Monthly Archives: January 2011

A Fabulous Family Tree

Our sweet tender Ravenna has been walking through some deep grief and questioning over the last few months. She has been really wrestling with wanting to see and know her birthmom, to tangibly feel her and be known by her. We have both curled up and wept together, talked to God about the pain and agreed that we will love and honor her birthmom and these feelings in every way that we can, she and I. I wrote more about this intense and intimate, sweet and searingly painful moment here. Then and few weeks later, after all of my attempts at things to help (draw a picture of birthmom, give her a name Ravenna creates, etc.) fell completely flat with almost hostile indifference, Ravenna came up with this:

It was a moment I hope to never forget. It was so beautiful.
Read the story here.

Well, about a week later, her class started a section on families. The teacher wanted to share something about adoption with the class. When I asked Ravenna what she wanted the class to know, she frowned and said, “I don’t want to tell them anything, Mama.”

Her teacher was wonderful, and we talked through some of what has been coming up for Ravenna. Instead of family trees, they made adorable family gardens.

Her garden with 6 flowers for our family of 5 now sits where she lovingly placed it on our mantle.

But, she kept mentioning wanting to make a family tree.

And, I kept trying to figure out how to honor Ravenna’s whole story in that family tree.

What does it look like when there is a birth family, a foster family, and all of her immediate family now?

Which thing goes where on the tree?

How do I guide her as to where those things go?

In true Ravenna style, she led me.

She proclaimed one morning, “Mama, I want to make a fabric family tree!”

Fabric?

The girl is crazy about fabric. She took a whole box of it all the way to Mexico as her one main toy during our Whatever Project roadtrip and has already started piling some up for when we go this year!

So, we headed off to the fabric deptartment, and I stepped back and finally let Ravenna lead. She lovingly and deliberately picked out fabric for everyone. Ladybugs for Georgia, space for Parker, Lighting McQueen for Daddy…and horses, two different horse fabrics. One for her birthmmom and one for her foster mom. She included her birthdad and foster dad as well with dog and buffalo fabric. It was a garden with birds and sparkly see-through candy canes.

During all of this, she twirled in the aisles, hugging her fabric and saying, “Oh, I love this day, Mama, I wish it would never end!!!”

We bought a pack of two canvases, and she diligently went to work.

I let her decide where and how everything went, and it was totally different and far better than if I had forced structure on it.

This is her masterpiece, her family, filled with love–her love for these people in her life.

So, do you see it? the candy cane fabric?

She insisted that she did not want to be a part of the tree. At first, I paniced thinking maybe she did not feel like part of the tree or part of the family. I could not be more wrong…

She wanted to be touching everyone. She said, “I love them all, Mama!” So, if you look closely, that candy cane fabric is around and ontop of every piece there.

Then, as we were working away, she cutting and placing fabric and I glueing it down, she stopped and said, “Oh no!!!” and ran to her room to get something. She came back with that big striped piece (from her Mexico collection) that is now across the top saying, “Mama, we forgot God, and this would be perfect!”

So, God gets to hang out all striped and sparkly at the top of our family tree!

She made me the top of the tree flanked with Doug on one side and my mom on the other and she is nestled up close to us.

She then brought it to school, wrapped in more fabric so her special secret would not get out
and proudly showed her class.

Showing Daddy over and over again!

“God sets the lonely in families…”
Psalm 68:6

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Shannon Miller

Shannon and her husband Doug live in Washington State with their three wild kids: Ravenna (China), Parker (Big surprise guy!), and Georgia Mei (China, special needs program, heart condition). They are working hard to love the Lord and wrestle with what it means to fully live, serve, and love in the name of Christ. You can read more about their family on Shannon’s blog. And, you can read Ravenna’s very own blog here.

The Significance of “Here”

Today is a special day for the Clark Family. It is the day we expanded–the day we welcomed a new member and became 6 strong. It is Ruby’s “Chinaversary.” On this day, 3 years ago, we met her for the very first time in person. Of course, I had already fallen head over heels for the little girl whose picture I carried EVERYWHERE and showed to EVERYONE! Oh–that picture–of a chubby little girl with a shaved head…I BONDED with that picture and then of course with the curly headed little girl who would be mine. We met on a cold day in Nanjing in a government office in a crowded room full of crying parents and children. It was CHAOS. But, when I think back, all the noise fades, and I see my precious husband tearing up as he coaxes a little girl with an orange dum-dum lollipop. I remember that child falling asleep on my chest in the midst of the chaos and I remember feeling like the LUCKIEST woman in the whole wide world.

I STILL feel that way…wow…it all comes back.

So, today, I am dropping the Rubester off in her class, and we always kneel and say a quick prayer that she will make good choices…believe me, it’s a daily struggle. It’s a minute-to-minute struggle some days! We’ve already been talking about why this day is special and, as we wrap up the brief intercession with the “Great Overseer of Good Choices,” she looks up at me and says, “Mama, I’m so glad I’m here!”

“Oh, baby, I’m so glad you’re here, too!” I say back.
And, she gives me a wise smile, and I know she means HERE–on this side of the world…in THIS family–

H . E . R . E .

Thank you, Jesus. My cup runneth over.

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Tiffany Clark

As a busy mama of five mischievous children, Tiffany tries to maintain some sanity through sewing, blogging, & reading. She is a 38-year-old homeschooling wife who is crazy in love with her prince and a daughter of the King… Her family includes 3 “homegrown” children as well as two children born with special needs in China. It’s been an incredible ride the whole way! She dreams of getting an adoption ministry up and going in her hometown of Columbus, GA but, for the time being, encourages couples seeking information about adoption. Tiffany volunteers her time as a member of a Citizen’s Judicial Review Panel for the juvenile court system in her district of Georgia where she reviews foster care placements and helps to reunite and build families for children in foster care. She is also a member of the blog writing team for An Orphan’s Wish, an organization striving to meet the needs of special needs orphans in China.

It’s All Happening

Originally posted just yesterday on their personal blog

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We leave today.

For the past few weeks, I’ve had these tiny blasts of panic. They haven’t ever lasted long because almost immediately, I’ve thought of another task that needs to be completed. This paper needs to be signed. This call needs to be made. For work or for the adoption, something always needed to get done. I welcomed the tasks because it made the fear go away.

So, last night, when all my tasks were over, I feared the fear. I went to bed thinking I would be in a meltdown by morning. But, something happened. I woke up and felt at peace. Calm. No panic. Just an ease about what God has called us into.

That defines this whole process. It really defines my entire life as a Christ follower. Countless days of fear and panic, followed by calm. The peace comes from understanding that any semblance of control is just an illusion. It’s faker than T-Pain’s singing voice.

More than any other experience, adoption has showed me that the God I believe in is real. This story is not ours. It’s not even Lucy’s. It is God’s. He is weaving this ravaged world back together. He uses tarnished people.

Every time we have had a roadblock, someone has come in the name of Jesus and helped us navigate it. Paperwork problems? Meet this notary. Money issues? Here’s a check. Computer issues? Use mine. Work issues? Take whatever time you need. Scared? Here’s a group of people to let you know that what you feel is normal. Here’s a group of people who will pray for you.

We thank you all. Family members. Adoption agencies. Friends. Coworkers. Youth Group Kids (you all know who you are). Caretakers. Coaching programs. Women’s groups. Birth mother. There is no way that we can thank you enough. It’s not possible. Each of you has played a large part in the life of our daughter. We love you. Our family’s faith has been strengthened because of what Christ has done in you. This is a unique adventure that would not happen without you. You’re the best.

Lucy’s coming home. It’s all happening.

See you guys later.
Russ

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Russ Polsgrove

Russ and Anna have been married for 5 years. Even as friends, before dating or marriage, they shared with one another that they each wanted to adopt. After marrying in May 2005, talk of adoption slowly entered its way into their conversations. Russ, working as a youth pastor, and Anna, working as a teacher and at a girl’s group home, saw the need more than ever for children to have loving, safe homes. After coming to this realization, they chose to begin the adoption process to adopt a little girl from Ethiopia. They left just yesterday for Ethiopia to meet Lucy and eventually bring her home. They are so excited about their story of choosing adoption to bring their first child home. You can follow their journey and offer your support as they answer God’s call on their lives on their personal blog.

Missing

Of course, there is a lot of Cooper’s story that is missing. I expected that.

But, there are other things missing too….things that bother me, and I don’t know why.

I am missing pictures of what we were doing on some significant dates in Cooper’s life.

I have no pictures of us on the day he was born. Although this picture was taken two days later:

I do happen to have a picture of what we were doing on the day he was found. And, in a way, that’s tougher than having no picture at all:

We were celebrating at a family party. While our son suffered the biggest loss of his life.

I do have one other picture. I took this picture the day Cooper arrived at the orphanage.

I have no picture of what we did on the day when he arrived at New Day a year later needing oxygen upon arrival. However, this picture was taken just one day later.

I have no picture of what we did on the day (6 short days later) his heart was repaired, although again, one day later, this picture was taken.

I have no picture of what we did on any of his birthdays. Not one.

I also know that these pictures just highlight all the years, all the stuff we missed. He missed.

How much he lost, and how much we lost.

And looking at them would make me really sad- to think of what I was doing here, oblivious to the fact that my son was lying in a hospital bed recovering form open heart surgery or blowing out the candles on his first birthday cake or being left alone in a hospital to hopefully be found.

But still. I wish I had pictures.

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Jenna Hardy

Jenna is a teacher, turned stay-at-home mom, turned Children’s Ministry Director who is passionate about children. After hearing God’s call to care for orphans 4 years ago, she has become increasingly passionate about adoption and orphan care. She and her high school sweetheart, Scot, have been married for 13 years and recently brought home their son Cooper who is 3 years old and seriously adorable (go see for yourself!). They are excited to see what God will do in the next chapter of the story He is writing with their family. Jenna and Scot feel strongly about sharing their story so that they might be of encouragement to others in various stages of the adoption process. You can follow along with them on their trip and afterwards at Our Many Colored Days.

The Year of the Boy

The moment we met

What was different in your life this past year? For me, 2010 was this: only one thing changed but that changed everything.

You know what I mean?

2010 was the year Ephraim joined our family. We picked him up in Ethiopia on February 1st. That’s it. That’s really the only big thing that happened.

But you know what followed that?

No sleep for 9 months.

An incredible amount of love.

Laughter up the wazoo.

The inability to leave the house very often at all without a baby and cereal.

Giving away our dogs because that just wasn’t happening.

Toys all over the floor every single day.

The best kind of cuddles.

I could go on and on.

The boy changed it all.

Collision of Two Cultures

One year ago, two worlds collided in Eastern China as a 13-year-old boy met his American parents for the first time. What was to follow would be a dance of sorts, some missed footing, some stepping on toes, loss of rhythm…and finally, a year later, a harmonious blend of steps we call life.

To say it’s been ‘a year’ is an understatement. Our son didn’t know a single word of English and had resolved that the rest of the world would learn Chinese in order to communicate with him. Unfortunately, his years in foster care had come with challenges and a high price, education being one, but far more important were the emotional and developmental gaps caused by neglect. He had no concept of family or permanency, or a desire to learn.

We, his parents, knew this transition wouldn’t be easy, but we really had no idea just how difficult it would be. It was just different than we had imagined. We long to be the hands and feet of the Lord as we answer His call to the ‘impossible’, yet we are surprised when the pain comes. We somehow think we are immune to the struggles as we carry our cross daily, but that is directly contradictory to His Word. He doesn’t promise comfort or ease; He promises faithfulness, hope and restoration!

I had never home schooled before, until last year. I had no idea where to begin, but for the advice of wonderful friends who have home schooled and/or adopted older children. I’m certain I learned as much as my son, including the fact I could actually enjoy teaching a child who speaks English and has half a desire to learn. The two of us were so out of sync. I couldn’t figure out why he didn’t want to learn, and he couldn’t figure out why he needed to! Ultimately, the most important lesson was how to be a family. We often forewent reading or math to focus on our relationship.

He struggled for control and would do whatever he could to manipulate circumstances to get what he wanted. He also learned it’s rather difficult to remain self-absorbed with seven siblings. He tried to isolate himself, but mostly because that’s what he’d been taught, to stay out of the way. Being alone was his safe place. We struggled with the sadness of all the rotten things he’d been through and the overwhelming changes yet to come. We worked hard to maintain structure and routine because it seemed the most beneficial setting.

We were caught off guard by his season of grief. It just didn’t look the way we thought it would. He was not only overwhelmed by his new world; he was overcome by nameless emotions. Once we realized he was grieving, we were able to help him cope and extend the compassion he needed.

We often felt incompetent in our ability to parent. Our son wouldn’t tell us if he was sick, happy, sad, angry or tired. Mostly because he didn’t know! He was completely detached from his emotions. He certainly couldn’t name them, and he was impulsive at expressing them.

We learned that consistency is key. We found it necessary to ‘walk the walk.’ No wavering allowed. And, Mom and Dad are a force to be reckoned with.

We also saw grace in a new light. The need for undeserved favor has been more prevalent than ever in our home. Our oldest son even observed that abundant grace is a necessity from here on out.

And then there are all the tests and the doctors, not seeking ‘why’ so much as ‘where to go from here.’

We were told that non-English speaking kids will typically have conversational language at six months. Not so in our case. We thought we’d never learn to communicate. And, in this journey, I have learned that communication is key to relationship. And without a relationship, I simply had another teenager in my home who had strange food choices and sleep habits. I desperately wanted to relate to my son.

And, gradually, layer by layer the rotten past began to peel away and the witty personality began to surface. Gradually, he learned to love and to receive the love of his imperfect parents. Gradually, he began to act like a brother. Gradually, his confidence blossomed, and we discovered he’s pretty good at math and fits right in with his seventh grade peers. Gradually, he expressed a love for music which has landed him in the percussion section of the band. Gradually, he regained his interest in fitness, and though he may not understand all the rules, he’s willing to work hard to learn how to play basketball. Gradually, he has learned that his parents love him enough to put up a fight when the thing he really wants to do is not in his best interest. Gradually, he is realizing that his siblings are pretty awesome, contrary to his initial idea that he didn’t need any of them. Gradually, he is learning that his family trusts a heavenly Father who extends boundless grace, mercy and love to the unfathomable point of dying so we can live.

In a way it’s hard to believe a year has passed, but in some respects it seems like a lifetime. We have learned enough to last a lifetime…and we are looking forward to a lifetime of living out what we’re still learning and dancing to the rhythm of our new song.

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Connie Johnson

Connie and Clayton Johnson and their family live in Oklahoma. Coming to faith later in life (Clayton at age 40 and Connie at age 36), they surrendered to missions soon after accepting Christ but had no idea that would mean six trips to China…and back. They have eight children and are presently in the process of adopting their ninth. Connie hopes to encourage families who feel less than qualified to adopt and families who are burdened for older children and children with medical special needs outside their comfort zone. God does not expect us to come to Him perfectly equipped for His purposes, only perfectly willing. Visit their blog here.

But God

So much of what’s communicated about the world of adoption can feel so fatalistic.

Both the outside observer and the mom who is in the thick of it can share the same bleak perspective. One perceives trouble and the other lives it, daily. Anecdotes about the neighbor’s son who, post-adoption, traumatized his siblings, share equal weight with a mother’s desperate prayer requests for her child, whose countenance has iced-over since they brought her home.

Rewind 10 years and any sort of bump in the pathway to the “normal” life intimidated me.

My secret goal was to maintain an equilibrium in every way. A good marriage, steady friendships, growing impact on the world, faithful-but-not-interrupted walk with God. None of these, in and of themselves, are wrong, of course. But, they couldn’t exist alongside my prayers for a unique intimacy with God.

He let me share, however little, in His sufferings.

Little did I know that what was in front of me would prepare me to administer healing to my daughter and walk alongside my son in his grief. My hiccups found me a Father, and they are teaching me to be a mother.

Though I met with Jesus in the back-alley of life and found true safety outside of my “normal” life, I still carried those same expectations for normalcy over my children, who came to me through an anything-but-normal means. Residual fear of straying from the norm carried through to our first months and even year of absorbing Eden and Caleb into our fold.

“Happy children” was my goal.

The problem, unfortunately, being that I also prayed even before the first time I laid eyes on them, that they would know Him as Daddy. I’ve asked, almost daily, that they would know in their innermost being how high, wide, deep and long is His love.

While happy is surely the fruit of a child who knows their Father loves them, there are years where that truth may have been called into question, for my little former-orphans. And, they cannot be erased.

And, grief has surfaced in our home.

The pain behind her eyes is unavoidable at times. Her grasps for the promise of security exposed behind weak attempts to disguise them. Is our love as temporal as the one she first knew? If the womb’s bond was broken by poverty, who can she trust?

The foundational fissures of a child, once abandoned, cannot be easily caulked. Even the early years are subject to a forever imprint.

But God.

Yes, but God.

The same words I heard years ago about all those areas of “normal” being stretched thin, are the words I hear now. I found a flicker of light in the night, then, that set my whole heart on a different course. One breath of His changed everything.

I was not made to simply endure, forever living by the scars I’d incurred along the way. I was made to conquer. To win. And the prize was the internal shifting of my heart that would never be taken away from me. I would never be the same again.

My walk through the valley of the shadow of death marked my twenties and early thirties. My daughter found it at three and four.

But, her scars will be her testimony. And, the imprint, a remainder mark of the sweet kiss of Jesus.

I feel the ripples of loss in my home. When fear fills her eyes and insecurity leaks out, I inhale the abandonment too. She clasps her hands around my neck with a hold that craves promise, while expecting that one day this, too, will end. Her joy and zeal, overshadowed as of late, by tentativeness.

By itself, it is bleak. It is fatalistic. There is reason to accept our children will be forever broken.

“But God” echoes from my insides. I want to shout it in my home and let the hope of those words linger like a candle’s fragrance in winter over our responses to this vessel not-yet-fully-healed.

She gets to find Him. Early. The darkness ignored by many but undeniable to her, begs a light. My little girl will see the goodness of God in the land of the living.

And because I’d faulted in my marriage, my friendships, my impact, my ambitions, her road to Him is actually exciting for me. I know not just what is on the other side, but the Man she gets to meet along the way.

And His grip around her tiny fingers offers her early admittance to safety.

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Sara Hagerty

Sara and her husband, Nate, have been married for nine years and brought

Plastic Surgery

The most emotionally painful loss I have faced has been the death of my grandmother. She was and is “who I want to be when I grow up.” That is the best way I can describe my admiration and love for her. She was strong, physically and emotionally. She believed in God and loved to serve Him. She was always busy, yet always had time for anyone in need.?? As a child I “knew” I was her very favorite grandchild. This of course was not true, but she had this special way of loving that made me feel totally special and adored. If I felt that treasured, I had to be her favorite, right? ??My brother and I spent some time with my grandparents each summer – without our parents. That created many good memories. They would take us for an overnight in their camper at a local lake. Those camping memories are certainly what sparked my desire to camp with my family. In fact, after her death, my dad shared a portion of his inheritance with our family. We used that money to buy our first camper. As an adult, I was lucky enough to live within a few hours of her. Since I was a stay-at-home mom, I was able to visit often. The times I had with her and my children were precious. My grandmother adored children, especially babies. She and my grandpa were both battling cancer when my daughter, Brenna, was born. So, it was extremely important to me to bring my baby to visit as soon as possible after her birth. I will never forget my dear Grandma sitting on the floor at the age of 81, in the midst of battling cancer, eagerly struggling with the buckles on my infant daughter’s car seat. I had brought the baby into the house first and then went back to the vehicle to unload my older three children. Waiting for me to unstrap the baby would have taken too long, so my determined Grandma got down on the floor to get to her newest great-granddaughter.?? As my grandma

This Much I Know To Be True

It’s one of Oprah’s catch-phrases. This much I know to be true. Following that phrase, she expounds on some epiphany or conclusion or lesson she has learned.

There are many things I know to be true. In most of those cases, it is because of personal experience or first-hand knowledge.

I know that the bottom of the Dead Sea is very difficult to walk on because of the large salt crystals littering the bottom. (personal experience)

I know that acting uninterested at a David Copperfield show seems to ensure you will be called up on stage to help with an illusion. (personal experience)

I know that the pain of giving yourself fertility injections is nothing compared to the pain of being childless. (personal experience)

But, there are other things I cannot be sure of. I can only imagine how it must feel or be or what I would or would not do, but I don’t know for certain.

I think it would be great to have an awesome singing voice and perform for the masses. But, I don’t really know what that would be like and never will.

I can imagine that losing a parent at a young age would be incredibly painful and difficult. But, having never experienced that I don’t really know how it feels.

I can say that I would never move far away from my family, but I have never had to make that decision and pray I never will.

That’s just it. We don’t REALLY know what it’s like to experience something without really experiencing it ourselves. I can imagine how I hope I would react, what I hope I would think, how I hope I would respond all I want. But, until I walk through it myself, I really have no idea.

I have never been a very scandalous person. No huge public life dramas have played out in my life…until this past summer. We did not complete the adoption of the child we traveled to bring home. Naively, I had no idea just how scandalous this was in the eyes of some in the adoption community. In reading what many other AP’s think about disruption, it seems as if the thinking is either you bring home the child you were referred no matter what, or you are a terrible, selfish person who wishes for that child to never find a family.

I can tell you, without a doubt, that that is not the case. At. All. This much I know to be true.

Our adoption journey was pretty bumpy. But, by far, the hardest things this momma still deals with are the misconceptions people in the adoption community have regarding those who disrupt, and the hurtful comments said about “those parents.”

The sadness and shock we felt when the serious undisclosed needs became apparent was hard, but we had lots of supportive people walking us through the confusion. Discovering that we were not the best family for the child we thought was ours was hard, but we had peace about the decision, knowing it was the best for that child and us. We were simply not equipped to handle that child’s needs and knew that there would be a family out there who could meet those needs and meet them well. Facing the reality of not coming home with a child, the child who we had attached to at some level through video and pictures, after almost 4 years of being in the process was hard. But, with the peace we had in our decision, we knew that if that’s what it came down to, it would be okay. Our family, our friends, our church lifted us up in prayer; listened to us as we processed through everything that was happening; and supported the difficult decision we had to make.

However, the comments about disruption I read upon returning home, and still stumble upon as I scan adoption boards, pierce my heart and rattle me for days. I sit stunned at the broad paintbrush often used to paint all parents who go through this as cold, heartless, uneducated, and unprepared, only thinking of themselves with no thought or caring for what happens to the child. It just is not that simple. It is not like that.

The comments seem to center around the same logic: