"Mom, can we adopt the loneliest boy or girl in China?"
As soon as I heard this compassionate question from our little girl coloring at the kitchen table, I dropped the spatula and ran over. Dinner could wait. Answering this question could not. There will be so many moments I'll forget about this adoption journey, but that question. Never.
"Yes, of course, sweet girl. God will show us who the loneliest little boy or girl is and He'll bring him or her into our family. We just have to pray and trust Him."
(Side note, two years ago, we were worried that adoption would somehow "ruin" our daughter. Far, far, far from it. God has used adoption to grow an extremely compassionate heart in our precious little girl. We're so thankful she is beautifully "ruined," truly able to see the hurting in this world and desiring to show Jesus's love to them in the most practical way: inviting any and every precious child into our family. If it were up to her, our house would be teeming full of precious brothers and sisters from China!)
When we were matched to our son, Titus, it was about as straightforward as can be. Even though I begged my husband every day if we could request the file of every little adorable boy that popped up on my screen, he (in God's sovereignty!) never said "yes" until we saw a precious boy with piercing eyes and the same name as ours. His file was up-to-date and quite full of details. Of course, we were full of fear, but after a week of praying and talking with an army of medical professionals, we said our bravest "YES!" The funny thing is today, when we look at our son, the words "fear" never cross our mind. The only thing we have to fear is that with his incredibly creative and inquisitive mind, he'll burn down our house with another experiment of his! (Thankfully, he has a sister who keeps a close eye on him and informs us when something starts smoking!)
This time around, things have been vastly different, minus the fear and unknowns. They trail every adoption story in different, but very real ways. Things have changed since we were matched to Titus, as now you must have your home study finalized before being matched with a child. Some children's files are labeled "Special Focus" (SF) and you can be matched after your home study is finished. The idea is that SF children have greater medical needs and the agencies can advocate for them more, however sometimes the children end up having minor needs. The other way to be match is to wait until your dossier is logged into China and then your agency can send you a LID (logged in dossier) child's file for you to accept.
The most torturous part of the journey this time around is that our agency has been sending us emails of SF children since we put our initial application in. Week after week, we'd receive an e-mail with a long list of precious faces, heart-breaking stories, and so many unknowns. And week after week, I'd cry through the list, knowing we can do nothing to help these children. Either they would be adopted (wonderful!) or put back on the waiting list (heart-wrenching!) by the time our home study was finished.
At first, I tried to shelter our daughter from these emails. I excused it by saying I didn't want her to get too "attached" to a child. But really, I was trying to shelter her from what I deemed to be the "hard" of international special needs adoption. One day as I was scrolling through it secretly (or so I thought), I heard from over my shoulder, "She's beautiful. Can we adopt her?" And my heart stopped. This little girl was about ten years old and was blessed with an extra chromosome. Not what the world would deem as "beautiful" at all. I felt God speaking to my heart, "What you think is 'hard' or 'scary' or 'different,' she sees as beautiful. Just beautiful." So you better believe that we cried through those lists together from then on and I constantly had to remind her that though we couldn't say "yes" to any of these children at the moment, we can pray that God would help other mommies and daddies to say that brave "yes" they so desperately needed.
Finally, we received word on Friday, October 7th that our home study should be finalized at the beginning of the next week. And "ironically" (or more like in God's sovereignty) we received another one of those agonizing emails. I saw a little boy who was about in the age range we were expecting to adopt and his special need was "delayed development," similar to our son's. "We can do that!" I thought and sent a pleading message to my husband. Within a few (long!) hours, we had his file.
I wish I could say that the moment I saw his pictures and read his file, I said "Wow, he's our son!" Or "Wow, he's perfect for our family!" I think the first thought that came into my mind though was just, "wow." And overwhelming and scary "wow." Looking back on it now, he looked so lonely in those pictures and his file was so vague, there really wasn't any other words. And there were very recent videos. Usually those are gold and you can analyze each second, movement, and sound to gain valuable information. Well, these little boy's videos only made us question and worry some more. They were everything but helpful. We had no idea if he could walk, talk, or understand anything at age four.
And, in all honesty, I regretted asking for his file. Sure, when we started this journey, we said that we weren't just in it because we think three is the magic number of kids or life is smooth sailing and we want another adventure. After going to Titus's orphanage and seeing that sea of precious faces, we knew we had to run back as fast as possible. But we felt like this time around we needed to say a brave "yes" to a child who others wouldn't say "yes" to. We knew this would probably mean a more scary and unknown journey than last time around, but we felt like God had prepared us and we were ready for the challenge.
But it's easy to be brave until you have to be brave. To be completely truthful, a few days before this, we briefly had in our hands a file of a young girl with seemingly "minor" needs. When I saw her adorable photos and even more adorable video, I was in love. My first thought was definitely, "She'd be easy." Now, there is nothing wrong with adopting a young girl with "minor" needs and each child equally deserves a family. However, what was wrong was my heart. I wanted easy and adorable. In God's sovereignty, we weren't able to say "yes" to her because of our home study not being finalized yet and another family was able to. Those few hours showed me something about myself that I didn't want to see: that though I can talk big and say I'll chose "hard," when the time comes, I will prioritize my comfort and chose what I deem as "easy" above all else.
So, back to the boy's file. We dutifully asked medical professionals and friends for insights, all of whom said there were so many unknowns in their opinion. We prayed and asked others to throughout the weekend and waited for a hopeful update on him. Monday rolled around and we didn't hear anything from our agency until that evening, and it wasn't the news we wanted to hear. Their China adoption program was temporarily on pause, meaning we wouldn't be getting our home study any time soon and we had no idea what would happen with this little boy's file. During the next three weeks of waiting for our agency to get the green light to go again, we prayed for this boy, but assumed this was probably God's way of saying "no," which we were OK with. We truly believe every child needs a forever family. But his needs seemed a little too much for our family to handle.
Finally, our agency was up and running again. We found out that they had only a few days left with his file and no update. We told them we couldn't say "yes" without an update, so please share his file with other families. In the end, we wanted most was that someone would say a brave "yes" to him, even if it couldn't be us. That Friday came too soon and our agency had to give his file back, which was hard. This meant he was going back on an endless list of children, probably going to get buried and his chances of getting adopted would get slimmer each day he got older. In the back of my mind, I just kept replaying my daughter's question and couldn't help thinking that this boy indeed was the loneliest boy we've seen so far in China.
During the next two weeks, we searched waiting children lists and had in our hands another child's file, which was even more vague and had more unknowns. And then we got an email from our agency on November 11th, informing us that the little boy had an update and asking if we wanted to see it. Not sure what to expect, we said "yes," and opened up our email to this precious picture:
We couldn't believe it! Not only was he standing, but he was looking at the camera and SMILING! My first thought this time was that his name should be "Asher," meaning "happy" in Hebrew. And, even more astounding was the video we received. (Check out our social media pages for a link to it!) He was walking and talking! And not just talking, but saying "jie jie" ("big sister"-what Titus calls our daughter). Now, his Chinese name isn't "Man" again, but that was about as close to a sign from God as we can get! His Chinese name begins with "A," so "Asher" just seems to fit. Maybe he was having an off day those other picture days and he really has a sunny personality. Or maybe they told him, "You've got a mommy and daddy coming for you" and he finally smiled his first smile. We'll never know the transformation that might have taken place in this little boy's life, but we are so grateful to see his precious smiling face!
And to add a cherry to the top, he is living in Xi'an, a city about a two-hour fast train from where we used to live and where Titus's orphanage is! These three cities who hold such a special place in our hearts make a triangle and we hope make visits back to China much easier! We're also grateful that we are a little familiar with where he is from, as our cities are culturally similar. I laughed when I saw where he is living, because I told my husband the day that we moved from China years ago that my archaeologist heart's only regret is that we didn't get to visit the Terracotta Warriors in Xi'an. Now, in a way I could've never imagined, we'll get to see them as a family of FIVE! (Bonus: If you want to see where Asher is living now, watch the documentary "Find Me" on Amazon. From what we know, he is living in the "pink castle" and we are very thankful he is in a caring place!)
And so, despite still so many unknowns about his medical condition and possible life-long challenges, we are saying saying our bravest "YES!" to this precious and very lonely boy! He seems to have a neurological condition and will need therapies and possibly a surgery, but we won't know exactly until we bring him home. Oh, and did we mention that his birthday happens to be exactly between our other two children, which are ten months apart?! This totally breaks two of the unwritten rules of adoption: adoption out of birth order and "artificial twinning" (adopting a child closer than nine months in age of another child in your family). So, in case you missed that, we'll have THREE children in a ten-month gap. Believe me, in many ways, this was even more of a prayer point than his medical needs, as we know due to research and wisdom of others, this is not encouraged. But we kept coming back to the fact that this boy needs a family and no other family has said a brave "yes" to him for over two years. Should we say "no" just because of something that is completely not his fault, his age? We've already seen that the enormous benefits of adopting a child close in age outweigh the great challenges. Yes, our children fight like "real" siblings, but they also have the most adorable friendship and understand each other better than we do. Honestly, what I think I'm most worried about is that somehow bringing this new little one into our family will disrupt their precious relationship. But we know that love can grow and we can't wait to see these Three Musketeers together!
So, yes, we are still very fearful, but are praying God gives us the faith to battle these fears, because this boy is so deserving of a family. And he's been waiting for way too long. Honestly, we still don't have all the warm fuzzies about him, because we know that saying "yes" to him means most likely saying "yes" to a harder and more mysterious road this time around. But others have said much braver "yes's" to children much older and with much more unknown needs. So don't try to glorify us or paint us as saint. We are saying the bravest "yes" that we can with the faith that God is giving us, knowing that He is ultimately in control of all of our lives.
Asher's story wouldn't be complete without a shout out to some very special people that were his cheerleaders and our support system throughout this adoption journey, but especially these past two months. With Titus's adoption, we had recently moved to Florida and our village was smaller, as well as we honestly hadn't told many people we were adopting until after we were matched to Titus. During the week we had his file and needed to decide, we had so many wonderful medical professionals give their insights. We were so appreciative, but it's one thing to talk to a medical professional once, someone who doesn't really know you or your family. It's a complete other thing to talk to friends who are OT therapists, special needs teachers, and mama's to precious children uniquely made by God. So many friends offered to help when they heard we were adopting again and we definitely took them up on it! It was so freeing and encouraging to ask random questions at random times, send a picture and ask for insights, help us navigate the resources offered to special needs children, and just keep saying, "You can do this! He's your boy!" That has been golden this time around.
So, let me say that if you feel like you're "just" a therapist or "just" a mom or "just" a whatever, offer your assistance to an adoptive family. Once a family receives a file, it's a rollercoaster of emotions and usually their judgement is cloudy (at least ours always is!). It has been the biggest blessing to have someone walk beside us, point out things we didn't notice, ask question we wouldn't think to ask, and just let us know that we're not alone in this journey. You know who you are. Thank you, sweet friends and family for jumping on this ride to bring our boy home!
The big question is, "What's next?" We're waiting on our I800A paperwork from the US government and then we can send our dossier paperwork to China! The usual travel time after LID (the date China logs your dossier in) is about 4-6 months, hopefully putting us in China summer 2020! Thank you for joining our rollercoaster ride and hang on tight with us these next few months as we keep working hard to bring Asher, who will not be the loneliest boy in China anymore, home!
In closing, while we dance at the fact that our son is not an orphan any longer, we can't help but mourn for all those precious faces we see daily march across our computer screens in advocacy posts and now again cannot help. They are also waiting way too long and are so in need of a loving family. No amount of money or donations or things can take away their loneliness. As we enter this Christmas season and snuggle our precious children tight while thinking about the greatest gift given to us, salvation through God sending His precious Son to earth, please consider how you can give the greatest gift to a waiting child just like our adorable Asher: your forever family.