our agency fought hard for us.  We did everything we knew to do to change their minds, but eventually we had to accept that China was closed for us. We knew in our hearts that yes, the Chinese officials had said “no” to us, but so had God. After all we had two Chinese children that proved that their decision had made zero logical since.

I was so mad that I really wanted to give up. I wanted to settle for the five amazing and beautiful children we have. I wanted to be done, and move on. I mean life is good right now. Our adopted children are adjusting well, our kids are relatively healthy, and are all doing well. My youngest will go to Kindergarten next year, and we will be moving to a new stage in life as parents of older kids. Did I really want to have another preschooler or toddler? Did I really want to risk a child with a difficult adjustment to living in a family, or might have attachment issues? There were a million reasons why it was ok for us not to adopt again, but through every excuse I made God quietly whispered “You still have room in your home and heart for another child who needs a family.”

I then began looking at other international countries. Many internet searches, and phone calls later I was disheartened that none of those programs were going to work for our family. Eastern Europe countries wanted loooong incountry stays. Several other programs such as India have a four child already living in the home maximum, and we have five. After crossing off each country I knew I was moving closer and closer to domestic foster care adoption. THAT WAS NOT MY PLAN!!!

There are good reasons why we chose international adoption to begin with.

1)     I don’t want to deal with biological families.

2)     I don’t want to deal with seeing kids that I love on, sent back to the same terrible conditions they came from.

3)     I don’t want the State THAT involved in my business.

4)     I don’t want the State telling me what I can and cannot do with my child.

5)     I don’t want to deal with the aftermath of a broken-hearted child whose parent didn’t show up to a visit, or showed up high, and couldn’t see the child.

6)     I don’t want to deal with a child who has BIG feels and BIG problems because of the abuse they have suffered by those who are meant to love them the most.

7)     I don’t want to deal with how losing a child we loved for so long to an extended family member would possibly affect the children we already have.

8)     I don’t want to deal with a broken system full of misinformation, turnover, and protecting the rights of biological parents when it isn’t the best interest of the child.

Basically, I told God domestic foster adoption was too hard, too risky, and required too much of my heart. This is pretty much what He had to say about all that.

Dear Elisabeth,

I know you do not want to deal with all of that stuff. No body does, but do you honestly think the kids that are dealing with it every day want to deal with it any more than you? Could you look one of these little ones, and tell them “This is too hard. You’re not worth it?”.  These are real children, with real needs that you can meet. Remember when I brought you Quinn? She was an older child adoption with a scary special need that you had zero experience with.  Yet, now you cannot imagine your life without her, and more importantly, you can’t imagine her life without you.  Y’all are experienced parents of five, experienced adoptive parents well acquainted with connected parenting. You both have counseling field degrees. I have prepared you for this. I don’t ask for what I am not going to provide for. Get out of your comfort zone, and TRUST ME.

Soooooo yeah, my husband and I attended our first orientation meeting with CPS yesterday. We have no idea what this will look like. If we will love one child, or many. If we will love them for a day, or lifetime, or somewhere in between. We do know that the Lord Himself goes before us, and will be with us: He will never leave us nor forsake us.  We will not be afraid or discouraged. (Deuteronomy 31:8) We will get out of our comfort zone, take a running leap, and say “Yes Lord, send me!”.

 

 

 

 

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China Said “No”, So Now What? 

For those of you not playing along at home we have five children. We have three biological children, and two kids adopted from China. We submitted paperwork to the Chinese government to adopt another little girl which was summarily dismissed by their authorities on the basis of our low vision. We appealed the decision to no avail.  For the last 2.5 years we have been working and planning to adopt again. My children  were super excited to have another little sister, and to go back to China. That door has been closed for our family, so now what? 

First, we are broken hearted for the daughter who is loved and desperately wanted, but will never know it. I pray almost hourly that another family will  step forward for her. She has medical needs that  are not being met in China. She very likely has a rare genetic disorder that her care takers don’t even know she has. It requires screenings that she is not getting in China. Knowing that God loves her, sees her, and knows what she needs even more than we do is the only thing that makes this bearable. 

We are shocked, and angry. This is straight up discrimination, and it would be illegal here in America. We were denied based soly on having a disability. They ignored our proven track record of TWO OTHER CHINESE ADOPTIONS. They ignored our glowing post placement reports for those two kids. They ignored our videos showing us to be capable parents. They ignored the letter our oldest  adopted daughter with spina bifida wrote telling them how she is now learning  to walk because of the medical care she received since being in our family.  They saw the diagnoses of low vision, and that was that.
Despite our heartache we will choose greatfulness. We are grateful for the two children we do have from China.  Both of our adoptions had someone in China try to disrupt the adoption when they knew we had low vision. With the adoption of our first son we were in China signing the final paperwork . The lady made a phone call, and was on the phone for a good 10 minutes. We thought nothing of it, but later our translator told us the woman took one look at my husband’s cane, and called  the social welfare people to ask if they were sure she should let us take Kai home.  With our daughter one part of the process was taking longer than it should. We found out later that a particular person was campaigning for us not to be able to adopt her. Apparently the same person is the one who rejected us this time. Every child added to our family, be it through biology or adoption, is a mirical of God. The last few days has been a sobering reminder of that.

We will choose love. It is tempting for us to harden our hearts against China, but we are going to choose love, and mercy. This is the first home of two of our children. If we reject China it would be rejecting part of our children. We loved our time in China, and hope to visit again some day. Telling my teenage daughter who was only adopted 18 months ago, and was really looking forward to going home agin, that we couldn’t was heartbreaking. We will continue to support other China adoptive parents, and agencies serving Chinese orphans. 

We are going to choose faith. The song “Trust In You” by Lauren Daigle conveys our feelings perfectly. Adopting a third child from China to complete our family has been a dream, and goal go ours for seems like forever. We did all the “right” things to make that happen. The reality of that not happening now was crushing.  BUT, like the song says, we will lay that dream at His feet. We also know that when God says “no” to a dream it’s either because it’s not for you, or because He has something better planned. Either way we trust Him, and will accept it even if we don’t understand. 

We are going to choose hope, and go where He sends us. China is closed to us, but we still have room in our hearts and home for another child. We are exploring other options to complete our family both international and domestic.  China was comfortable as we had done it twice, and know exactly what to expect/do. We aren’t sure what will happen next, or that we will even ever have a sixth child. But, we aren’t giving up now. We definitely know what James 4 :13-15means. If the Lord wills it we will add another child to our family. I am a planner, and don’t do well with uncertainty, or rejection for that matter. We are choosing to consider this a season of growth and refinement.  

For At Leat One Child,No, Five Isn’t Enough

My husband and I have recently started telling our friends that we are ready to adopt again, and are actively searching for a little girl to round out our family. To be sure many of our friends and family have been excited and supportive. However, the most common response is a look of half confusion, half shock accompanied by the words ” What? Five kids isn’t enough for you?”.  They say it as if somehow we are being unreasonable or even irresponsible with our choice to add another child to our family.  It’s almost as if adding another child is like adding a luxurious accessory such as a sports car, or vacation home. I mean seriously, just how many of those do you need? Mostly I respond with a polite grin, and chuckle, but this is what I am screaming on the inside. 

For us, five is enough. It’s enough laundry, and meal prep, and homework, and after school activities, and, and, and……. 

But, for at least one little girl sitting in an orphanage half way around the world tonigh, five isn’t enough.

 For the little girl who waits for a mamma to love her through the good times, and shepherd her through the bad ones, five isn’t enough.

 For the little girl who doesn’t get enough to eat, or have access to quality healthcare, five isn’t enough. 

For the little girl who even if she is lucky enough to get medical care doesn’t have a mom to advocate for pain management or even make sure her lunch is served in the hospital, five isn’t enough.

For the little girl who even if she is in a “good”orphanage still sleeps in a room full of cribs or cots, five isn’t enough. 

For the little girl who will be on her own after she ages out, and likely will have trouble getting a job due to her “orphan” status, five isn’t enough.

For the little girl who isn’t allowed to go to school because of her special need, five isn’t enough.

There is a little girl half way around the world who needs a FORVER family. A family to love her, protect her, and provide for her as much as they can for as long as they can. We have room in our hearts and our home for another little girl, so how could we not add another child to our family?  The saddest part is that six isn’t enough either. Neither is seven, or eight, or even 100. For that reason, my prayer is that every person who feels the tug of adoption on their heart would be able to overcome the fear and doubt to open their heart to “one less” little girl or boy who needs them. 

Dear Parents of Kids with Food Allergies on Halloween, You’re Doing it Wrong.

Leading up to Halloween there was lots of things circulating social media about the plight of kids with food allergies on Halloween. Stories of parents asking, and sometimes demanding, that candy or treats be purchased by the neighbors and passed out that meets their child’s dietary needs. I’m sorry, but if you’re one of those parents you’re doing it wrong.

To be sure, I get that no one wants to see their child be hurt by feeling left out. It hits you right in the feels to see the disappointment on their face as tears run down cheeks. I get it, I really do. Although I don’t have a child with food allergies, I do have a child who struggles on Halloween. My oldest daughter has Spina Bifida, and requires the use of  wheel chair. We live in a very hilly part of the country, and several of our neighbors have steps or a large curb up to their front door. I watched as she struggled to make it as close as she could to the porches. I watched her face cringe every time she had to wait until all the other kids left the porch to be seen. I saw the embarrassment as she heard her younger brother explain that he needed extra treats to give to his sister when she couldn’t make it close enough to the door for a neighbor to see her. Of course I helped her push up the steps when possible, but there were a good many homes where getting to the front door using a wheel chair just wasn’t possible. I still held her at the end of the night while she cried about how left out she felt, and how unfair it was that she couldn’t walk like the other kids.

I noticed that several of our neighbors decorated their yards and set up tables and chairs in their drive way. She rolled right up with the other kids, and could easily participate fully in the trick or treat experience. I could put out a flyer next year explaining my daughter’s difficulty with Halloween, and ask them all to set up shop in their driveway. I won’t be doing that, and here’s why.

  1. It teaches my child to expect fairness. Life is in no way fare, and it is crippling to teach your child that it is, or even that it should be. In the real world your child will encounter frustration and disappointment. Better for them to learn to deal with those feelings in a positive way than to try to manipulate the environment so that your child avoids hard and negative feelings.
  2. It teaches my child to make her problems other people’s problems. Using a wheel chair in a world designed for people who walk requires lots of problem solving skills. Halloween won’t be the only time accessibility becomes a problem for her. Just like it is not the only time a child with food allergies has to deal with people eating potentially dangerous food around them. Teaching my child to get what she needs and wants while facing accessibly issues is an important life skill. Instead of expecting everyone else in the neighborhood to make it easy for her I teach her to speak up for herself, and let the homeowner know she is at the bottom of the porch steps.. If I had a child with a food allergy I would encourage them to say “I’m allergic to nuts, and cannot eat Snickers. Can I have those Skittles instead.”. I’d also talk about how donating the candy they cannot eat will bring joy to someone else, and promise to buy them their favorite treat they can eat.
  3. It teaches my child its not OK to be different. The fact is my child is different. She will never be able to blend in, and there will always be situations that point out to her just how different she is. I want her to know that different means different, not less than. I want her to feel comfortable and confident in her own skin. If I ran around all the time manipulating situations so that she doesn’t have to feel different, it not only robs her of practice dealing with those feelings, but it teaches her that I am uncomfortable dealing with her being different. If I cannot accept and celebrate her in her diffenetness, how on earth can I expect her to be able to?

I know it is HARD to see your child struggle, but personal growth, problem solving skills, and self acceptance are born out of that struggle. Just as the struggle a butterfly experiences emerging from their cocoon is necessary to fill their wings and allow them to fly; so too is it necessary for our children’s to fully development, and eventual  flight.  Romans 5:3 says” … we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance,  character; and character ,hope.” As a parent my job is not to go out of my way to fix everything for my kids so they avoid uncomfortable feelings. My job is to shepherd them through those feelings when they have opportunity to arise.

 

Why I Don’t Make My Kids Read Or Do School Work Over The Summer

The first weeks of summer my Facebook news feed was full of ambitious summer home education plans. I started seeing posts on limits of screen time, mandatory reading time, and a host of educational websites for learning activities and printable worksheets on line. I am tempted to follow suit as it seems that is what “good” parents do, but then I remember “because everyone else is dong it.” is not a good parenting  strategy.  I have decided not to do any of that stuff, and here’s why.

Summer is a season of rest. 

During the school year our days are a blur. We get up early, spend 8 plus hours a day at school, do homework, run between dance and martial arts, and fall into bed half dead by 8:00. Ok so that is the goal, but often it is actually closer to 9:00. During the summer we do a few church camp things, but we have no extra curricular activities, and no set scheduled when we can help it. 

Summer is for family time:

We are so busy during the school year that we never see each other. Someone is constantly gone to something, and we just don’t have time to bond together as a whole family. My children play together like no other in the summer. When they get board they start making up their own games. Their relationship with the school system will last 20 years or so. Their relationship with each other will last a life time, and at some point I won’t be around to facilitate that. 

Summer is for Self Exploration

We provide a wide variety of materials and toys, and our kids pick out what they want to do with them. If they find something on YouTube or the Internet they want to learn more about we help cultivate their interest. This summer one of my children learned to sew and knit. Another learned about animals, and the boys learned about electric circuits. 

Summer is for FUN!

During the school year we have no time for fun activities like flying kites at the park, or going swimming, or doing Lego lab at the library. One of our favorite things to do is feed the ducks at the pond, have lunch in the park,  and go to our local children’s science  museum. 

Summer is not for “getting ahead” or “falling behind” for average students. 

 To be sure there are some kids who need the extra help. In fact I was one of them. I spent two hours a day in  tutoring during the summers in 3 rd and 4 th  grade. I couldn’t  add 2+2, but soon I was cought up to my peers. I never did school work in the summer again. I still managed to not only get into college, but I did very well.  The point being if my kids are headed for an acedimic life it will happen without me riding them to read daily or do math worksheets all summer. 

We Aren’t Awesome People, We Serve An Awesome God

I’ll be the first to admit my husband and I aren’t like all the other families on the block. For starters, we are visually impaired. This means we live our life using public transportation as neither of us can drive. Second, we have five children, and two of them are adopted from China.Two of the three of our biological children are also visually impaired. Our oldest adopted daughter has Spina Bifida, and uses a wheel chair. She is very independent, and a great kid, but there are lots of doctor visits to schedule, and medical bills to pay. Not to mention that with five kids there is more food to buy, more laundry that needs washing, several schedules to iron out, and some one is almost always in need of correction. But, that  also means there are more birthday celebrations, more laughter, its never boring, and there is almost always someone to play with.  We live crazy, super fun, super loud, and sometimes stressful lives.
We have great friends and family who love us, and support our decision to build a large-ish family through both birth and adoption. In an effort to be encouraging I often hear “Y’all are AMAZING! I don’t know how you do it. I COULD NEVER DO SOMETHING LIKE WHAT Y’All HAVE DONE.” While I know people say this with nothing but love and respect, it makes me cringe.

I cringe because it vastly diminishes the role of God in our lives. There is nothing extraordinary about us except when God called we said “yes”. We were just as scared about an unknown future with adopted children as anyone would be. Like everyone else we wondered where the finances were going to come from, and if we had enough emotional reserves to parent kids from hard places. We worried about the impact on our three biological kids, and what if we had a child with big hurts that led to big family problems.  BUT, we were more confident in God’s abilities than we were  not confident in our own.

You see, we are confident that God doesn’t ask for what He isn’t willing to provide for. We are confident in His Word, and His promises. We are confident that aligning our life with His priorities will always be more fulfilling, than living with worldly comforts. We are confident that He sees each of our children, and will provide them with hope and a future. We are confident that God is our redeemer, our healer, and our source of  strength in times of weakness. There are those hard, messy days that make me feel like a failure, and doubt my ability to shepherd this crew. I remember that I am not enough, nor will I ever be enough, but I am confident that He is. I am confident that  His grace fills in, and restores all of the cracks.

At the end of the day we are just as frail and human as anyone else. By thinking we are somehow better than average it kind of lets people off the hook. It says others don’t have to do what we have done, because somehow they have the mistaken belief that we are more equipped. Don’t get me wrong, I get that adoption is a calling that not everyone has. But, I’ve heard  1,000 times  “I’ve thought about/wanted to adopt/foster, but….”  My prayer is that all of those who have even the smallest seed of orphan care planted in their hearts will bravely say “yes” to that calling. Does it require sacrifice? Yes. Is it hard and uncomfortable sometimes? Yes. Do we sometimes mess up in even big ways? Yes. But, there is no sacrifice or mess up too big for God to heal, and redeem. I cannot tell you how amazing it is to be a active participant in a small piece of God’s redemption story in the life of a living breathing human being who needs you. 

“We adopt not because we are  redeemers, but because we are the redeemed.” Sermon by David Platt 

What if We Weren’t Brave Enough to Say “Yes”? 

The first time I saw Quinn’s advocacy video I couldn’t stop thinking about her. We decided to adopt again from China, and honestly thought we were looking for a young girl with vision issues. Low vision is something we have lots of experience with, and are comfortable living with. Quinn didn’t have thick glasses, or a blind cane: Quinn had a wheelchair.  I saw a remarkable child with such resiliency, intelligence and kindness, but that wheel chair scared me. I prayed for her mother to find her. I knew in my heart that she needed a family if she was ever to have a real chance at life. But, that wheel chair scared me.  Over the next month or so I looked over hundreds of kids’ advocacy files, but Quinn was always on my heart. I just kept going back to that website, and back to her video. I must have watched it a dozen times.

Over time I started to wonder if she could be our daughter. We even contacted her adoption agency and asked to review her file. But, she was an older child? Could we deal with the emotional needs that sometimes come with that? But she had spina bifida, and used a wheel chair. But, we live in a two story house, and have no ramps or bathroom bars? But we don’t drive, and use public transportation?  But how would we pay for the medical bills? But…..but…..but?  We weren’t brave enough, and sent her file back.

A week or so later we still couldn’t stop thinking about Quinn or watching her advocacy video. The fact is, she was a real human being who needed a family. We are both firm believers that God doesn’t ask for what He will not provide for. Although we weren’t sure how it would all work out we took a running leap off the cliff of faith trusting that God would be there to catch us. We called the adoption agency back, and signed the first documents on the long road to make Quinn our daughter.

We brought Quinn home on August 1, 2015. Turns out we haven’t made any adjustments to our home. She can pop her wheel chair up to get through the threshold of our house. She doesn’t need any bathroom bars or bath stools in the tub. She scoots up and down the stairs on her bottom. She went to school in China so we started her in school here with our other kids. She is doing great. Our school has bent over backwards for her, and she is a very self motivated English language learner. She is a nice likable child, and has had no trouble making friends. Especially now that her conversational English is good. Have we had our issues? Yes. Have we had our fair share of meltdowns, and rages? Yes. But, all in all she has melted into our family. It’s almost as if she was always here. She has taught us so much about choosing joy, and determination.

About three weeks ago she needed a major spinal cord surgery. She had a tethered cord and lipoma meaning her spinal cord was attached somewhere it shouldn’t be near the base and it was covered in a type of fat. It was causing a whole host of problems with her body including scoliosis and really tight leg muscles. Her bladder was also affected.  Turns our her case was more difficult than the doctor thought, and a 3-4 hour surgery double into an almost 8 hour surgery. The next three days were very painful, and she had lost all of the functioning in her legs ( her right leg she could temporarily stand on, and used it a lot to get round).  She was afraid that her body would never work the same again, and that physical activities would be even harder for her than before. She was over the extreme pain and having to stay perfectly still in bed. I could see the light that fueled her determination and resilience starting to flicker and burn out. I was over it too. I was doing my best to stay strong and be encouraging for her, but I started to doubt my decision to have the surgery. I went in the bathroom and cried.

I looked up into the mirror with my mascara streamed face, my lipstick and hair a big old mess. I hadn’t slept more than an hour or so at a time in days.  At that moment a Bible verse flooded my heart. It was almost as if the Holy Spirit spoke it too me. It was 2 Timothy 1:7 “God didn’t give us a spirit that makes us weak and fearful. He gave us a spirit that gives us power and love…” It reminded me that fear always boils down to a lack of faith. I cleaned my self up, brushed my hair, and decided then that no matter what I was going to trust God. I was going to trust that He placed this child in our family (Psalm 68:6). I was going to trust that He knows ever last hair on her head, and sees what she goes through (Matthew 10:29/31). I was going to trust the plan even if I couldn’t see it. Even if it didn’t look like what we expected, or seemed harder. I was going to trust that it was good. (Jeremiah 29:1)  I was determined to cast out the doubt and fear in my heart, and replace it with trust.

Fast forward three weeks, and she is doing great! She gets more strength and movement in her legs every day. She can now use her legs in ways she couldn’tdo before the surgery. We celebrate with joy and thanksgiving every sign of progress. The hard parts were very hard, but they are over for now. Her body is healthier, and will continue to get stronger. She faces one more surgery later this summer to fix her knee. The tethered cord caused her left leg to bend and get stuck in a bent position. This will be a long 2-6 month recovery, but by Christmas she should be good to go. 

The one thing that haunts me is what if we had said no? What if we hadn’t been brave enough to say yes, because we almost weren’t. We knew nothing about wheelchairs or spinal cord surgeries. All we had to go on was a love in our hearts for this child, and an unshakable belief that God doesn’t call the equipped, but He absolutely equips the called. It haunts me knowing she would have never received these surgeries in China, and would have likely lost functioning as she aged eventually going from an orphanage to a nursing home. The beautiful, determined, intelligent, kind, helpful, joy filled light that shines so brightly within her would never been given the chance to fully develop. Today, because we said “yes”, that won’t happen. Plus, turns out, wheelchairs and tethered cords aren’t nearly as scary and unmanageable as it once seemed.

If God is speaking to your heart about something do it, say “yes”. Even if it is scary. Even if you have no idea what you are doing. You will, and although there will be had spots, it will be an amazing journey. I am happy to talk with anyone considering adoption, or about parenting a child with special needs. It really isn’t that scary, and you really can do it!