Saturday, January 8, 2011

Nina's First Anniversary

On January 1st of last year Nina joined her place in our family, it was the first time that all 5 of us were together. Ellie was so excited to meet Nina, she could not believe that she was real and not just a girl on a picture or someone she had seen through a computer screen. Nichole was not sure of the new little girl that was hanging around. Andy and I were just happy to be together after the long emotional process of adoption. And Nina, she was scared, she was so scared. She did not know what it meant to be have a family, she did not understand our speech, our ways, and the details of our world.

When Nina arrived, she was behind Nichole in development in all aspects except her ability to talk, and unfortunately, our languages were different. She was 3 1/2 years old, but her development seemed to be that of a typical 18 month old. In amazement, we watched her go through baby stages and quickly move on to a toddler stage, and now a little girl. Although she is still not your typical 4 1/2 year old, the difference in this little girl is astounding!

Those first few months were hard. They were really hard. For Nina, for Ellie and Nichole, for us as parents, but especially for me. My love, patience, compassion, and gratitude were tested every day, and I failed many times. I felt like a failure as a mother, not being able to love and help Nina as I had hoped to do. Over time, as we began to know each other, we began to refer to Nina as our "Fiery Furnace" for God was using her to stretch us and teach us about His heart and His unconditional love.

As Nina's speech developed and we began to be able to communicate, Nina was able to share with us about her life as an orphan, and about the things that she feared and the life that she lived. She was able to tell us about her excitement over having a family, and we would hear her saying, "Nina, happy girl!" We were able to get to know one another better, and to learn to fall in love with one another.

We have asked ourselves, "Where would Nina be if we had not adopted her?" "What would her future been like if she had grown up in her country?" What a different life she would have had, with little hope and no future. But what about us? Where would we be if we had not adopted Nina? Sure, life would be easier, a lot easier. But what about us? What about our hearts? What about our ability to love? What about being conformed to be more like Christ? As much as we saved her, she has been a tool of transformation in our lives. She has expanded our hearts, and she has brought us great joy.

If you were to meet Nina today, you would be amazed at the fact that she has been with us for only a year. Her speech really is phenomenal, and she is a charmer. She thrives in praises and affirmation. Her little heart's desire is to make us laugh and to hear us call her beautiful. She is unusually good at sharing and she wants to help any way she can. Which as you can imagine, makes it easy to want to love her. She loves hugs and kisses, and to be cuddled.

It still amazes me to think that there was a child of God forgotten at an orphanage, sentenced by her disability, and out of all people, God chose us to be her parents, not her biological mother, and not another adoptive family, but us. He did not bring her to us through birth, but He grew her in our hearts. Half-way across the world He called to us, "Will you love one of mine? One that has been discarded? A daughter that I deeply love?" We responded to God's call, and what a blessing this journey has been for all of us! And although it has been hard, we would do it again, and again.

What a wonderfully testing year it has been, how we have been transformed, and how we have been falling in love. We treasure our Ukrainian princess, and we could not do life without her. She belongs with us, she is our daughter.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Deprived Indifference

This is why we adopted. It does not mean that adoption is easy, that it is a fairytale, but it is worth it!

Thursday, August 26, 2010

What Adoption Does Not Do

A good friend of mine recently sent me this link to the site Together For Adoption. It was written by Johny Carr, the national Director for Church Partnerships for Bethany Christian Services.

If you are adopting, have adopted, or know someone who has adopted, this is a great read.

In the adoption world, many times you will hear that a child's adoption, is much like our adoption into God's family. It is a good analogy, but we need to be careful with the theology behind. You can read the entire blog by clicking here.

This is an excerpt.

What Adoption Does Not Do

BY JOHNNY CARRPublished Aug 25, 2010

I love to tell our adoption story when I preach. During the sermon, I show pictures taken within the first few hours of James meeting us. One shows me and James laughing heartily together. Another shows him taking a nap with his new mom. One shows him and his new brother wrestling on the bed, while another has him walking hand-in-hand with his new older brother and sister. We had much the same experience with our daughter Xiaoli’s adoption.

However, what the pictures do not show is the hurt, confusion, and emotional stress our adopted children endured. James was four years old when we adopted him, and Xiaoli was six. They were both old enough to understand that something major was happening but, since they are deaf, they had no way to understand adoption.

Even for the children who do have language, how do you describe adoption? How do you fight the rumors that circulate in the orphanages about what happens to adopted children? How do you prepare them for a family who might not look like them, smell like them, act like them, or use the same language? Every adoption story is accompanied by a story of grief and loss.

When we are adopted into God’s family, the Holy Spirit takes up residence in us. This is where the one-to-one relationship breaks down. The Holy Spirit gives us the ability to know the mind of Christ through our salvation (1 Cor. 2:10-16). We are made into a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17). When children are adopted, they receive a new family and the prospect for a new life, but they are not a new creation.

Adoption does not heal a child’s past. People often say that my adopted children are “lucky” to have been adopted. I know what they are trying to communicate, but they are not grasping the totality of what my children have lived through.

Recently I read an article by Catherine Olian, writer and former producer of 60 Minutes. This is part of what she wrote about her daughter who was adopted from Ukraine:

Outside our home, she behaved herself and charmed most everyone. She did take exception when adults told her she was “lucky”. In her blossoming English she would unhesitatingly respond, “Did you lose your first brother and sister? Did you grow up cold and hungry? Did you live two lives, in two different countries? No? Then you must be the lucky one.” I’ve yet to see anyone disagree with her.

As this incredible wave of orphan care and adoption ministry continues to gain momentum in churches, we must make sure that we have a good theological understanding of adoption and a good practical understanding of adoption.

While I will continue to show the sweet pictures of our adoption journeys during my sermons, I will also take the time to educate families about the grief and loss that is always part of adoption. Healing can take place, and for many children, it starts with adoption…but it doesn’t end there—it never does.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Adoption: Love Grows

In February I wrote a post about adoption and falling in love. Loving Nina has not been the same as loving Ellie or Nichole. There is so much about Nina that we don't know, whereas there is not a thing about Ellie or Nichole that is a secret to us. We have always been there.

Nina has been with us for five months, but Nina and I go back before arriving home. We shared two weeks together as we were finalizing the adoption in Ukraine. One would think that those two weeks were wonderful as we were getting to know each other; the foundation of our relationship. Those weeks were indeed the foundation of our relationship, but they were not wonderful. Those two weeks were the toughest, most discouraging weeks in my mothering journey. Every night as I listened to 2 or 3 hours of constant crying I would think about the day, and the many ways in which I had felt rejected. I felt like a failure, a rejected failure, and we were trapped in a little apartment with no place to go.

I understand why Nina was having a hard time, but unless you have experienced this first hand, nothing can prepare you to how it feels to be rejected by the child you worked so hard and passionately to save. It doesn't matter how well you understand it in your head, the feelings will still cling heavy on your heart. Whenever there was a Russian or Ukrainian speaker around, Nina wanted nothing to do with me. The more time we had together, the more she rejected me, the more she cried for other people. Three times she asked other women to take her, that she wanted them to be their mommy and not me because she could not understand me. They were familiar, I was not. Again, although I understood her feelings, mine were crushed and I wanted to run to my girls, the ones I had not seen for seven weeks and wanted me.

Once home there was no Ukrainian or Russian around thank goodness! Many people would offer having "so and so" help us because they spoke Russian. Let me think about that for a second... No thank you!

But my relationship with Nina did not just suddenly change. When your heart has been deeply hurt, it takes time to heal. I found myself being less patient with Nina, expecting more, and getting frustrated easily. I felt guilty about that. One day as I was spending time with God, praying for my children I though about Nina. I started to cry and I went to her, held her and cried some more. I asked for her to forgive me for being impatient with her, for not being more gentle. I told her that I loved her and that she was mine. It was a beautiful moment.

Then surgery happened and Nina was thrown back into the same behaviors she was having during those 2 weeks in Ukraine. She cried constantly and would ask for the workers in her orphanage by name. She wanted nothing to do with me...once again. Emotionally I was depleted, I felt like I had nothing to give. I had just begun to get up and was knocked to the ground once more.

Then one night she woke up spitting blood and we were back for another surgery. She was air lifted and I had to drive hour and a half to get there. Even though it was hard to have them take her and for me to stay behind, I actually felt like I could take a deep breath.

As we were coming home for the second time from the hospital, I asked a nurse to be with Nina while I got our things ready to go. I wanted to cry, dreading to go home and face life with a child that would reject me once more. God knew what was needed, and He sent the Russian speaking lady. He sent her for Nina and for me, because He is a God that restores relationships, or in our case, creates new relationships.

As I look at my journey with Nina, this is the one most significant moment we have had. This was the day that Nina chose me for the first time in her life, this was the moment that Nina realized she belonged in our family, and she wanted that. Nina wanted her mommy. And although at the moment I did not realize the significance of what took place, now I see it for what it was. It was a new birth.

(And if you did not read that post, click on the previous paragraph's highlighted words or clickhere)

Adding a new family members takes time to adjust. Weather it be a baby or an older child. A family has to learn to function with more people, it is not as simple as adding one more, but the family dynamics change and everyone has to adjust.

Nina is discovering what family is, and she is blossoming in her new understanding. She cherishes it.

Somehow, Nina is not just the little girl we are trying to include, she is a part of us now. We have six months to look back, and although not long, it is a history within our family. We know her favorite color and that she loves balloons. Although much of life is new to her, she finds comfort in us.

Before we met Nina, we had created a character of who we imagined her to be, one that pushed us to get her home. The love I have for Nina today, would have pushed me so much harder, because it is a love that has cost many tears, and therefore, great joy as it has grown.

Yes, she is my daughter, not born from my womb but from my heart. The love I felt for Ellie and Nichole as they were born is the love that has been born from me towards Nina. She is a without a doubt a"new baby" to me, to my heart.

She is mine.

Friday, April 9, 2010

We Couldn't Be There

We are not sure how much Nina understands the English language. Sometimes it seems like she has a great grasp, while other times we wonder if she understands what we are asking or saying to her.

We are still puzzled by her behaviors at times. What seems a normal situation, can send her into her own world, where she can easily be irritated or upset. This times are hard for all of us emotionally. It makes us wonder what exactly took place at the orphanage, and what her life was like.

I shared in a previous post, that the first time I walked into Nina's room, they were not expecting me and I was sure that a little girl was going to be tied down to the smaller wooden pen. I saw this same little girl being smacked across the face and her ear pulled as she was dragged to a chair because she was not fast enough. never mind that she too has Cerebral palsy and could not walk. The impatience and lack of love were heart breaking. Praise God Oksana has a family waiting to go get her!

I tried to teach a worker how to feed a little boy with Down syndrome by helping support his jaw. She said she had not time for that and shoved the food into his mouth. His eyes watering and gulping, gasping for air, maybe even aspirating with every spoonful going in his mouth. He too has a family ready to come get him.

I saw other children treated harshly and being punished. And I saw more. And what I saw will forever be in my heart, and it will remind me that these children live in dark and scary places, and that those with special needs are abused even more, because it is easier to hurt those that are weaker.

Nina's recent reaction to having her braces put on, along with other behaviors, made Andy wonder if Nina had been tied to her crib as punishment. We have found out that it is not the braces that make her cry, but rather having her lay down and getting them strapped on her, the noise of the Velcro, and having something that "restricts" her body. Once she is up and walking, this is not an issue.

A friend who is also adopting from Ukraine wrote on her blog, "We showed up unannounced one day at the orphanage. All the children were in the big wooden playpen. They were all tied to the slots of the playpen so they couldn't move. No wonder they didn't want us to come in the room."

So we asked Nina today about her life at the orphanage, not sure if she understands us, not sure if she knows how to communicate with us.

"Nina?" I asked, "Were you tied down on your crib? Did you have to lie down and they would tie you?" She looked at me, a sad expression, her little lip came out, and the tears started to come, she said softly, "yes." And she cried some more. I held her so close to me, wishing I could take that away from her, wishing that somehow she had not had to go through that. Andy asked her why they did that. "Nina naughty, Nina naughty." She responded.

We were not there to protect her for the first 3 years of her life. She has gone through so much in her short life, and there is nothing we can do about it. We will never be able to take that away. We can love, and we can pray, that is what we can do.

I think of how we almost allowed money to be an issue. I think of how I almost said Cerebral palsy was too much for me to handle. Those things are so insignificant now, so small.

My heart breaks for orphans around the world. My heart breaks for my daughter. And it aches, oh how it aches, that there were times where she was tied down to a crib, treated like an animal, starved of comfort or love. Never again, never again. Our loving arms will wrap her close, and whisper how much we care.

Today I was her mother, I felt it. I will protect my sweet girl as best I can.


You can find many waiting children with special needs on Reeces Rainbow. They all need a family, they all have suffered enough!

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Adoption: Falling In Love

Our dear friends, the McLelands, adopted a baby girl not even a year ago. Bill said to us shortly after they had gotten her home, “I didn’t know if it would be possible to love an adopted child as much as your biological children, but we love this baby girl, it makes no difference how she came into our family, we love her just the same.”

“You love them just the same.”

“I bet she fits perfectly in your family.”

“It must feel like she has always been a part of your family.”

Often, when I hear statements like these I think about McLelands, knowing they can wholeheartedly agree. But when those statements are said to me, I feel guilty. I feel guilty because I know the right thing to say is “yes.” It makes me wonder if adopting an infant is different from adopting an older child because I am still in the process of getting there, I have yet to arrive.

I love Nina. There is no doubt about it, but I cannot say that my love for her is the same as it is for Ellie and Nichole. When the girls fight, my first instinct is to side with Ellie and Nichole, or to comfort them first. I find myself being less patient with Nina, or feeling annoyed when she wants to join in if I try to have one-on-one time with one of the other girls. At times, it even feels like I am babysitting some else’s child.

The truth is, adopting an older child for us was not love at first sight, but rather, a journey of falling in love.

For almost 4 years, we lived without Nina, and she lived without us. We have come together, all of us, with our past. We have different languages, different cultures, different rules. We are just getting to know each other. At times I am sure she is confused, and she does not understand what is happening in her new world. At times I am confused and I do not understand why she acts a certain way. Our communication is broken in many ways as we try to understand each other. Nina is learning what it is like to have a mommy and a daddy and sisters. She is just discovering that we really are her promise of forever; we will never walk away from her, never. She is learning to trust.

Adoption is a journey of falling in love, for all of us. A journey with highs and lows as we walk along the path. And we are falling in love.

Nina smiles, she gives us hugs, she signs “I love you,” and says “I lou wu” She makes silly faces and thrives in our praises.

Nina is a precious little girl. She is sweet and charming. She has brought so much joy into our lives and she has shown us much about God’s heart as Heavenly Father. Our family needed Nina, in more ways that we will ever understand.

And we are, we are falling in love, madly in love with this little girl.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Adoption: When You Meet The Child You Have Been Dreaming About

The anticipation was overwhelming. I thought the moment I finally laid eyes on Nina would be one of those moments that you never forget, one of those moments that are etched in your heart forever and become one of the most joyous and sweet memories of my life. I wondered if I would cry that first time and if she would feel the same bond I already felt. Would she be able to sense all the love I had for her?

Although we were able to move through the adoption process quickly, the waiting seemed too long, and our desire for Nina to be a part of our family grew stronger and stronger as the days went by. My love for her was so intense that it pushed me to get things done and to be relentless when it came to the paperwork nightmare. I cried many tears in frustration but I would do whatever I had to do to get my daughter home and out of the orphanage.

Someone said to me along this process, “You love them just the same as if they were your own.” When I heard that statement, I could not have agreed more.

The day we walked into the orphanage for the first time my stomach was in knots. I did not know what to expect but we were so excited to see our beautiful girl.

Workers came in and out of the room we were sitting at. It took me a while to realize that the little girl that one of the workers held in her arms was Nina. I had seen them walk in the room and had even made eye contact with her, but I did not recognize her. All I saw was an orphan with a misshapen head and lost eyes.

“That’s Nina” I said to Andy

“I know” he replied

We both saw her, we both stared, we both held our breaths. We did not have to say it, because both of us were shocked at her appearance and demeanor. She looked different than the pictures we had seen.

Reality stepped in, it sat next to me, and it held my hand.

The worker sat next to us with Nina in her arms. Andy and I tried to interact with her, but she seemed so lost. They told us she was nervous and that she was acting shy. They assured us that she was smart and outgoing. But regardless of what they said, what we saw was much different. We saw a girl with vacant eyes and what appeared to be a great cognitive delay. Her behavior made me question if she had autism as well. The most interaction we got with her was when I showed her my camera, and she offered a lost smile. (You can watch that video here)

Back in our apartment in Kyiv, Reality accompanied us. Andy and I questioned if we were making the right choice. The child that we had met seemed to have many special needs that would require work and attention. Was it fair to Ellie and Nichole? How would they be impacted by having such a low functioning sister?

Most of all, Reality explained to us that we never had loved Nina at all. What we had come to love so strongly was the “idea” of who Nina was. The Nina we had created in our hearts and minds had pushed us to come this far. Without her, we wouldn’t be there. But that Nina had to go, because the real Nina waited for us.

Fear then knocked on the door. We cracked the door open a little and asked questions, because Fear was right, we knew so little about Nina, and so little about the future. We had no idea what life would be like with Nina in our family, and we had no way to predict how she would affect her sister’s lives. But before Fear could come into our apartment we were reminded of this: “For I know the plans I have for you declares the Lord.”

We thanked Fear for coming, for making us think, and we closed the door.

God had been in the adoption process all along. He had showed us His love and mercy in ways we had never seen or experienced before. The ways He had chosen to show Himself to us were a clear indication that this was what He wanted us to do. We were scared, and we often thought of Fear, but we had a promise. The promise that God would walk with us every step of the way.

Over the next weeks we would have to get to know this little orphan girl, one that would soon become our daughter. We had to learn to love the real Nina, the one who so desperately needed us, the one that we had come to save.


Andy wrote about the same in his annual report, to read his perspective, click here.