Joel and I have sensed a calling to international adoption for many years. In May, 2009 God made it abundantly clear that it was time. After much prayer, research and wise counsel we began the process to adopt a daughter from China. God directed us to an incredible agency that was founded by a family with an amazing testimony. This blog is a chronicle of our journey, to inform our friends and family and as a record of events for our daughter to read one day. Join us in the journey... it is sure to be an adventure!

Sunday, December 4, 2011

A Voice for the Voiceless

For several months I have been feeling a distinct call to orphan advocacy.  I have not been sure what avenue to pursue, whether it be blogging, involvement in a particular non-profit, promoting orphan care in my own little sphere of influence, or something completely different.

I began praying, and looking, and listening for an open door. 

About 2 months ago, a fellow adoptive mom posted a link on Facebook to the blog of a family who was adopting Katie.
Katie is 9 years old...yes years, not months.  Katie has Downs Syndrome.  Downs Syndrome does not cause a child to weigh 10 lbs 9 oz at 9 years old.  Neglect and malnutrition, at the hands of an Eastern European institution did that.  Her bones are porous and brittle like the bones of an elderly lady with osteoporosis.  She came home with scurvy due to a lack of vital nutrients.  She was so dehydrated that she was hospitalized in her home country within hours of release from the institution.  Her teeth have never been brushed.  Her fontanel (soft spot) has never closed due to malnutrition.  Her body stopped creating human growth hormone.  In her 9 1/2 years, she has only consumed a watered-down formula.  She is still in diapers.
She was taken directly from the airport in the US to PICU in a leading children's hospital.  And, upon examination at the hospital they discovered fractures in her spine from being handled improperly with her fragile bone condition.  There is no excuse. 

Katie has been rescued.  Just over 2 weeks ago, a loving family brought her home.  Just over 2 weeks ago, Katie began to experience joy, peace, and contentment for the first time in her young life.  Katie was just released from the hospital.
She is on a long road to good health.  Look at the difference in her already!  How could anyone let a helpless, voiceless child live in the condition that she was in?  How can compassion be lacking to this degree?

There are others.  Many others.  They are simply existing, just as Katie did.  My dear friend, Stephanie, and her family are pursuing another.  Lina is in the same institution.
The setting in the photo looks nice, doesn't it....they always do.  Don't be fooled.  Lina is 5 years old.  Her files say that she also weighs 11 pounds.  Lina is diagnosed with congenital myopathy.  This is a muscle disorder, not a growth disorder.  Again, there is no excuse for her size.   There is no excuse for her spending her life in a crib.  There is no excuse for the lack of care and attention.

Lina's mommy will be at her side for the first adoption visit soon, hopefully by Christmas.  Lina will soon experience the soothing caresses of her mother's touch for the first time...hands that truly love her...kisses....words of love whispered in her ear.  If only she knew!

What does all of this have to do with me? 

A couple of weeks after I first began following Katie's story, her parents hosted an online auction to benefit another family who is bringing two children home from this same institution.  Kelten and Teagan also have a loving family working hard to get to them.  I donated a small item to the auction.  And, when the auction was over, I asked Katie's mom if there would be more auctions.  I wanted participate again.  Her reply was that there would be another in December, and that they were looking for someone to administrate the auction so that they could focus on sweet Katie who would be home by then. 

Thank you for the open door, Father.  Though they did not know me beyond a simple auction donation, they entrusted this endeavor to me.  I've gained the incredible privilege of calling these sweet people friends.  Lina's mother, Stephanie, has included me in the amazing "God moments" in their adoption process.  This family has gone from adoption application to their dossier being in Lina's country in just one month.  If you know anything about international adoption, you know the number of miracles contained in that statement.  I cannot express the blessings that I have received personally in 6 short weeks as a result of these friendships.

The auction is running right now.  Lina's story has spread around the country.  There are over 100 items and each one has a precious, generous heart behind it.  Countless numbers of people are coming together to work toward Lina's liberation.  She will soon know the peace, joy, and contentment that comes from a loving family. 

And yet there are others.  There are so many others in this dark corner of the world.  God is shining a light there.  Forgotten children are no longer forgotten.  Those with no voice are gaining spokesmen.  I've seen our Father at work as a warrior for the weakest of his children.  He loves them ferociously. 

I was once an orphan...and He loved me ferociously.  I was lonely, hopeless, helpless.  He sent an advocate, a spokesman for me.  He sent His Son to liberate me.  I am now a joint-heir in His family. 

The gospel and adoption are beautifully woven together by the gracious hand of God.  In Christ, God has shown His love to us as our Father.  He has reached down His hand of mercy to us in the loneliness of our sin, and he has raised us up  as members of His family.  Consequently, one of the clearest displays of the gospel in this life is when redeemed men and women extend a hand of mercy to children in need and bring them into their families.  ~David Platt, foreword to Orphanology

I do not believe that every Christian family is called to adopt.  But, I believe with all of my heart, that every believer is called to orphan care.  There is a plethora of ways to be involved. 

~Giving financially to support adoptive families
~Advocating for specific children who are at risk
~Praying for orphans
~Supporting an orphanage
~Foster Care
~Cheer leading for families in the adoption process
~Helping to create an adoption culture in your church
~Participation in adoption fundraisers
~Volunteering with orphan care organizations

And this is just the beginning. In what way is God calling you to be, as my friend Stephanie says, A Voice for the Voiceless?

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

A Visit From Ruo

We had the rare privilege this summer of spending time with a family who have become dear friends. Their youngest daughter, Ruo, was Gracie's cribmate in China. Ruo's mommy and I encountered one another online just a couple of weeks after being matched with our daughters. They received their referral just a couple of days before we did. We had no idea at the time that our girls were playmates. In fact, we did not know this until one year ago today. While we were finalizing our adoption of Grace in Lanzhou, we asked some questions of the orphanage staff and discovered that our girls were not only in the same baby room, but were crib mates and traveled together to have their lips repaired. What a treasure that God has given us in allowing our families to connect so that they can keep this connection with their past. Ruo's family lives in another part of the country, but traveled through and spent a couple of days with us. What a wonderful blessing they are!

Our girls see each other for the first time in nearly a year.

Ruo and Gracie had fun trading shoes.

Playing in the river at Harper's Ferry

We look forward to visiting with them again soon!

And by the way...One year ago today this action made Gracie our daughter forever!

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Birthday Celebration With A Purpose

We had another party last night for Grace's Birthday.

We invited local friends and family to join us in a celebration of Chinese culture and to collect blankets for Pingliang Social Welfare Institute, which is where Gracie spend the first 17 months of her life. The precious ladies at Pingliang gave her the best care that they possibly could have. Pingliang is home to around 125 special kids, many of them who have cleft lip and palate just like our sweetie.

We asked friends to bring a new blanket in lieu of a gift. Over the next few months, we will ship several small packages to the orphanage. (Small packages=No duty fees.)

Besides collecting blankets, we also shared in some Chinese cusine.

Our menu included:

Cashew Chicken


Chicken Congee

Lanzhou Beef Lamian

Congee is a staple in China. Many people, across all economic and social levels, have congee at least once per day. Lamian is a unique beef dish that is prepared with an unusual variety of spices. It is found only in Gansu province, where Grace was born.

Of course, we had cake and ice cream as well. I finally get a chance to produce pretty cakes...instead of just Bakugan and dinosaurs :) I love making cakes for all my kids, but I have to admit that butterflies and ladybugs are fun!

The children received a goody bag with some Chinese toys and kiddie chopsticks. And, we played a epic game of Chinese jumprope at the end. Unfortunately my camera was not nearby when this started, so I hope I can get a few pics from friends. Let me just say that I had no idea how high some friends of ours can jump!

It was a lovely evening, shared with dear friends and family.

And some pretty scary people who walked in off of the street :)

Over 30 people came together to help us celebrate our little girl and her cultural heritage. Blankets are still coming in, but right now we have over 20. I will post another photo after we've gotten them all!

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Happy Birthday, Gracie Mei!

Our sweet little Gracie turned 2! It was so exciting to celebrate with her this year. It is hard to imagine that last year we had just seen her sweet face for the first time. She is so much a part of us now, that we can't imagine life without her here. Last year, we celebrated with only her photo...

And now...here she is! She's such a big girl and we had so much fun celebrating as a family. I had intended to let her mess in her cake, the way we did with the boys on their first birthdays. But, she's not a fan of messy hands, so we let that tradition slide. :)

One tradition that she had no problem jumping into...presents! Isn't it amazing how kids just know how to open them? And, how they know that there must be something fun inside?

Grace got a toy birthday cake that she can "blow" out the candles on (a great thing to learn for speech therapy). And, she also got a Little People Carnival set. She just loves playing with them.

And, her brothers do too!

Happy Birthday precious girl!!

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Easter Fun

Wow, it has been way too long since I have updated! So much has happened in the 6 months since we met our baby girl. Most recently, we celebrated Easter for the first time together. How much fun we've had, introducing her to a holiday that holds such special and joyful meaning because of Jesus' precious gift to us. We also, finally, got a decent family photo!

Of course, we enjoyed playing the traditional games of Easter as well. Gracie loved hunting eggs, she seemed to know just what to do.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Surgery and Beyond

Grace's cleft palate repair surgery took place just over one week ago. I thought I would share a little about the experience and some photos throughout for those who are interested. First, the recovery room photos are a little rough. But, I want to post them for the benefit of other families facing this surgery. Multiple hospital staff told me that this is a really rough surgery for the little ones to go through. Of course, in the US, most children born with cl/cp have their surgeries before their first birthday. So, as children get older it is more difficult. By the way, did you know that cl/cp is the most common birth defect in the United States? Neither did I.

Of course, Grace couldn't eat anything after midnight the night prior to surgery. I got two packets of oatmeal into her just before bed. We had a 6 o'clock check-in time at the hospital so we stayed in a "hotel" connected to the hospital for families like us. (Our drive time from home during rush hour is an hour and forty-five minutes.) We went to the surgery waiting area and went through admissions. They called us back to surgery prep around 7:30. Thankfully, food and drink is prohibited in the waiting area because it is full of hungry children.

In the prep area they took her vitals, gave me a gown and footies to dress her in, and asked medical history questions. The surgical team and anesthesiologist came out to brief us on the procedure. And then, contrary to what we expected, they took Grace away from us fully awake. I later learned that it is safer to put a child her age to sleep in the O.R. Handing her over to the anesthesiologist while she cried and reached for me was one of the hardest things I've ever done.

Surgery took about 2 hours and 15 minutes and that included the ear tube insertion. About 15 minutes after the surgeon came out to tell us that all was well, they called us back to recovery. She was in and out at that point, very swollen, and her mouth was crusted with blood. She had a gauze pack sewn into the roof of her mouth, and a tongue "holding stitch". The holding stitch had a long tail, and was hanging out of her mouth. It was, essentially, something for them to pull her tongue forward with should they need to intubate her quickly. She was also wearing the dreaded "no-nos" (arm restraints).

We stayed in recovery for a couple of hours, receiving multiple doses of two different narcotics to help her come out of anesthesia with minimal pain. Before moving us to a room, they removed the tongue stitch.

The first night was long, I held her all night long. She was uncomfortable and groggy, sleeping for 20 minutes at a time. During the night she started itching from the morphine so we transitioned to plain Tylenol for pain, which she did well with. The next morning two PA's from the plastic surgery team came in and clipped the stitches on the gauze pack and removed it. This made her a bit more comfortable. It took me a good part of the first day to gently remove the blood that was caked on her mouth. The corners of her mouth were cracked and sore from being propped open for surgery.

Grace was very resistant to receiving any food or fluids orally. Initially, I was told not to push it because she would decide that she wanted it eventually. But, when the end of day 1 rolled around without any improvement, we were place back on an IV so that she would not dehydrate. They finally told me that I was going to have to force the fluids or we wouldn't be able to go home the next day either. So, the wrestling matches began.

As she got some food on her stomach, she started to perk up and be ready to play. Once they disconnected the IV for the second time, we went for long rides in a wagon around the hospital. She loved this, and took me out to the wagon for a ride every time she felt up to it. Because of the increased fluid intake, we were released from the hospital around 4:00 on the 2nd day after surgery.

It took a full 6 days post-surgery for me to find a way to feed Grace that didn't involve wrestling and tears. A liquid diet is just no fun for a toddler. A dear friend brought us dinner one night and for dessert she had pudding. Simple, Jello Vanilla Cook & Serve pudding. It is now what we call, the "magic pudding". I can add a little of it to anything and Grace will take it from the Brecht Feeder (A large syringe with a small rubber tube on the end.) So, sitting in her high chair, with a selection of small toys, she will now eat from the feeder. And, she is taking more than double the amount that she was before.

On Tuesday we returned to the hospital for a post-surgery exam and were given a thumbs-up for a successful repair that seems to be holding completely. We learned this week that our surgical team has the lowest occurrence of fistula formation (post-repair holes in the palate) in the world...how cool is that? We were also give permission to return to a regular diet and remove the arm restraints on February 2, which will be 14 days post-surgery.

Grace is doing really well now. She has moments of crankiness...but so do I! Her sleep is better now that she is getting more to eat, although the arm restraints are a bit annoying for her. She has spent the day today playing with her brothers, and even taking a walk in her first real Maryland snow. We are so thankful for all of the prayers, encouragement, and food that our loving friends and family have provided. We are truly blessed!

Monday, January 17, 2011

Preparing for Surgery

Grace with Snowbaby and the blanket we gave her in China, these will be going to the hospital with us.

I will spend the next 2 days preparing to take Grace to Children's National Medical Center for her palate repair and ear tube insertion. This is a day that I have looked forward to with anticipation and dreaded all at the same time. It is our privilege to meet this need in our precious little girl's life. At the same time, recovery is going to be lengthy and uncomfortable.

A sweet friend is coming tomorrow night to stay with the boys while Joel and I are in DC. Since Grace's surgery will be early on Wednesday, we've elected to stay in DC on Tuesday night. We discovered that Children's has a "hotel" of 30 rooms connected to the hospital where we can stay at a discounted rate and then walk next door to the hospital that morning...what a blessing!

We will not know the time of surgery until the night before. I will try to update the blog once we have a time. Grace will be given a sedative and then she will be given general anesthesia through a mask while I hold her. She will not remember the trip to the O.R. We will be given a pager so that they can update us through surgery and let us know when she is in recovery. The surgeon will meet with us privately to discuss the outcome and then we will go to recovery to be with her when she wakes. We will spend at least one night in the hospital, possible more. They will be looking for markers like her consuming clear liquids and good pain management before discharge. She will be on a liquid diet for a while and will be in arm restraints called "no-nos" to keep her from putting anything in her mouth.

A Peek Inside Her Mouth. (The cleft is from gumline to uvula, all the way through to her nasal cavitiy.)

I think I've stressed about packing for this almost as much as I did for China. Thankfully, I have suggestions from friends who have gone before me on this journey.

We appreciate your prayer for our little girl. She won't understand why this is happening. But, we know it will be a great opportunity for further bonding. Putting your child through pain for their future benefit is one of the most difficult things a parent has to do. I'm so thankful that she won't remember this.

A Favorite Activity~Playing with the Laundry