Saturday, January 8, 2011
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
Thursday, August 26, 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
Friday, April 9, 2010
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.
Sunday, February 14, 2010
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
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.