TO CHINA AGAIN
Andy and Bonnie February 2009
-Beijing (New Day Foster Home, Love Without Boundaries Heartbridge)
-Jiangxi province (Luke's home province for adoption)
-Guangzhou (American Consulate)
Sunday, February 1, 2009
Musings From A Mother's Heart
Each adoption journey has been different for us. But each has been orchestrated by God, of this we are convinced. We thought we were finished having children after just one. We were happy, content, busy. Childcare was a struggle. I had a busy medical practice and Andy traveled quite a bit with his medical sales job. I couldn’t imagine how I would juggle things with another child. But then we had such a desire for another child. And when we had Kelci, 7 years after Chris, we couldn’t imagine life without her. Again, we felt complete, done. A son, a daughter, 2 careers. Who needed more?
But the dream to adopt from Asia, that has been part of me ever since I was a child, never vanished. And after over 20 years of marriage, Andy joined me in that vision. So, in 2003 we brought 10-month-old Aimee home from China. She rocked our world! Not only were we back into diapers, but this child was by far our most active and energetic! Life was more than full. We were DONE having children. Three was clearly our limit!
One night I sat down at the computer to pray for waiting children on an agency list as friends of ours were looking to adopt again, and we found Lily. We had only been back from China for 6 months with Aimee and hadn’t quite found a new equilibrium. We definitely were NOT looking to adopt again, but there she was. Trust me, God whispered to my heart. She will bring you joy. Trust me. She is yours.
After a weekend of prayers, discussions and God’s Holy Spirit working overtime in our hearts (!), we moved forward in our decision to bring 8-year-old Lily home. We agreed that this was definitely it. We were at our limit. No more children.
And then I heard about baby Susan at Starfish Foster Home in China. I was asked to pray for her, and so I did. I was amazed to learn that people all over the world knew about her and had contributed money for her heart surgery. I was awed at the number of prayers being offered up to God for her to find a family and for healing for her heart. I shared this with our family and we all agreed that she would be a big blessing to some family. It was while I was in church praying for her that God whispered again in my ear: she is yours. Bring her home. Trust me.
I argued with God during the entire sermon. I reminded him of how busy we already were, how we already had 4 children, how Andy would definitely NOT be on board with another adoption, how the kids had already stretched and accommodated a lot of change in the past few years and had less one-on-one time with me than in the past, etc etc. And then I realized how ludicrous it was that I was reminding God about all these things. Was He or was He not O mnipotent and Omniscient? Surely He knew all this, and yet He was still entrusting me with a precious child. Did I really want to follow Him, no conditions, or not? It was one of those huge epiphanies. A turning point for me. Nothing about trying to adopt Susan made sense on a human level. But where was my faith, my desire to follow God in all things? I had to choose.
When I walked out of church that day I had chosen: to follow God no matter what. And that meant doing everything I could to bring Susan home. I shared my heart with Andy, who did not share my vision at all. He promised to pray about it, and for the next several weeks we both prayed and continued to feel very differently about the situation. Andy felt that God was calling him to be a good steward of the family we had, while I felt God urging me onward in faith to bring Susan home. We both knew we had to be in agreement before adding another child to our family, so I waited (not very patiently, knowing how sick Susan was) and prayed.
Finally, after a family meeting and lots more prayer, Andy felt God calling him to support my desire to bring Susan home, and we jokingly called it “our plunge into insanity!” Bring it on, I thought, and I jumped into the paperwork. I exchanged numerous emails with Amanda, Susan’s foster mother, and was so grateful for the love she poured into our little one. We all started to picture our life with Susan, with a 5th child. Our dinner table felt empty without her.
And then the bottom fell out of our world when we learned that she had died from complications of her heart disease. We loved her so; moving forward without her was hard.
In the midst of our grief I was sent an email by another adoptive mom with information about a little girl, about the same age as Susan, who had mild heart disease and needed a family. Would we be interested? Andy and I prayed about it, and wondered if maybe part of Susan’s legacy was to lead us to this new child. 20We said yes, and moved forward with a different agency to bring Mandi home.
I put Mandi’s photo next to one of Susan and resumed the paperwork. We worked on preparing our hearts for this new child. I was comforted by the fact that she had mild heart disease and longed to hold her in my arms.
And then we received a call from our new agency telling us that Mandi had become very ill and died quite suddenly and unexpectedly from a massive heart attack. Apparently her heart disease wasn’t as mild as expected. This was a huge shock to us, and once again we grieved deeply.
Andy and I couldn’t even talk about adoption for awhile. But at some point we had to decide what to do about the paperwork that was once again on hold. While spending the day driving back and forth to Northern Virginia for the umpteenth FBI fingerprinting appointment, we talked about where we felt God leading us. We both agreed that our hearts were open to adopting still, but we didn’t feel that we should search for a child. Rather, we agreed to be open to adopting if we felt God sent us the child, as He had with Susan and Mandi.
So we went home and prayed and waited. In the spring of 2007 we were sent information about a group of waiting children who needed families. One little girl in particular stood out, although I ended up deleting the email as I could not imagine starting the paperwork for the adoption with yet one more agency. I figured that if God had a child for us then He would send him/her through one of the agencies we already had worked with and who had our paperwork.
But I am still learning about how God works, and He works without limitations! A few weeks later I received another email from the same agency reporting that 21 of the 30 children had found families, but there were 9 still waiting. I looked again at the children, and found that the little girl who had grabbed my heart was still waiting. I don’t know why I was drawn to her: she was older than Susan and Mandi and I really=2 0wanted to adopt a baby this time around. She had a special need that was scary to me. I don’t know much about neurologic diseases in children, and the fact she couldn’t walk was a significant issue for our family. She looked sad and forlorn, with short cropped hair. She was wearing a bright pink jacket in her photo and was propped up at an awkward angle against a bench for the picture. It was clear she didn't have the balance or muscle strength to stand on her own. Why could I not get her out of my mind?
I finally asked Andy to look at her information with me, fully expecting him to say no. But all he wanted to know was her age (3 was good for him as he did NOT want to go back to the diaper stage!), and then he said, “Let’s adopt her”. But then he added “But this it IT!!!!”
We brought Noelle home November of 2007 and have been blessed beyond measure by the sweetness of her spirit. Truly each of our children has been the exact one we were meant to have, and we are thankful that God has given us each one. How we would have missed out if we had said “no8 0 to any one of them along the way!
But we really did think we were done after Noelle. Truly.
Our journey to Luke began when I read last May that a special little boy needed a forever family. We were not looking to adopt another child. Our lives were full, our home filled to overflowing, and we felt “complete”. We had brought Noelle home from China 6 months before and had finally found a medical diagnosis for her after months of doctor’s visits and testing. We had just moved my medical practice to a brand-new location after a long and involved building project, and I was looking forward to a little time without any major changes on the home or work fronts.
And then I read “I know a special little boy that needs a forever family. He is at the New Day Foster Home in Beijing and his name there is “Seth”. He has Tetralogy of Fallot – a serious heart disease – and has had one surgery alre ady to correct this. He is absolutely gorgeous and precious…..Please pray for this little one to find a home.”
I am passionate about waiting children finding their families, and I always pray for these little ones when I hear about them. If there are photos or specific information, even better. I can pray more specifically. I love when individuals advocate for a special child; it never ceases to amaze and inspire me how God often uses one person to lead another family to their forever child. So, when I read this about “Seth”, I started to pray for him and his forever family, whoever and wherever they were. I also was curious about New Day Foster Home, and discovered they had an amazing website, with information about Seth and all the other children with medical needs whom they help.
I started to feel that sense of mystery and holiness that are part of all adoption journeys. I prayed often for this little boy, and found myself checking the New Day website periodically for new photos of him. I even wrote to Karen, the director, for more information about him. And the more I prayed, the more I started to feel that God was quietly and persistently impressing upon my heart and spirit that we were to be this little guy’s forever family.
I contacted the adoption agency that had his file. I found out that there had been several families who had been interested in adopting Seth, but had backed out after having a doctor review his medical information. So now the agency was being more careful about handing over his file, looking for a family who could commit to him in the face of his serious medical condition and unknown future.
I was asked to fill out a questionnaire with answers to questions such as: What do you feel is the worst case scenario of his condition either prior to the adoption taking place or even after he has come home? If his next surgery goes well and his family is able to bring him home, what sort of resources (medically and emotionally) do you have available to help with his care? What support systems do you have in place that would allow you to deal with the worst case scenario? What do you20feel you would struggle with most?
Filling out this questionnaire brought back such vivid memories of Susan and Mandi. I wrote in my answers about our journeys to bring these little girls home, and how each had died in China of complications of their congenital heart disease before we could bring them home. I could answer from experience what things enabled us to move forward from the pain and grief of loss, what support systems ministered to us, and how our faith in God’s goodness, even in the face of indescribable pain, endured and was strengthened. I wrote about how we were led to Noelle, in a mysterious and miraculous way, and how we were willing to take the leap of faith to adopt an almost 4-year-old child with an unknown neurologic problem. And how Noelle has been such a blessing to us, a gem of a child, sweet, loving, bright, beautiful, inside and out. Loving and losing Susan and Mandi were defining moments in the life of our family. Defining moments in my personal journey and in my relationship to God. And the gift of Noelle has been a sweet blessing to us after crushing loss.
I have learned that my life is not my own. I cannot prevent loss. As a physician, I could not heal Mandi or Susan. But I could be faithful to God’s call to bring Noelle home. At some point along the way I let go of what I thought I should be doing with my life, and asked God for strength for the day, sometimes for the moment, and wisdom and guidance to follow His will. I pray every day for His discernment, for courage to follow where He leads (which often seems to be in areas that go against my human desires!) and for faith to trust Him more than my own human mind and heart.
So as I filled out this questionnaire for Seth, and as I prayed about this little boy, I begged God to open the door for us to add him to our family if that were His will, and to close the door if He had picked a different family out for Seth. I tried to guard my heart from falling too much in love with this little guy, in case we were not able to bring him home, but the more I learned about him, the more I realized I had already fallen head over heels in love with him.
It a lways amazes me how deep the love can be for a child that is waiting, a child that the waiting family has never physically held, a child who can be thousands of miles away, born of another mother, living in another culture…it is a profound mystery and really quite holy and wonderful. I fell in love with Seth the same way I did with Chris and Kelci when I was pregnant with them, and the same way I did with Aimee, Lily, Susan, Mandi and Noelle, when I was waiting to bring them home from China. It is an unbelievable, powerful, inescapable love. A love that would cause me to give up all else for them. A bond that cannot be severed, a longing that is deep and intense.
When we were told by the agency that they were releasing this little boy’s file to us, my heart leaped with joy and I felt like the luckiest, most blessed woman on earth. To be given the privilege of raising this sweet child, our first son born in China, was almost overwhelming to me. God had surely opened this door, and as if in confirmation, the next Sunday’s scripture reading at church was one of my very favorites:
But now, this is what the Lord says-
He who created you, O Jacob,
He who formed you, O Israel:
Fear not, for I have redeemed you;
I HAVE SUMMONED YOU BY NAME; YOU ARE MINE.
When you pass through the waters,
I will be with you;
And when you pass through the rivers,
They will not sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire,
You will not be burned;
The flames will not set you ablaze.
DO NOT BE AFRAID, FOR I AM WITH YOU;
I WILL BRING YOUR CHILDREN FROM THE EAST
AND GATHER YOU FROM THE WEST.
I will say to the north, “Give them up!”
And to the south, “Do not hold them back.”
BRING MY SONS FROM AFAR
AND MY DAUGHTERS FROM THE ENDS OF THE EARTH-
Everyone who is called by My name,
Whom I created for My glory,
Whom I formed and made.
Isaiah 43:1-2 and 5-7 (caps added by me)
I felt as if God were speaking directly to me: “Bring your son home! Bring him home from afar! Do not worry! Do not be afraid of his heart disease, of the unknowns, of adding a 6th child to an already busy life, of the finances, of anything! I will be with you. I am with you.”
We jumped into the paperwork involved with an international adoption (ugh….so many hoops through which to jump, more of the same forms over and over again, 6th FBI fingerprinting, just in case our fingerprints somehow changed!), always with the vision of our little boy in mind. We decided to name him Luke, “bringer of light ”. New Day changed his name from Seth to Luke so he could start getting used to it. When we received preapproval from China, New Day told Luke he had a family, and we sent him a box of goodies and photos. We received photos back of a very happy little boy looking at the photos we sent! And we were told that Luke is very excited to have a family. It is so wonderful to know that he is being prepared for us, and that should help so much with the transition.
We have been overwhelmed by the number of people who have contacted us about Luke to tell us how sweet and loving he is and how much he has touched their lives. We are amazed by the kindness of others who have loved him, sponsored his surgery and care through financial contributions and gifts, and reached out to us as we have waited to bring him home. Lynn and her family raised money for Luke’s monthly sponsorship by making and selling beaded bookmarks. (She met Luke in March 2007 when he was at the Leping SWI in the Jiangxi Province right after he was abandoned and he was very ill and sad. His little face so touched her heart that she tracked him down to the New Day Foster Hom e and has been sponsoring him ever since). She wrote me “We wanted to let you know that our thoughts and prayers have been with Luke and that we do have some pictures of him in Leping if you are interested. We thought you might be interested in a tiny bit of his story and thought you would like to know that people here in Burlington, Canada have had him in their prayers!”
Lori, who wrote the information about Luke looking for a forever family, met him at New Day in May 2007 when they were adopting in China and she did some medical volunteer work there. She too fell in love with him and has been his sponsor and advocate. She wrote to me: “Seth is just miraculous. He was abandoned at almost two – really sick when I first met him – yet so loving, so sweet and such a fighter. He has a spark of life in him that I haven’t seen often – in spite of all he has been through, he perseveres and isn’t spoiled or “bitter” or whiny. He was so grateful for every little thing or every little affection shown to him. He is obviously quite smart and liked playing games with me. His smile could light up a city. I would do almost anything for that kid and I really do love him.”
Bekah, a college senior with 6 younger siblings, including 3 adopted from China, fell in love with Luke in the summer of 2007 when she was on a short-term missions trip at New Day. She wrote: “Seth actually caught my eye before I went on that trip, when I was looking at New Day’s website. Then when I met him in person, I just couldn’t get enough of him. Two weeks at New Day was definitely not long enough for me, but I happened to be there at just the right time to be the main factor in Seth learning how to walk after he gained strength back from his 1st surgery. Sarah, the preschool teacher at New Day, told me this summer that after Seth learned how to walk last summer, his confidence skyrocketed, and he started excelling everywhere else. Needless to say, after I was able to help him walk on his own and watch those first steps, he had my heart forever. I started sponsoring him after I got home last summer.”
Bekah received a grant from her college and was able to spend 2 months at New Day this past summer. She has shared many stories of her time with Luke, all of which are precious gifts to us. She and her mom put together a photo album of photos of Luke from the 2 summers that Bekah was there and it is one of my most prized gifts ever. Both Bekah and her mom, Vicky, had been praying since May 2007 for God to lead this little boy to his forever family. Vicky wrote me that she had specifically been praying that Luke would be placed into a large family who knew and loved God. She also prayed that Luke would have siblings from China. She ended her letter to me with these words: “I will pray for your travels to Luke and for his transition into family life. I will also pray for his heart- physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Sincerely, Vicky (AKA Bekah’s Mom and adoring prayer warrior for Luke)”
Each month we receive a copy of the sponsorhip report from New Day. The comments are always so wonderful to read! Here are a few excerpts:
June 2008: “Now that Seth is 3, he goes to preschool earlier every day. He loves to go to the classroom; he always runs to it so that he can be the first one. Music classes are his favorite. He likes to sit in the chair close to the TV when the children’s sing-along video is playing. He always sings, and sometimes he’s the only one!”
July 2008: “His favorite food is watermelon, and he eats more watermelon than all the other children. He is a young man who is happy every day. He loves attending school. He follows the teacher’s instruction well, and he is able to put puzzles together and tidy up his toys. He likes riding his bike, especially when someone is pushing him around while he is on it. He also loves to swim in our big swimming pool in the backyard. Spending time on the swings is one of his other favorite activities. He is a clever boy who knows how to brush his teeth and wash his hands after lunch. Seth is such a delightful young man and is a joy to have around.”
October 2008: “This month Luke has been very cheerful and more talkative than before. He says hello to guests when they come and plays games with them. He has his own games in the game room and likes to put some toys into the larger toy car and say “Are you ready? We will go now little brother!” Luke sings, dances, and plays games with the other children, and he is very happy every day.”
Nov 2008: “Every time he (Luke) sees a plane flying above, he will point it out to me and say, “I will be up there some day to find my real mom in America!” I hope he is able to go home soon. He’s a very capable little boy and likes to do many things by himself. He can name his body parts and tell you his age by holding up the right number of fingers. Every morning, he sings children’s songs with other kids. He always has a song in his heart, and he’s full of life and joy.”
We have received precious emails from staff at New Day. Carr ie, who coordinates the sponsorship program, wrote “Luke has been so cute lately…he is SO EXCITED about having a family. We printed and laminated your family photo so that he could keep it with him. He looks at it a lot, and he loves to tell all of us about you. When we ask him if he has a mom and dad and brother and sisters, he says yes. I think he’s memorized your faces already….he has so much love in his little heart…it is precious to see.”
Caroline is the Foreign Relations Director at New Day and has been there for about a year and a half. She is helping us to arrange transportation and housing while we are visiting. She wrote this to me about Luke: “He has touched and blessed my heart more than I can say. He is the sweetest, most tender and loving little boy I've ever known. Lately he and I have been waltzing a lot in the playroom. He calls it "1,2,3" in English because we count the steps. You'll love the way he holds your face in his hands before giving you a kiss. You'll love how he does puzzles upside down once rightside up gets too easy. He loves "This little piggy," but not on his toes - on his fingers.& nbsp; The first day he found out he had a family, he pulled me into his room to show me the photo album you'd given him. He talked a mile a minute and my limited knowledge of Chinese just couldn't keep up with him. But I remember him saying things like, "My sisters blow bubbles!" "My brother is so tall!" "My mom is so pretty!" and "My dad has GLASSES!" (he loves glasses). I feel a little silly telling you all these stories because you'll soon be learning all these things first hand - and so much more. I've been praying for his forever family for so long - and from all I've heard about your family, I just know Luke hit the jackpot. I can't tell you how excited I am that he'll soon be going home.’’
I am completely overwhelmed and grateful for this outpouring of love for our little guy! He sounds like the cutest little boy ever, and I can hardly believe that in a few short days he will be in my arms! We have felt so supported during our adoption journey by the staff at New Day as well as the Great Wall staff. Stephanie is the waiting child coordinator, and has been a cheerleader for Luke right from the very beginning. I love sending her information I receive about Luke because I just know tha t she loves him dearly. It is wonderful to have an agency advocate like Stephanie. She wrote: “We were all giggling in the office yesterday over the comments on him. What a darling!!! I really cannot communicate to you clearly enough how much everyone in this office has him in their hearts. There are a few of us that have one of his pictures set to our desktops because you just can’t help but smile when you see him. J He always starts my day with a smile!”
Karen Brenneman is the director of New Day Foster Home and is an amazing woman. We had the opportunity to get together with Karen and her husband Byron over Christmastime when they were in the states as Byron’s family is also from Virginia. They have such a wonderful ministry in China. Karen has a huge heart for the children and New Day has helped over 100 Chinese orphans find forever families. You can read all about New Day at www.newdaycreations.com/foster. I am so looking forward to spending a few days there at the beginning of our adoption=2 0trip. In addition to meeting Luke and learning about his life there we will have the opportunity to meet the staff and the other children. Can’t wait to hug them and give them lots of love!
Karen does so many wonderful things to help the children prepare for their new families. She wrote recently: “Today I did a countdown calendar for Luke. He was so excited when I gave it to him....he was running around showing everyone.
We went over how soon you were coming and put a sticker on today's date to show that one was done. We will do this each day till you come.”
So the day after tomorrow, Tuesday February 3, we will leave Charlottesville for China. And on Thursday, February 5 we will hold Luke in our arms. The end of this particular paperchasing journey. And the beginning of our journey with Luke as our son. Please pray for us, for Luke and for our 5 children at home. Join us, if you’d like, as we write about our trip over the next few weeks on our blog. Thanks to so many of you who have loved us, supported us, and prayed for us on this journey. To God be the glory!