Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Joy to our world

It is hard to believe at this time last year Vivian was spending the majority of her days in a crib in a cold orphanage in China.  No Christmas joy in her life.

We were waiting for her and feeling her absence in our lives.

This year we are all together and I don't think any of us could have imagined the joy she would bring into our world.

I am so excited to watch her experience her first Christmas. 

I have to share these few "out-takes" from the day we tried to take our Christmas card picture. They make me smile so big.  We had a hard time getting a good picture and the main problem that day was Vivian!!  When she first came home we could hardly get her to smile, so seeing these pictures of her being wild and fun and crazy is awesome.  The big kids get such a kick out of her.

"joyful, joyful we adore thee"

Feeling incredibly lucky this Christmas for all that we have been given.

"the wonders of His love"

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Attached at the hip

That is Vivian and I these days:  attached at the hip.  Like, literally.  This child does not let me out of her sight.
To be honest, I am exhausted.
Girlfriend follows me EVERWHERE.  If I walk in one room, she follows. If I sit at my computer, she crawls up on the chair with me.  If I run downstairs to try and quickly change over the laundry, she is right behind me. If I try to unload the dishwasher, she crawls up on it and tries to unload it with me.  If I shower, she gets in (like EVERY TIME I shower).  She even follows me when I go to the bathroom.  It is 24-7.  She is my little shadow.
And I am exhausted.
She has been home for almost 6 months and we been together for almost every minute of those almost 6 months.  Rob and I have had one babysitter since returning home.  I have been to the gym a big fat 0 times since returning home. 
I miss things. I miss having kid-free lunches with my friends.  I miss my friends, actually.  I miss nights out with my husband.  I miss the gym.  I miss exercise.  I miss running errands BY MYSELF while the kids are at school.  I miss being involved in the big kids school.  I miss being alone.  I am someone who really likes to be have some alone time and let me tell you, there is NONE of that these days. 
But, this is what I signed up for.  When you adopt, you read a lot about the importance of "cocooning" your family the first few months home.  And when we decided to do this I made the commitment the give up the "me" stuff to try and give my child what she needed, for as long as it took.  And the thing is, all this staying home, and not running around and not leaving the kids has had its advantages.  We have all bonded.  We have all had A LOT of  together time.  We have slowed down and relied on each other, and our extended family, for pretty much everything. 
And when I hear myself start to complain, I have to stop. I am aware that this stuff I am calling "hard", pales in comparison to the hard things my daughter has had to endure in her life.  When I think about what she has been through, I shut up. 
I am constantly living with the reality that there is a woman somewhere on the other side of the world that doesn't get to do what I am doing.  A woman who might give anything to be able to have one minute of my life.  A woman who may only dream of having her daughter follow her around everywhere.  And when that reality hits me I turn from tired and annoyed to humbled and grateful and determined to do better and be better the next day. 
I am reminded that Vivian is a gift, given to me by someone else.  Trusted to me to treasure and love. 
And really, it was the same with my other children.  They also were gifts, given to me and trusted to me to treasure and love.
Being Vivian's mommy may be hard in this stage we are in, but it is also awesome.  For all the worries I had before we went to China about attachment issues, I never dreamed my child would attach to me so well.  Yes, some days it drives me crazy, but most days I am grateful.  She had every reason in the world not to trust me, yet she has, from the moment we met. 
I may be tired, but I am loving being her mommy.

“...because "Mommy" is forever.  It's such a powerful name.

Mommy means "I trust you." Mommy means "you will protect me."

Mommy is for shouting when you need someone dependable and for laughing with when you are excited.

 Mommy is for crying on and cuddling with when you are sad, or giggling and hiding behind when you are embarrassed.
Mommy is the fixer of boo-boos and the mender of broken hearts.

Mommy is a comfort place - a safe place.

 Mommy means "you are mine and I am yours and we are family. 

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Vivian's past

In early November a team of therapists (from the organization TEAMworks), who specialize in caring for special needs orphans, traveled to China to work for a week in Vivian's orphanage.  Their goal was to help the children there (in particular the special needs children) and train the nannies to better provide for these children.  They were able to spend several days working with and changing the lives of the sweet children living in Vivian's orphanage.

I was lucky enough to make contact with one of the women in this group prior to their trip.  She reached out to me when she found my blog while researching the orphanage. We connected immediately (she has also adopted a little girl from China) and she understood my interest in their trip.  As you may remember, Rob and I were not allowed inside Vivian's orphanage, nor were we given much information at all about her life there, so we were hoping their trip could fill in some gaps for us and for Vivian.

What we found out did help explain some things about Vivian.

What we found out has also been extremely hard to hear and digest. 

For instance, we learned that there are approximately 35-40 kids in the orphanage (ranging in age from 8 months to 19 years old).  There are 2 nannies that work each shift -- one does the cooking and laundry leaving ONE to look after the 35+ kids. 

The TEAMworks group reported that the orphanage is very quiet, saying you could hear a pin drop at any hour of the day.  The nannies are just not talking to the kids, and the kids are not crying because they learn early on that no one comes if they do.  {This explains why Vivian came to us with little to no speech}

Perhaps one of the hardest thing to hear was that the children are taken out of their cribs one hour in the morning and one hour at night.  They spend the other 22 hours of their day in their cribs (including meals).  Yes, you read that correctly, they spend the other 22 hours of the day in their cribs.  {This also explains why Vivian came to us very weak and, at age 33 months, barely able to walk}

It has been really hard for me to process this information. It shouldn't be a surprise ... we were educated about what orphanage life is like through our parent training and have heard many stories from other adoptive parents.  Yet, somehow hearing it from people who were actually there makes it very real.  I can't yet put into words how it makes me feel, it is just too hard. 

On a positive note these therapists (who I consider angels on earth) were able to accomplish some wonderful things during their visit. They were able to sit kids up in wheelchairs who had never sat up before,

 and give children who had never had the opportunity to feed themselves a chance to do that.

 They were able to put bedding, wedges and mirrors in what were once empty cribs

We saw this room below in a video that was sent to us before we got Vivian.  In the video, the room was almost completely empty.  Apparently it was rarely used.  The TEAMworks ladies were able to get the children out of their cribs and into this room and fill it with mats and toys, encouraging the nannies to continue to bring the children in here to play,
and they were able to love on these sweet kids in a way that no adult ever has. 

 The TEAMworks team trained the nannies and gave them strategies to better care for these children.  Apparently the nannies were very receptive to these ideas.  They were also able to identify a few children in desperate need of immediate medical attention and urge the orphanage to seek help for them.  One is this sweet girl who has an unrepaired heart condition that is wearing her little body out.
 And one is this little boy who has hycrocephalous
And maybe the most touching story of the week was they were able to get this 19 year old girl to walk for the first time!!! It is heartbreaking to think she has spent her entire 19 years in this building.  These ladies fell head over heels in love with her and really wanted to bring her home with them!


The trip went so well that this group has been invited to come back again.   How wonderful for these children!!!  These women really are an amazing group who made a huge difference in the lives of these children. 

I want to leave you with some final images of the beautiful children living in Vivian's orphanage.  For those of you who donated toys when Rob and I went to China, and for those who donated through my blog to the adoption agency (A Helping Hand) partnering with this orphanage, and those who donated to the TEAMworks auction items, these are the kids who benefited, and will continue to benefit, from your generosity.  To my knowledge, only 6 of these children have the proper paperwork completed  to be adopted.  The rest are stuck for now.  I know that AHH adoption agency is working to process the paperwork on more of these children. We will continue to hope and pray that each of them will one day find their own family. These were Vivian's friends.  She shares a bond with them, and so we do also.  We are connected to them.  We cannot forget about them.



And now, knowing what we know about Vivian's life before us, we squeeze her a little tighter, spoil her a little more, and stand even more in awe of her strength.  Our hearts hurt for all that she had to endure and for all the love and attention she missed out on, but she is home now and for that, we are incredibly grateful.
*For more information on TEAMworks, please visit their website at www.teamworks.org, or visit them on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/teamworksteam.  They will be posting ways you can help them raise money for their trip back to China.
*For more information on A Helping Hand adoption agency visit http://ahelpinghandadoption.org, to donate to their partnership with this orphanage, visit https://hhaa.ejoinme.org/?tabid=472600.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

5 months

It's been 5 months since we met.

It is hard to believe how far she has come in 5 short months.

She is such an awesome kid.  She is so full of joy and, given all that she has been through, that amazes me.

I am amazed at the way she has gracefully left one life behind and embraced a new one

I am thankful this Thanksgiving for the gift of adoption in our lives.  Thankful for the way it has completed our family and changed us all.

“I didn’t give you the gift of life, life gave me the gift of you”

Linking up here this week
Ni Hao Yall

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Can I break your heart?

"Break my heart for what  breaks Yours" -Psalm 28:7

I came home from China with some wonderful things.  I came home with a beautiful, wonderful daughter.  I came home with a new appreciation for all that I have.  I came home with amazing new friendships and a taste of life halfway across the world.

I also came home with a broken heart.  And this is one thing I did not anticipate coming home with.

I can't seem to forget.  I can't seem to just "move one". I can't seem to stop thinking about what Vivian's life was like before we brought her home.  Mostly, I can't seem to stop thinking about the millions of other children living that same life and especially the ones who will NOT come home.

It is such a burden.  And I'm not exactly sure what I am supposed to do with it. 

I am not adopting again.  Our family is complete. I  can't handle any more children and, more importantly, I just don't feel in my heart that is what I am supposed to do.  BUT, I know that I want to do something with this burden.  I NEED to do something.  I am not going to say, "thank you for this wonderful child" and go back to my life forgetting those who are left behind.  I think I am supposed to listen to my broken heart.

Right now the only thing I can see that I can do is to try to use my experience, and use my small voice here on this blog, to urge others to consider helping these children who are facing so much and who are all alone in this world.

Before we went to China, I was saddened by the idea that there are so many orphans in this world.  But now, when I see pictures and hear stories of orphans, I am devastated. I see in all these children a piece of my own children, especially Vivian.  I know the reality is that with any small twist of fate she could've ended up  growing up in institution...all alone and it is unbearable to think about that.

For example, these children.  They may not understand exactly what adoption is, but they will break your heart with their desire for a family

And sad "Emily", who represents so many children who have grown up in orphanages, watching others be adopted and wondering when, and if, their turn will ever come

These kids need people to see them and hear their stories and help them.

How?  There are so many ways.  I will just give you a few.

-Pray for these children.  That is so easy and requires so little.

-Sponsor a child.
This is such a great way to make a huge impact on an orphan's life.  Rob and I sponsor two children: This little cutie through our wonderful adoption agency, CCAI,
And this sweet guy through another great organization, Pearl River Outreach
It is pretty awesome to know that, because of our monthly support, both of these children are out of their orphanages and in foster care.  It is so much better for them.  I recommend both of these organizations if you are interested in sponsoring and I will list a few others that do wonderful things for orphans in China.  Yes, it is a monthly sacrifice, but it means so much in the lives of these kids.  It is very rewarding to get the updates on these kids and see them thriving in an environment that is so much better than their orphanage.   Please consider sponsoring.  And you don't have to do continuous sponsorships, many of these organizations will take one time donations.
Chinese Children Adoption International (CCAI)  www.ccaifamily.org
Pearl River Outreach  www.pearlriveoutreach.com
Love Without Boundaries  www.lovewithoutboundaries.com
Half the Sky  www.halfthesky.org
An Orphan's Wish  www.anorphanswish.org
Show Hope www.showhope.org
-Host a child.
Want to make a difference in an orphan's life, but aren't ready to make the lifelong commitment to adopt?  How about hosting a child for just a few weeks.  You can view the photolisting of orphans from several counties available for hosting and find more information here:
Project 143  www.p143.org
-Adopt a child.
I never want this blog to be place where it seems like I am trying to talk people into adopting.  You don't "talk someone into" something so huge.   Adoption is not for everyone and I understand that.  HOWEVER, it is something I wish more people would consider. Being it is Nation Adoption Month, I am going to go ahead and speak to those out there who might consider opening their hearts and homes to an orphan.  Don't think you can do it?  Oh, I promise, if we can, you can!   If you are someone who feels a "tug" at your heart, if you are someone who hears a "call" (whether it be a loud voice or a soft whisper), if you are someone who feels you have more love to give, if these children "break your heart" I urge you to seriously consider changing a child's life by adopting.  It will change your life even more. 
Research.  Ask questions.  Talk to your spouse.  Reach out to adoptive families.  Listen to your heart.  Follow your faith.  Take the leap. 
These kids need people to come for them.  They deserve so much more than life in an institution.  They need love.  Plain and simple.  And I know that so many people reading this right now have that to give.
Yes, it is scary.  Yes, it is a long and hard process.  Yes, it is risky.  And yes, it is expensive.  But it is SO WORTH IT.  Adoption will bless your life in ways you can't even imagine.  It will break your heart, but it will also change your heart and fill your heart with incredible joy.  If you feel adoption is in your heart, I feel pretty confident saying that you might have regrets if you don't move forward, but you won't have any if you do.

I am always thrilled to talk to people about adoption.  If there are any questions I can answer please feel free to leave me a comment or message me on Facebook and I would be happy to get back to you (make sure to leave an email address or way for me to contact you).

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Our Adoption Video

Today is Orphan Sunday.

November is National Adoption Month.

I happened to finish this video last night and it seemed like a good time to share it.

There are so many orphans in this world.  Too many.

Today, I am grateful that there is a little girl in my house who is an orphan no more. 

Today, and every day, I am heartbroken for those who will never know the love of a family.

I have cried a lot of tears, and had a lot of fun making this video.  When I watch it, and I see the image of the plane flying across the world, I still can't believe I WAS ON THAT PLANE.  I still can't believe I am the person in this video.  It is still crazy to me that Rob and I traveled to the other side of the world and found our daughter there.  It is amazing that WE get to be Vivian' parents.

I am so glad we said yes to adoption.

This is what adoption is all about:  Faith. Hope. Heartbreak. Grief. Healing. Happiness. Love.

This video is for Vivian.  I wanted to try and put together an accurate version of what our trip to China was like.  It is not all happy pictures and happy music.  But, it is our story.  Sorry it is a little long, and a little cheesy, but I just had so much I couldn't cut out.

Out there in the world today there are tens and hundreds and thousands and millions of "Vivians".  

An estimated 147 million, actually.

Wrap your head around that.

There is so much we all can do to help these precious children.  I will be posting more about how you can help this month.

But, for today, if you want a picture of what adoption is all about..... here you go.



Thursday, October 10, 2013

Vivian is 3!

Miss Vivian turned 3 this week!  I am so grateful we were able to have her home by her birthday.  It was so special to be able to celebrate with her. 

We kept the celebration pretty low-key.  Over the weekend we did the usual and invited the cousins over.  We did sing and have cake, and she seemed to enjoy it all.


One of the highlights of the night was my brother-in-law and nephew showing up in these shirts (which they made about 5 minutes before arriving).  They like to refer to Vivian as "the Viv" and we cracked up when we saw this

Me, my sisters and best friend

Opening presents (she had a lot of help from her siblings and cousins).  Try to ignore the random dress up outfits and wigs the big kids are sporting.  This is how we roll at family get togethers.


Singing and eating cake. Also try to ignore the cake.  Martha Stewart I am not.


On the actual day of her birthday, Rob and I took her out to lunch.  We continued our work of trying to fatten her up by taking her out for a hot dog and  French fries.

While we feel sad about the two birthdays we missed, we are so grateful we get to spend every birthday from here on out with her.  Of course, her birthday brings some of those lingering questions to mind:  where was she born?, what time of day was she born?, what did she look like (can you even imagine how beautiful she must have been)?, and what was she like as a baby.  What I would give to know these things.  And one day I know Vivian will want to know these things.  But, we will never know, and that is just something we all have to live with and find a way to come to peace with.

I spent a lot of her birthday thinking about her birthparents. I wonder what this day is like for them.  Do they remember the day? Do they wonder about her?  Do they miss her?  I feel like the answer to these questions has to be 'yes'.  And this makes me feel a mix of guilt and appreciation for what I have.  I have, because of their sacrifice, a fourth beautiful child.  I realize the chances are very high they have only one child and can't imagine a world where you get to have FOUR.  I have TWO BEAUTIFUL daughters.  I realize the chances are also high that I have Vivian because she was a daughter, and her mother most likely does not know the joy of having a little girl.  This is why I feel so uncomfortable when people say that Rob and I did a great thing by bringing Vivian home.  Yes, we agree that she is much better off here than in that orphanage, but it was a selfish thing.  It's not like we sacrificed and worked hard and took this risk to get nothing in return for it.  We got to bring home a beautiful, wonderful child to love and take care of.   We get to have four children.  We are so lucky and we feel that way every single day.

Vivian is doing great, by the way.  She is still not talking a whole lot, but she gets a few new words every week.  She is eating great, sleeping great and is really just such a joy.  She has become very comfortable in her new world and we go out and about all the time now and she does really well.  Hard to believe how far she has come in 3 months.  She is just awesome.

Happy birthday sweet girl.