Thursday, October 9, 2014

Dolphins, and Kittens, and Orphans, Oh My!

I was recently talking with someone about Orphan Care and throughout the conversation they kept lumping it together with causes such as Saving the Dolphins and Spaying and Neutering.
Wait. What??

It bothered me, but it also got me thinking. Maybe that’s the way the general public views Orphan Care- as a cause; a good cause, but a cause none the less.
So what sets Orphan Care apart from other noble causes like Saving Dolphins and Spaying and Neutering Pets?

Simply put, the Gospel.

“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:16 (NIV)

But how can they call on him to save them unless they believe in him? And how can they believe in him if they have never heard about him? And how can they hear about him unless someone tells them?Romans 10:14 (NLT)
When we care for orphans, whether through adoption, family preservation efforts, or support of the many organizations who are committed to helping orphans, we are paving the way to further the gospel. When a child’s mind and body are not consumed with survival, they are more able to learn about the God who loves them. When they see this love in action through His people, they are more able to believe that God is real. When they are in a situation where they are able to hear about God’s gift of salvation, the opportunity exists for them to have faith. Children who were once alone and hopeless are coming to know the Lord through the ripple effect of Orphan Care, and those children in turn are able to influence future generations.
This impacts eternity.

There are many causes that make the world a better place and I’m not advocating turning our backs on dolphins or kittens. I’m simply suggesting that we separate things of eternal value from things that are merely good. Perhaps the orphan that you help today will become tomorrow’s marine biologist?



Sunday, September 14, 2014

Just a thought

What if, instead of asking God for confirmation that we should adopt and waiting for Him to show us, we asked God for confirmation that we shouldn't adopt and moved forward until He stopped us?
Just a thought.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Guest Post- Fiction by Amie Rapp

*This is a fictional story that Amie wrote for her eighth grade English class this semester. I thought it was fabulous!

     All along they'd planned on a boy. She honestly had no opinion, a child was a child, and she would love them no matter what. But her husband did, and made it blatantly clear.
   "They're good luck," her husband said, “He’ll take care of us in our old age. Girls are too weak".
     She utterly disagreed, after all, who was it that labored day after day, cooking his food, and cleaning his house and laundering his clothes? But as was custom for wives in her culture, she bit her tongue. She did want to make her husband happy, after all. However, as her due date drew nearer and nearer, she began to feel more and more apprehensive. What if it wasn't a boy? She shivered at the thought....



     The doctor entered the room, grim features plastered onto his face, carrying a tiny infant, hers. She remembered him taking the child, saying it needed immediate attention. And now, he was back.
     “Is it a boy? Please tell me it is…” She whispered.
He stared at her with… Could that be pity?
“It’s a girl.”
     The blood rushed through her ears. The world seemed to crash down around her. She sat back, stunned into silence. What would her husband say? What would he do to the baby? What would he do to her? She gathered her thoughts.
     “That’s no way to be,” she chided herself. After all, she promised to love the new child, no matter what gender. The doctor tenderly placed the child in her arms. The baby cooed as she stared at her mother. She gazed lovingly back at her child and then out the window, deep in thought. The cherry tree’s pink blossoms were especially beautiful and this time of year. An idea came to her.  She  proclaimed, 
“I shall call her Hua, which means blossom, since love for her will always blossom in my heart.”


     It was a late summer night, a bite in the chilly "almost-autumn" air. However, to her, it seemed as though an icy steel hand was gripping her fast-beating heart. She was torn between terror and despair, all because of the basket she was cradling in her arms. As she stepped from the dim alley, her midnight-black hair created a dark shadow over her face, masking the fear, the sorrow, within the otherwise beautiful eyes. 
     The city was usually a welcoming sight, with all it’s twinkling lights. However, tonight, it seemed chilly and forbidding. The twinkling lights mocked her as she scuttled towards the gate, still clutching the basket, thinking of what she was about to do. She'd begged her husband the day before, pleaded to let the precious contents of this basket stay. But no, "it", he said, must go. Nothing she said would change his mind. He’d even threatened to kick her out too. She continued her brisk pace towards the steps. "It", he'd said, as if “it” was just a worn hat, or perhaps a piece of parchment, something that could easily be thrown away or replaced. Not as if this was a child, her daughter, only three weeks old. She choked back a sob as she reached the gate of the orphanage at last. 
     Pain seared through her heart, driving sorrow into the deepest crevices of her very soul. She laid the basket down at the worn step, gazing down at her peacefully sleeping infant, taking in for the last time her tiny button nose, the way she breathed so lightly as she slumbered, her beautiful chocolate eyes, with long, black, fluttering lashes, picturing the way her eyes sparkled with innocence and mischief upon waking. She stared at her plump cheeks, her rosebud lips, miniatures of her own, imagining the half moon smile that shone on her face, and wondering if it would ever light her child's face again. As she crouched over her daughters basket and unclasped the necklace from around her neck, her opaque hair fell in a veil around her neck, shielding her fast-falling tears.  As she made to lay the necklace in the basket and stand, she realized the baby had grabbed a fist-full of her hair. She bent back down, and brushed her lips against her daughter's minute ones. She then gently pried her daughter's fingers from her hair, with a small prick leaving one piece in her baby’s hand, replacing it with the necklace that had been passed down through generations of her family. The ornate gold chain and lilac gems complimented her petite features, just as they had for many others throughout hundreds of years of her ancestors.Yet her baby would never know this. She’d never know the joy of having a family.  
     She was fully sobbing now, tears shining on her face in the once dreamy full moon's light. She rose once more, and as she turned to leave, to walk back home in woefully painful shame, she whispered for the last time through the night, "Wo ai ni." I love you.

     By the time she got back to her humble home, the gentle light of dawn was beginning to spread its fingers through the darkness. Her tears had long since dried, she was determined to be strong. But when she turned the corner, as a strong breeze blew, she saw hundreds of cherry blossom petals floating through the breeze. They were everywhere. Carpeting the hard packed dirt road, swirling, twirling, and dancing in the wind. It was a sea of pale pink, and she felt like she was drowning. They gently touched the ground, like a thousand soft kisses. As she stared around her in awe, the tears began to flow again. The flowers… It was a cruelly ironic scene, how she was drowning in the blossoms that reminded her so much of her child. As the petals touched her shoulder, she brushed them off. When they floated to the ground, it was as though the earth were crying with her. Weeping a thousand tears for her precious angel, Hua.


 8 years later

     She stared out the dirty window, a tear tracing a track down though the dust. She was the picture of modest beauty, a long dark braid weaving down her back, and petite features. A layer of dirt masked her pretty features. She was dressed in a dirt brown dress, the color of a moldy potato, and the room she’d spent her whole life in didn’t look much  better. The spoiled-milk colored walls were peeling, and the floor was dirty.  
     Down at the street below, people bustled along, laughing and chatting with their friends and family. Family. The word was so foreign to her. She didn’t remember her family, just this sadness, this pain, this loneliness. All she’d ever known. If she dug back deep enough, she could remember a tear touching her face, a kiss, and then… darkness. And that was all it's been since.
     Hua fingered the necklace that hung around her neck. It had always confused her, with it’s ornate lavender gems encrusted in real gold. Why had her parents been able to give her the necklace, but not keep her? Or at least the nannies at the orphanage told her it was her parents. They said that she’d been found outside at the crumbling stone step next to the gate when she was just 3 weeks old, with nothing but the clothes on her back, a small blanket, and the necklace. They’d also said she was gripping one long, silky, black piece of hair. Possibly… her mother’s? One of the nannies had saved it for her, and now it was woven through her necklace. She treasured the necklace, as it was the only decorative thing in the whole orphanage. The only thing she had to hold onto her mother. The only thing that could cheer her when she felt crushed in the tsunami of sadness that was her life. Hua stared out the window, a tear tracing a track through the grime…


        Years of waiting and watching, lying, and forcing the puzzle pieces into place had paid off- Hua was alive and healthy, a beautiful young woman. 

        She’d spent the last eight years watching at the orphanage, playing the role of a caring nanny. Nothing more. Just a kind caretaker, perhaps more interested in the well-being of the children than most, but still, there was no special bond between her and Hua. Or at least, none that Hua knew of. But today she knew she had to tell her the truth and come clean about her past.


     Hua was laying on the edge of the old metal cot, counting the number of mold spots on the ceiling tiles. She heard a noise at the door, and one of the nannies entered. She didn’t really have any strong affection for any of them, but this one seemed… different. She had a gentle tone about her, kinder than the others, more caring towards the children. She came over and sat on the edge of the bed.

     She sat down and gazed at Hua. Hua looked slightly confused, and asked what was wrong. She looked at her, and without further ado, announced,
“Hua, I’m your mother.”

                                                                                       By Amie Rapp

She Wanted to Play the Guitar!

Because of her limb difference, Julia can either strum or play chords on a guitar, but she can't do both at the same time, and this girl likes to rock and roll!
So we took a little trip to Shriner's Hospital and talked to a prosthetist. She was very enthusiastic about developing a device for Julia that would help her to hold a pick with her left hand!

Julia was a little scared because this was a new experience, but it didn't take long before she was smiling and asking questions again.

First the prosthetist measured Julia's arm.

Then Julia got to pick out her design. She chose blue marble.

Now it was time to start making her device. Her arm was covered in a couple socks, and then it was wrapped in "mud", which didn't look or feel like mud at all. It was a roll of sticky white stuff that hardened after it was applied.

This part didn't hurt at all!

Now the prosthetist marked different places on the form to show where Julia's bones were and where her arm bent.

Once the form was hardened, it came right off! Now all we had to do was go home and let the prosthetist work her magic.

A couple weeks later, we returned to Shriner's to pick up her device.
First, a sock was put on her arm and then a silicone-like sleeve was used to hold the device in place. It had to be adjusted just a little bit to make sure that it fit perfectly.

Now for the big moment! It was time to try it out with a guitar. The prosthetist checked to make sure that the angle was correct

Then Dad gave a few quick pointers.

And after a little bit of practice...

        We have a ROCK STAR in the making!

Thursday, May 8, 2014

The Fragile Thread

I mentally started this post about a month ago, and in my mind the title was, "Never Underestimate the Value of a Mom." My premise was going to be that even though we moms are great at knowing what we're not so good at, our children see past all that and love us unconditionally.

You see, my daughter had gotten into an unintentional habit of looking up at me multiple times a day and saying the words, "I'm so glad I have a mommy and daddy!" 
Every. Single. Day. She said those words with the most serene, happy look on her face, and she would usually be holding my hand, so she would snug up on my arm and melt into me. What a treasure! What a treat to hear those words even when I had made mistakes or mishandled situations earlier in the day. When we were playing together or taking a walk, just spending time together, inevitably she would look up at me with her dark brown eyes and speak her happiness into my heart. "I'm so glad to have a mommy and daddy!"

"This is the message that has to get out there," I thought. "Kids need moms, even moms who don't feel like they have it all together. I certainly don't, and my daughter doesn't even seem to notice. She's just happy to feel loved and belong."  That was the post I was going to write, and if I was lucky, it may have even included a picture of Julia's face as she smiled up at me in that moment just before the words poured out of her mouth.

But I got busy, and the blog took a backseat to working with my husband to build a playset in the backyard and then to planning the big birthday party for a certain little girl. And my post never got written. Why not write in now? The party was last weekend. Everything is cleaned up and put away. Thank you notes are written.  Everyone's in school, and I've got a quiet house.

Well, about that. Um, a couple days ago my daughter said that she wanted another family. She even named one of her friends and thought that her family might be a better fit. Ouch!

Come to think of it, I hadn't heard her daily mantra in awhile. Wasn't she still glad to have a mommy and daddy?  What about the swing set? That was mostly for her. And the birthday party? Definitely for her. Yet she recently had been acting like she was auditioning to be the poster child for kids who misbehave just to get attention. You know that whole theory that says negative attention is better than no attention at all...

And the more I thought about it, the more I realized that I had gotten completely caught up in doing things for her and had neglected to do things with her. For about a week and a half, my priorities were focused on getting things done, and my sweet little girl who was so happy to have a mommy and daddy was pushed to the side.

A child needs to know that they're precious and valuable, and one of the best ways to convey this message is to just be with them. So the next morning when Julia woke up, I scooped her up and rocked her back and forth, looking into her eyes and telling her how precious she was. We held hands walking out to the car when it was time to go to school. After school, we played in the backyard together and planted some flowers.Over the next several days, as I became more intentional, her attention-seeking behaviors lessened, which was a win-win for us all!

Yesterday we were playing dolls in her room when she stopped and looked me straight in the eye. I saw the expression on her face before I heard the words, and I knew what was coming. 

"I'm so happy to have a mommy and daddy!"

There is an Ancient Chinese Proverb that says, "An invisible red thread connects those who are destined to meet, regardless of time, place, or circumstance. The thread may stretch or tangle but will never break."   

(That's the look. She LOVES her daddy!)

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Unexpected Reaction

Julia and I were watching the dress rehearsal for my son's school musical last week. It was phenomenal! He goes to an academy of the arts, and they know how to put on a show!  The performance, featuring different books and Broadway musicals, moved seamlessly from Beauty and the Beast, to The Jungle Book, to Mary Poppins, to The Music Man. The next group  included a few little girls, one with red hair- Annie!  I just knew Julia and I would enjoy this song and dance as much as we had the others. 

And then they started singing, and my eyes immediately filled up with tears. 

Wait. What? This was Annie, a delightful musical! Why was I fighting off the ugly cry like nobody's business?

These were the words that I heard, really heard, with my heart-

      "'Steada treated, we get tricked,
        'Steada kisses, we get kicked..."

      "Empty bellies, 'steada full
        It's the hard-knock life."

And I sat there holding my daughter, who came to us at four years old weighing a whopping 19lbs., who talks of the man with the stick who hits children and uses black markers to color on their limb differences, who tells of how scared she was to go to bed at night. And the tears kept filling up my eyes as the children on stage sang and danced to the words-


    "No one's there when your dreams at night get creepy!
      No one cares if you grow... or if you shrink
      No one dries if your eyes get wet and weepy!"

I told myself, "It's just a song. Look at those cute kids! Look at their dance moves! They're really in sync. What cute choreography!" But the tears would not leave my eyes and the lump in my throat threatened to burst into a sob. For my daughter, before June 11, 2012, THIS WAS HER STORY. For so many children, THIS IS REALITY. THIS IS THEIR LIFE.  

       Empty belly life
       Rotten smelly life
       Full of sorrow life
       No tomorrow life"

The song just kept going on and on, sung by beautiful children with dazzling smiles, and I held onto my daughter a little more tightly and willed the tears not to overflow onto my cheeks. 

I could picture the faces of the many parentless children who are being advocated for daily by other adoptive moms and their adoption agencies. I kept seeing the soulful eyes of children who had no reason to hope for a better tomorrow. And I heard the words,

      "No one cares for you a smidge,
       When you're in an orphanage."

And I wanted to say, "I care! I care that you're hungry and scared and lonely! I care that you don't have toys to play with or enough food to fill your tummy. I care that you are mistreated and neglected."

I care enough to cry for you, but do I care enough to do more? Will I advocate for you so that your family can find you? Will I sponsor you so that you can have your needs met? Will I donate to organizations who give grants to adoptive families so that your parents can get to you more quickly? Will I bring you home and be your mom? 

Will I play a part in your tomorrow?

The song ended, the audience clapped, I blinked away my tears and my daughter was none the wiser. For her, that life is over. She has so many people who love her profoundly! Her needs are met, her heart is healing, her future looks bright. The smile that reaches her eyes speaks volumes!

But what about the others?  It's not my intention to ruin "Annie" for anyone, but if you're anything like me, this song will be running through your mind for the next several days. While you fold laundry, when you're washing dishes, as you're unlocking your car and pulling out of your driveway, you'll be mentally dancing to the tune of "It's the Hard-Knock Life." Then you'll catch yourself and the words might hold new meaning.  I know. I've been humming, whistling, and singing it since last week! It's one of those things that can't be helped. But when you hear the words, "Santa Clause, we never see, Santa Clause, what's that, who's he?" leaving your lips, would you use that moment as an opportunity? 

If you'd like to learn more about how you can bring hope to a child who desperately needs it, here are a few links to check out:

If you're not quite to that point yet, here are some books that I read that opened my eyes to the plight of the orphan:

Daughter of a Thousand Pieces of Gold by Peg Helminski
Silent Tears by Kay Bratt
The Hole in Our Gospel by Richard Stearns
Kisses from Katie by Katie Davis

And if transfomations inspire you, here are a couple links to movies that we've made to chronicle our daughter's Gotcha Day and her first year home.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Fear Response- The Great Imposter

Our five year old daughter has been home since June of 2012, and from the moment we met her in China, we felt a huge sense of relief that she was such an enjoyable little girl.
We had heard about children who display what is commonly referred to as “orphanage behavior” and to be honest, we felt like we had dodged a bullet because our daughter was obedient, in control of herself, and kind to others.

Until about five months ago…

It seemed like it came out of the blue, but we started to notice that meal times were more of a struggle with Julia’s behavior than they had ever been.  She started putting her hands into her food, hitting whoever she could reach, making a huge mess, and basically had regressed to the level of a toddler. It was frustrating, and we tried the traditional parenting methods that we had used with our two homegrown children to no avail. She seemed to get worse!

Riding in the car became a nightmare with hitting, yelling loudly, and destroying toys or the occasional takeout cup. Again, time outs and punishments didn’t seem to make a dent in the mountain of misbehavior that we were experiencing, and again, rather than improving, her behavior seemed worse after consequences.

When we stayed home, things were no better. If Julia was ever out of my line of vision, she was more than likely in her brother’s or sister’s rooms getting into their things and leaving a trail. I could locate her by the sound of her out-of-character, high pitched laughter- not a joyous sound, but one of mischief.

School was a major frustration at this point.  She was often in trouble, missing out on activities and being sent to the office.  At bedtime, she started to beg me not to make her go to school the next day. This was so unlike her!

What had happened to our sweet, easy-going daughter? Had life to this point just been a honeymoon of sorts, and was this the real girl beneath the facade?  We were worried, exhausted, and also very sad. We missed the daughter we had brought home fifteen months earlier.

In a bit of desperation, I pulled out my copy of The Connected Child by Karyn Purvis, dusted it off, and began to read it. I had read it months before we even traveled for Julia, but many of the concepts had gotten lost in the realities of jet-lag and life with a new four year old.  Now I read it with fresh eyes searching for answers and solutions.

The Connected Child is an amazing book!  It was written for those who parent children from hard places, but the ideas and methods are equally appropriate for the child who has been nurtured since birth.  As I read, I started to practice the concepts presented.  Each time I used one of the techniques outlined in the book and it would work, I was pleasantly shocked!  We were starting to make some headway with the negative behaviors that we were experiencing, but honestly it was exhausting!  Was this our new normal? I won’t lie to you. We were still discouraged and missing our sweet, fun daughter.

Our epiphany came on Christmas day, which seems rather appropriate because it was almost like a gift to us. We got together with family for the day, and when we entered the house, we were greeted by a large, friendly dog.  Julia scrambled up my arms until she was almost perched on my shoulder. After a bit, the dog was removed from the room, but I noticed a huge change in Julia’s behavior. While I was holding her she started hitting me in the face, pulling at my sweater, repeating nonsense words, and generally acting completely out of control.  As I restrained her hands and tried to calm her, I remembered something that I had read in The Connected Child the week before.

“Youngsters… can be physically safe in their new adoptive home, but past traumas encoded within their brains are easily reactivated.  Hunger, abuse, or abandonment that occurred months or years ago can still trigger terror, which in turns leads to out-of-control behavior. Chronic fear is like a schoolyard bully that scares children into behaving poorly. Parents might easily confuse fear-based outbursts with willful disobedience, but they are not the same thing at all.” (pp. 47-48, The Connected Child, 2007, Purvis, Cross, and Sunshine)

Wondering if this could be a fear-response, and feeling a little desperate, I took her to a bedroom downstairs, closed the door, and sat on the edge of the bed with her. I cradled her like a baby and began to rock her and talk softly to her.  I told her in very simple language that she was safe and that daddy and I would take care of her. I reassured her that we would hold her all day if she needed us to and reminded her that the dog was very friendly with children. Within minutes, she calmed down and was ready to go back upstairs. The dog was kept in another room for the rest of the day, but whenever he was mentioned Julia would begin to unravel.  A little bit of reassurance whispered in her ear brought her back. It was amazing!

Over the next several days I thought about this new-found discovery. I realized that there was a direct correlation between her begging me to keep her home from school and the timeframe of when her negative behavior started at home.  The questions that I asked led me to believe that she was really struggling with fear at school. She was caught in a vicious cycle that began with her noncompliance, resulting in negative consequences, triggering a fear-response of out-of-control behavior, leading to more penalties, and so the cycle went.  Her teachers tried some positive reinforcement strategies at school, but her fear was just transferred to her concern for her friends who were getting negative consequences.  (The “negative consequences” mainly included a check on the behavior chart and lost recess time.) Please don’t misunderstand. My goal is not to speak poorly of her teachers or school.  Her classroom was probably no different than most, and her teachers loved their students. But we finally came to the conclusion that this was not the best situation for Julia.   

Since pulling her out of school and enrolling her in a preschool with a play-based environment, her behavior has changed dramatically.  She is no longer functioning on a high level of anxiety, and while we still deal with behavior issues, they are age-appropriate and much more easily modified. As she has relaxed, her sweet, fun, silly personality has returned. We have our girl back! 

Now that we’ve identified the results of fear on our daughter, we've begun to notice the fear response when we see it creeping into our home.  Sometimes it masquerades as a wild, silly girl who won’t stay in her bed at night. Recently, it appeared in our car as we drove up north for the funeral of a dear family member. It was camouflaged by the repetition of potty words, screaming, hitting, and cackling.  A simple, “Is something scaring you?” and other such leading questions, coupled with the resulting dialogue and lots of reassurance, usually was all it took to diffuse the situation.

Recognizing and having strategies to eradicate the fear response in our daughter has been life-changing for our family.  I felt compelled to share our story, not to expose our daughter or to reflect negatively on those who have worked with her, but to communicate that there might be another option when it comes to poor behavior. Perhaps there is a family who is struggling with behavior issues like we were and is searching for an answer. Perhaps there is a child being punished for behavior that is more of a reflex than willful disobedience.  Maybe fear is involved? As we’ve found, it doesn’t always present itself in typical fashion- trembling, crying, hiding, etc.  Fear is a master of disguises and we’ve come to realize that it’s our responsibility to recognize it in its various forms and replace it with a strong feeling of safety and security.