Why Special Needs?

“Who is my neighbor?”
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If you’ve been around church for any length of time, you’ve probably heard this question before. A self-righteous man was trying to trap Jesus by asking Him what are the greatest commandments, to which Jesus responds with love God and love your neighbor. The logical question to follow this is, of course, “Well, then who is my neighbor?” Jesus doesn’t give a one-ling zinger to smote this cocky dude, but instead brilliantly illustrates his point with a story, what we usually refer to as “The Good Samaritan.”
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Recently, we were reading this story with our daughter in the children’s Bible, which simply, yet beautifully gets to Jesus’s point: Anyone who needs help is our neighbor. Yes, it could be our literal next-door neighbor who has never heard the life-changing Gospel of Christ, even if her house has ten churches within ten minutes. Or it could be the homeless teen in your English class at school. Or the sweet children in our city needing a temporary or permanent home and loving care.
But, according to Jesus’s definition, geography has no baring on who our neighbor is. For our family, a sweet little boy who lived exactly 7,981 miles (at least according to Google!) is our neighbor, because he was in need  of a forever family. And he was not alone. There are countless little “neighbors” thousands of miles away from us, but so close to the heart of God.
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I used to think that there were just too many orphans in the world. However, as I have been praying, God has changed my thinking. It’s not that there are too many orphans, but that there are not enough willing forever families. By “willing” I don’t be “fearless,” “rich,” or even “experienced,” but just “willing.” Willing to walk by faith and not fear. Willing to be humble and ask others for help. And willing to admit that international adoption and all the trauma it brings is a foreign world, but that they’re open to learning and growing.
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When talking about adoption specifically from China, people will say things like, “Why are Chinese parents abandoning only special needs children? I don’t think I could adopt a child with significant needs!” Before dipping my toes in the Chinese adoption world, I too had many misunderstandings about the children who are available for adoption in China. Recently, I have been staying up to the wee hours to read “The Heart of an Orphan” by the founder of the compassion charity “Love Without Boundaries,” Amy Eldridge.
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I’ll be honest, this book will wreck you to your very core. You probably will even wish you never read it. Because once you understand how much these precious neighbors a thousand miles away need help, you can’t go back. You will carry the weight of their sorrow and hurt with you forever. Someone actually asked Amy, who has literally seen the worst of the worst situations in her quest to help as many orphans and families of children with special needs as possible, if she wished she could do it all over again and never wade into these harsh realities. Her response is so challenging:
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“But the reality is that I do know. And once you know-once you have stepped into an orphanage and held the hands of kids who are searching for just one person to truly believe in them-there is no turning back. I carry the images of thousands of children in my heart, kids who have had every odd stacked against them. And yet, because of caring people in China and around the world who stepped forward to get involved, so many of them have been given a second chance at a happier life. “(pg. 162)
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So, I am going to attempt to clear up some misunderstanding regarding special needs adoption in China. First, I must remind all of us, as foreigners observing a very different culture than our own, that we need to have what Amy calls “compassion over judgement.” Before moving to China, I didn’t understand how a parent could possibly abandon their child. After living in the country and learning as much as I can about this very complex issue, I’ve been able to take my American-tinted glasses off and have tried to put myself in these precious parent’s extremely difficult shoes. While America is far from perfect and I’m very thankful for those who try to make it a better place, I am whole-heartedly grateful for the opportunities we have here as parents to care for the needs of our children.
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Myth #1: Chinese parents don’t want children with special needs.
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Just writing that sentence makes my momma’s heart hurt, because that couldn’t be farther from the truth in so, so many circumstances. Obviously, I must speak in broad generalizations and many of these sweet children’s stories will never be known, however from Amy’s accounts and others who work on the ground in China, we can be assured that Chinese parents are just like any other parents around the world. We love our kids and will do anything for them. For some, that might mean giving up everything, even their own child. This doesn’t always make sense in our American minds. If our child is born or develops a condition, we know that they will be immediately treated and questions of payment will be dealt with later. We might lose our savings account or house later, but our child will not be refused life-saving care.
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Sadly, this isn’t the case around the world and especially in China. There are so many accounts of parents using all of their resources to try to provide the upfront money needed to care for their child’s needs. However, many times their resources dry up and they have nowhere else to turn. Listen to these parents’ heart in the note left with a six-month baby girl suffering from epilepsy, “There is no one who does not love their own child but we really cannot afford the medical bills. We know this is very selfish behaviour and don’t expect anyone to understand but we only hope the child can grow up safely.” (South China Morning Post article, 1/23/18) Their sacrificial love for their daughter humbles me. Would I be able to make this ultimate sacrifice if I knew it was the only way to give my precious daughter a chance at life? I honestly don’t know. These parents should be showered with our compassion and empathy over judgement. I am so thankful for charities such as “Love Without Boundaries” which provides, for instance, cleft palate surgeries for children so that parents are not forced to abandon their children.
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Furthermore, there might be reasons children are abandoned which are out of the parents’ control. Amy told countless stories of parents wanting to keep and care for their children with special needs, but were pressured by relatives or even the whole village to abandon their child. Like a mother having her baby with cleft palate being taken away from her during the night by a relative. Or a father who had been hiding his son with cleft lip in their apartment for six years so that his family wouldn’t see him. Once, a rural orphanage found a newborn left out in the snow all night and had frostbitten ears and toes when she was discovered the next morning. Amy was furious that someone could possibly leave a newborn in such conditions, however the Chinese manager gently reminded her, “You have to remember that we don’t know anything about how she came to be there...Maybe the person who stole away with her in the night was actually trying to save her, hoping someone would discover the baby and take her somewhere safe. Maybe when it came down to the imminent death of the baby, versus even the smallest chance at life, the person who left her did so with desperate hope.” (pg. 192)
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Myth #2: All children available for adoption have severe special needs.
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Again, in our American minds, the term “special needs” can conjure ideas of wheelchairs, surgeries, IEP’s, and a host of others major concerns. As with any baby being born, there are so many unknowns and a child’s health condition can be changed in an instance. Children paper-ready for international adoption are designated as “special needs,” however their needs can be of varying degrees. Conditions such as skin conditions, lazy eye, prematurity, or other “minor” health issues that we wouldn’t consider “special needs” in America are considered such in China. Ironically, one of our son’s “special needs” is a condition that I had as a teenage (anemia), which I never even considered as a special need!
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Please hear that I am not advocating for people to only be open to children with “minor” needs, but to realize that these are children who just happen to be created by our wonderful Creator in extra special ways. Instead, I am advocating to look past scary labels and partial medical files to their sweet faces and meet their greatest need: a forever family. Personally, filling out the MCC (medical checklist) was one of the hardest part of the adoption process, where we indicated which special needs we were open to accepting and which we were not. Each box not checked felt like we were denying precious children life and love. However, looking back, God was preparing the perfect child for us, one whose need wasn’t even on the list!
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Surprisingly, many call the “most difficult-to-place special need” is not a mental or physical one, but a specific gender and age demographic: older boys. Orphanages didn’t even prepare older boys files until a few years ago, as they were so sure adoptive families would by-pass these boys for younger children. Many only have a short amount of time until they reach their fourteenth birthday, the day when they can no longer be adopted. Take Pierce, for instance. He is a sweet nine year old boy who’s clock is ticking and needs a forever family to step forward soon. Adopting an older child has different and challenging aspects, however these precious boys are among the most vulnerable children, who are at such a high risk of never knowing the love and support of a family. As one earnest 12 year old boy told Amy, “I would be so kind to a mom and dad if they chose me.” (pg. 170)
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Myth #3: I don’t have what it takes to care for a child with special needs.
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Honestly, when we were contemplating adoption from China, our greatest concern was being able to afford the adoption process, as well as possible medical bills due to our child’s special needs. However, the Lord has provided the thousands of dollars for our adoption, which has grown our trust in Him. Although we don’t know what the future holds for any of our healths, we can believe that He will continue to be faithful to us as we walk in obedience.
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Every day, I see countless advocacy posts of precious children and their heartbreaking stories. This one of sweet Violet has weighed on my heart for weeks. You see, she’s just two months older than our daughter. That means her mama and I were pregnant at the same time, probably dreaming of holding our sweet babies at the same time, and feeling those soft kicks at the same time. We were both probably nervous about the delivery and anxious about being a good mom at the same time. However, for reasons we may never know, there is now one gaping difference between the two of us: I get to snuggle my precious girl every day and she does not. Why am I so blessed with a healthy little girl and to live in a country where if she did have a medical condition, she could be treated, and this mom does not?
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I don’t know and will never understand God’s sovereignty in these heart-wrenching situations. But what I can do is something. As Amy writes, “All around this world there are children growing up as orphans who deserve not only our compassion but our ACTION.” (pg. 122) If a forever family does not take action soon, little Violet’s life will be cut dramatically short.
Every Sunday our church has a time of confession. Sometimes we say a line that cuts and convicts me to the core; “Forgive us for not seeing Your face in the eyes of our neighbor.” So let me turn that ancient question to you, “Who is your neighbor?” It might be a widow across the street needing her gutters cleaned or a foster child in our city craving a stable home. Or maybe it’s Violet, Pierce, or a sea of others like them a thousand miles away, all in desperately needy circumstances which can only truly be resolved with a forever family.
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I’ll leave you with Amy’s words,  “Every child currently living in institutional care has a story of loss and a need for someone to believe that his or her life matters. We all need to take the time to really listen, and we can’t turn away and pretend they aren’t there, because THEY ARE. The way we respond to the most vulnerable of our world speaks volumes about who we really are inside.” (pg. 176)

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