Tuesday, July 31, 2012


They are really cute shoes.  They were on sale during tax-free days, so I should feel good about getting a bargain.

When I got home and put the shoes in her room and stopped and looked at them,

I felt so sad.

They are big.  Big enough for an 8 year old.

I felt sad for Claire because for eight years she has had no one who is hers.  She has had people around her, loving her and taking care of her, but as soon as they finish their shift, they go home to their own families.  As soon as her immediate need was met, they went on to the next child who needed something. 

I felt sad for me, too.  I've missed so much.  I am not the keeper of memories from her early childhood.  I can't tell her how much she weighed on the day she was born, or whether she had hair or not.  I don't know about those first steps, or even the first lost tooth.  I wasn't at her bedside during all those long days she spent in the hospital.  I don't know what makes her afraid, or what calms her down.  Yes, I'm sad for both of us.

I'm also glad. 

I'm glad for both of us.  God is putting us together and making us into a family.  That is what is in His heart to do.  "God sets the lonely in families," "God settles the solitary in a home, "   (Psalm 68:6, NIV, ESV).

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

A Different Sort of Play

When I was little, we spent our summers living at Grandma's house picking blueberries by day and hanging out with aunts, uncles, and cousins in the evenings.  I remember one year when Aunt Carolyn and Aunt Joyce entered into a make-believe game that went on for a few weeks.  We pretended to be children who had lost their parents.  We were bravely surviving on our own, running from the officials who would put us in an orphanage.  We built a raft (some old wooden doors across a few saw horses) and had all sorts of adventures as we escaped by floating down the Mississippi River.  We "survived" on berries and veggies "stolen" from the farms we passed by.  I specifically remember munching on some delicious tomatoes and raw green beans from Grandma's garden as we hid from imaginary social workers, farmers, and policeman while battling storms, rapids, and other dangers. 

In our secure and comfortable lives, it was fun to pretend that we had what it takes to overcome all kinds of adversity.  

Pretending to fly to America to live with a family!

A family visiting New Day sent me some pictures they had taken of Claire while they were visiting.  This one shows a pretend adventure similar to the ones I used play.  Becca writes, "The kids were pretending they were going to America.  They would flip the light switch and say something in Chinese and then count down in English to take off to America to be with their families.  It was sooo cute!"

Hannah Samuels works at New Day.  She wrote about observing children at play.  She describes one child pretending to read some papers and then announcing the name of a  child  who has been matched to a family.  Having a family was cause for a pretend celebration for whichever child had been named.  
She describes the scene in a way that makes me cry every time I read it. 

Kids playing and pretending.  So similar.  Yet so different.

I pray that Claire will soon be so secure; that her make-believe can expand to exciting adventures, while having a mommy and daddy  to take care of her becomes something she just takes for granted.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Faith, France, and Fundraising


Adoption is expensive. 

Lifeline currently estimates the cost of an adoption from China at $30,080.  

I don't know about you, but I don't have that kind of cash sitting around, and there aren't a lot more areas where we can cut back.  Our furniture is more than 25 years old and I've recovered or refinished it so many times I've lost count.  Our cars  have close to 150,000 miles and counting.  We don't have cable, or even a television for that matter.  We rarely eat out., and if we do it is usually an inexpensive place.  Kelly's colleagues tease him about being "cheap."  

We are blessed that both boys have scholarships that cover large parts of their law school and college bills, but there are still lots of education related expenses not covered by the scholarships.There just isn't a lot of extra money to funnel into adoption right now.

Yet, God has made it clear that He wants us to bring Kaichen into our family. She has already waited 8 years.  So, on faith, we began the process.

Fortunately, the fees weren't all due at once.  Spreading things out over a year and a half definitely helped.  Unfortunately, our costs are a little higher than the estimate.  We had to have background checks done in every state where we have lived since we were 18 years old.  If you know us, you are already chuckling over that one.  We have moved 19 times since we got married, and a few times before that!  We also have two adult children still living at home.  That means the added expense of FBI fingerprinting and background checks for them. 

By faith, we pressed on.  Paying all the fees as they came.  Cashing in any savings we had, going to work part-time, eliminating all the expenses possible.

The church gave us $5000.  What a blessing!  A friend slipped me a $50 bill.  Another huge blessing, as her gift encouraged me and strengthened my faith.

Kelly's bonus this year, combined with my seasonal salary from H & R Block, and anything else we could save got tucked away into our adoption account.  It looked  like we made it and had everything we needed.

Adoption is hard.

During the ten years that Ana and Jenny were here, we saw countless doctors and psychologists.  We spent hours in therapies of every variety.  Because the girls could never be left alone, we tagged teamed every part of our lives, seldom spending time together.  We simply gave up on trying to do fun family outings.  Our family struggled just to cope with the overwhelming needs of two girls bent on always creating chaos and anger in the space around them.

Once they moved out, some semblance of normal returned.  We could remove locks and alarms from inside our house and relax again. 

When Dan was in France for school, we decided to spend a week going to Paris.  We could spend some "couple-time," and stop in and see Dan a few times, too.  We never had a honeymoon.  We haven't had a vacation in…well, "forever."  Our 30th anniversary is next year.  By then, we will have another young child so a get-a-way will be out of the question.  And, while this adoption looks like it will be very different from our previous experience, we know that every adoption comes with challenges that place strain on a marriage and family.  It just seemed like now was the best time to take some space just for us and make sure we are strong and together before jumping into this new adventure. 

We weren't extravagant by any means.  We stayed in a room on the 3rd floor of an old convent without a working elevator.  There was no air conditioning.  Not even screens on the windows.   I've seen bigger bathrooms in RV's.  Most of our meals featured bread, cheese, and fruit purchased at the market or bakeries.  We only ate at a really nice place once.  With a museum pass, we saw lots of things and had a good time for a minimal cost. We even climbed all those steps up the Eiffel Tower because we didn't want to pay for the elevator! 

 It was fun!  More importantly, finding our way around a new place and overcoming language challenges reminded me that when we combine our strengths, Kelly and I can accomplish much more than either of us could on our own.  That's a good thing to remember headed into another adoption.


Adoption is full of surprises.

Once we finally received our official referral, we finally knew which SWI Claire is from and what our in country adoption process is going to look at.   We were a little surprised by the distances between New Day and Taiyuan City and Guangzhou.  We will need to spend a little more money on travel than we had anticipated.  Surprise!

After talking with lots of people who have been there, we realized that it is very important to actually spend a couple days at New Day.  We need to know as much as we can about what Claire's life has been like.  We need to meet the people who have been caring for her and learn all we can from them.  Someday this will help us as we help Claire piece together her past.  A few extra days in country will also cost a little more than we anticipated.  Surprise!

In China, children must be picked up at the  SWI that has official custody.  If the child is living in a foster home, they must be escorted back to the original city for "gotcha day."  That means that Kaichen and an escort will have to travel to Taiyuan City.  Since we will also be traveling that route, it is expected that we will pay for travel and lodging for two more people.  Surprise!

In our recent "travel" meeting at Lifeline, we learned about how many gifts we are required to bring to thank various officials and people helping in this adoption.  We hadn't really budgeted for 20 some gifts ranging from $10 to $20 each.  We also learned that it is expected that we purchase a gift for the orphanage.  That means we will need to buy formula or blankets or shoes for lots of children.  That wasn't in our budget.  Surprise!

With all these surprises related to money, there was a propensity on my part to panic.  Come on faith, where are you?  These extra expenses don't surprise God.  Not at all.

Since I know that faith without works is dead, I decided on some fundraising to supplement our savings.  I set up a storefront with Just Love Coffee.  We get paid for each sale made from our Internet store. 

A friend with a sewing business volunteered to have a special fundraising sale of beautiful little girl dresses.  She is donating all of the proceeds. 

I've been letting everyone know about these sales.  Putting up posters, handing out business cards, sending emails, and posting on Facebook.  I don't enjoy sales much, but I'm willing to do all I can to meet these surprise expenses.

The biggest surprise is how hostile some folks have been over this fundraising endeavor. 

I've heard, "If you can't afford to adopt, how can you afford a child?" and "If you don't have the money, you shouldn't be adopting."  I've been told that this apparent shortage of funds is a "sign that God doesn't want us adopting."  It has been suggested that "fundraising" is not a legitimate way to acquire funds for adoption.  And, I've been asked why we went to France when we didn't have the money we needed for this adoption.

Well, I believe God has made His opinion of adoption pretty clear.  I am also convinced that He has called our family to take on the challenge of caring for another child in an up-close-and-personal way.  We may not all be called to adopt a child, but all of us are called to care for orphans in some way.  That generally requires some amount of money.  

Fundraising is acceptable for class trips, baseball uniforms, robotics team travel to competitions, cheer-leading camp, and a myriad of other goals.  Why would it be unacceptable when used to get a child from an orphanage to a family of her own?

Finally, we took our trip without realizing we would have additional expenses.  I admit that I might have worked harder at researching all possible costs, or even kept back a fund for unexpected expenses.  But, I'm not sure that skipping our trip would have been the best choice.  The thing every orphaned child needs most is a mom and a dad who love each other and a family ready to take on all the challenges of loving him/ her through the rough places created by multiple traumas.  Our trip to France was an experience that helped us strengthen our emotional reserves and prepare for the challenges to come. 

So, I'm back to faith.  We are trusting that God has specially prepared us to meet the needs of the little girl He has chosen for us.  We are trusting that He will provide all we need to carry that out. 

A price tag of more than $30,000 seemed impossible.  Gifts of a little more than $5000 helped.  We paid all the rest with the "out-of-pocket" resources God has provided.  Now we need a few thousand more to cover the "surprise" expenses.   I think I'll keep on fundraising and trusting that God will supply all our needs in His perfect time.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Don't Panic Now

After many months of waiting and some "impossible" hurdles to overcome, we received Kaichen's file.  Oh, my!  Forty-eight pages of details.  Some I understood.  Some I had no clue about.  In places the translator had written "illegible," leaving some conspicuous gaps.

One thing I understood clearly.  This child had spent nearly half of her life in a hospital.  There is no medical explanation for the fact that she is alive.

To see a video clip of Claire, click here. Her story starts about 4 minutes in.

What I partly understood was serious medical issues related to the lungs.  Possibly serious heart problems as well.  Plus, serious delays in development. 

Okay.  We are doing this on faith.  She needs a family.  The more serious her needs, the more she needs us.  God has got this.

Anticipating Claire's homecoming in a couple of months, I decided I needed to make sure we had a pediatrician ready and waiting in case we need help quickly after we get home.  Dr. Penny reviewed Kaichen's file.  Then she called me to discuss the things she saw.

Somehow, hearing the things I'd already read in the file stated to me in a soft, Mississippi drawl made them seem so much more REAL. 

We will need
A pulmonary specialist,
            A pediatric cardiologist,
            A GI specialist,
            A dermatologist,
And possibly
            Someone specializing in kidney issues,
                        And liver problems,
And probably
            A speech therapist,
            An occupational therapist,
            A neurodevelopmentalist.

After hanging up the phone with Dr. Penny, I had an incredible urge to panic.

What have I gotten myself into?  I can't do this?  This is crazy.  What makes me think I know how to take care of a child with so many needs? 

Stop.  God has got this.  He asked.  You  (eventually) said yes.  He will provide the wisdom and strength to do whatever it takes.  Pray.  Now.  Don't Stop.

I can do this because it is what God has prepared for me to do!

 Edith Schaeffer wrote:
God's fighting for us does not exclude the responsibility to be prepared for battle both in the area of strategy and in equipment.  Trusting God completely in prayer, believing that He is able to do all things, does not remove the need to pray for His strength to accomplish what He has prepared us to do!  We are to do what He is unfolding for us to do, fulfilling what God is giving us strength to do, acknowledging that it is His strength and not ours.  It is truly active passive, not a false whining humbleness that says, 'I can't do anything; I'm to weak' (The Life of Prayer).

Now to get busy learning and lining up whatever will be needed.  This isn't too big.  This is obedience and the path to joy.

How Did We Get Here?

When we first inquired about Claire, we learned that no adoption file had been prepared for her.  They didn't expect her to live.

As we discussed options with our social worker, we had to decide whether to keep trying to adopt Claire, or choose another one of the thousands of children waiting.  We couldn't bear the thought of Claire never having a chance for a family of her own, but it was not an easy decision. 

We could write a letter to the orphanage director saying that we wanted to adopt Claire and requesting that a file be prepared.  That might seem pretty straightforward.  But for those who haven't walked this path, let me explain.  The file contains details about mental and emotional health.  It lets you know what you might expect so you can decide if it is something you can deal with or not. 

(It would be fun to pretend that a family can just love a child no matter what, but that isn't reality.  Some can deal with a child that will always need a feeding tube.  Others can't.  Some can cope with a child who will never be able to use the bathroom on their own.  Some can't jump into that scenario.  Some see no issues with a child who will never walk, and some don't see how they could get past it.  God has created us all with different strengths and weaknesses.  That is why adoptive parents are asked to carefully and honestly evaluate what they can do, and agencies work hard to make good matches.)

If we sent the letter, we would be going in almost blind.  We would be giving a promise to adopt a child we had no official information about.  All we knew were the public bits of her story from New Day's website.  

We prayed and asked ourselves so many questions.  Did God bring Claire into our life?  Do we believe she is the child He has for us?  Did He just use her face and story to get us to stop dragging our feet and start the process so He could introduce us to a different child?  What if we say yes and her problems are too big?   

Do we trust Him?

 Do we trust Him?

 Do we trust Him?

In a somewhat shaky step of faith, we decided to keep working toward Claire's adoption for as long as it took, or until God clearly closed the door tight.  If someone else adopted her, it would be a closed door.  If the orphanage director chose not to complete the paperwork, it would be a closed door.  But, we would do all we could to make sure Claire had a chance at a family—whatever the details of her file might say.

We wrote the letter.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Grafting Time

Preparing a room for Claire Kaichen has taken more than a month of physical labor as I've repaired and painted walls, painstakingly painted stripes in the bathroom, and refinished furniture.  (Lots of thanks to Kelly for all the sanding he did.  I could have never made all that navy blue go away by myself!)

It has also been a very emotional month for me.  To start the painting, I had to get everything out of the rooms.  Much of what was stored there belonged to Ana and Jenny.  I had to go through it, deciding what to keep and what to discard.  Sometimes my heart broke as I remembered the hopes and dreams we had for the girls joining our family.  Sometimes I was just angry as I came across toys that had been misused or curse words gouged into the dresser I had spent so many hours decorating.  Most of the memories just hurt.  It hurt to throw away the quilts I had appliqued through long months of waiting.  Each stitch represented a prayer for my girls…and they had picked and pulled those stitches out until the quilts were only fit for rags.  It hurt to find tiny bits of paper, or pins, or other odd things hidden in crazy places.  It hurt to wonder where the girls are now,  and if they will ever embrace truth.

Sanding the flowers off the dresser felt like erasing my dream of being able to share beautiful truths and joy with my girls.  The cleaning out illuminated the death of the hope I once had for Ana and Jenny to become part of us.  We poured out love in all the ways we knew, but they tore themselves away, rejecting connection as if their lives depended on it.  It still hurts.

With the new coats of paint, a  tiny new hope started to grow.  Kaichen isn't Ana or Jenny.  Neither am I the same person I used to be.  God has a plan that is good.  As I painted, I prayed that God would take away my fear and give us a fresh beginning.  I asked Him to melt our hearts together and make us truly belong to each other in mutual affection and love.  I asked that Claire Kaichen be grafted into our family in a way that produces abundant fruit for God's glory.

Joni Eareckson Tada wrote about her uncle grafting fruit trees in her book entitled "A Place of Healing."  She says,

Uncle Don would select his trees, find just the right place on the bark, peel it away, and make a slanting cut into the heart of the wood.  He would then take a small branch, whittle its end, then push the graft into the damp center of the tree, covering the union to keep it cool and moist.  Later that spring, new life would emerge…but it didn't happen without a wounding in both the tree and the branch.

If you could interview the tree at the time of the surgery, I suspect it wouldn't be all that happy about the prospect of being cut to the core and accepting this alien graft into its very flesh.  But late in the summer, when the enhanced, abundant fruit hangs heavy on the new limb…well, at that point the tree might be willing to amend its opinion" (Joni Eareckson Tada, 2010, A Place of Healing:  Wrestling with the Mysteries of Suffering.  Pain and God's Sovereignty, p. 90-91).

With Ana and Jenny there was so much wounding, but never healing.  They fought against the very things that they so desperately needed.  Fruit never came.  Instead, those grafted branches withered.

This time, I'm praying for a completed graft that yields abundant fruit and paints an amazing picture of God's work in our lives.

I'm not asking for easy or pain free.  John Bunyan once wrote:

Conversion is not the smooth, easy-going process some men seem to think.  It is wounding work, of course, this breaking of the hearts, but without wounding there is no saving…Where there is grafting there is a cutting, the scion must be let in with a wound; to stick it onto the outside or tie it on with a string would be of no use.  Heart must be set to heart and back to back, or there will be no sap from root to branch, and this I say must be done by wound    (John Bunyan, The Acceptable Sacrifice:  The Excellency of a Broken Heart in the Works of John Bunyan, Volume 1 Shippensburg, PA:  Destiny Image Publishers, 2001, 720).

To give us life and make us fruitful, God must cut and break and wound.  Adoption does the same.  As we pull our sweet girl away from the only life she has known and the people she loves and who love her, there will grief and pain.  But it is a necessary pain, a vital part of the grafting process as we our adopted into God's family and as Claire is adopted into ours.

John 15:5   I am the vine; you are the branches.  If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

If You Are Happy

We showed Kaichen around her room tonight via Skype.  She said she planned to sleep in that bed when she gets to America.  How sweet to think about tucking her in and placing a kiss on that little face. 

Then, she led us in singing.  "If You're Happy and You Know It."  She clapped her hands and made a beautiful happy face. Our singing was, well…be glad you couldn't hear it.   

I do want this adoption to be a happy, happy adventure.


No adoption comes without loss.  We will be pulling this sweet little girl away from all the people she knows who love her.  I can't even imagine leaving your home and going with strangers who only speak strange words that you can't understand to a far away place that you can't even imagine:  A place where the food will be strangely different, where the sights and smells are all so foreign, and where you will always be just a little different because you are from two worlds.

Part of my heart breaks for the losses:  For the birth mama who had to choose to abandon her baby, for the extended family who will not know the sweet smile of this precious little girl who could be a granddaughter sister or niece, for the orphanage and foster home families who poured  love into saving this little life and helping her to grow, for all that she will miss by leaving behind her home.

Another part is so proud of all the courage Kaichen reveals in her life:  Learning to love again, fighting to live when the odds were against it, and bravely anticipating a new life ahead.

The largest bit  of my heart stands in awe of the God who is working out His amazing plan for redemption and restoration.  I'm so thankful for the privilege of being Kaichen's mama and of being part of her story.  I know there will be pain ahead.  You can't be transplanted into a new world without it.  So, I'll trust that God knows exactly what is best.  I'll sit back and watch His amazing love transform all our lives for His glory!

Sunday, July 8, 2012

God's Purpose

Church today was about who we are as a church body, and as children of God.  One thing Chip said stuck deep into my heart. 

God's purpose in creating us was to have someone to pour His love out on and someone to love Him back.

I don't know if I can explain the ideas this stirred in me, but here are some rambling thoughts.

Our love for God goes through stages of development.  God draws us to Himself by doing wonderful things for us.  We are drawn to His salvation, His grace, His love for us.  We love God because he gives us things we couldn't have without Him.  But, eventually, if we are truly growing, we start to love Him for who He is.  We begin to mature and know Him for Himself.  Even when life is horrible and we don't get what we want and things are all wrong, God is good.

My step into a more mature love was very difficult.  It required brokenness and heartache that I would have never chosen for myself. It literally took years and years, but I finally understood that God is good all the time. He is enough when everything else crumbles.

And that makes me think about adoption.

My mommy heart is in some small way a reflection of God when I want to love a child and long for that child to return my love and enter into a relationship with me. 

That happened so naturally with Ben and Dan.  I poured my love into them as they grew, and now we share strong bond of mutual love for each other.  It is right for a mom and her children.

I wanted this same kind of relationship with Ana and Jenny, but they grew up unprotected in a very sinful world.  They survived in awful situations in very hard places.  By the time I met them their hearts were damaged.  Real love was scary to them.  Healthy relationships were painful and frightening.  They fought against forming a bond with all that was within them.

They returned hatred for love.  They rewrote experiences into something awful, telling lies so many times that they started to believe their own stories.  They thrived on creating chaos, and driving wedges between people.  They didn't want love to exist for anyone because they couldn't find a way to accept it themselves. 

When I entered into their pain through adoption, I finally understood that God is good even when I don't understand.  He is good, even when it hurts deeply.  He is good when He doesn't rescue me from the struggle or give me a happy ending.  God is always good.

Will I trust His choice for the next lesson to learn?  Will I walk forward in obedience even if I am afraid? 
 (to be continued)