Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Mila Day!

Happy Mila Day! One year of family looks good on you #mightymila !

Monday, November 28, 2016


We walked on to the playground to wait for the bell to ring and send your big brother off to his classroom. As soon as you rounded the corner, they saw you, calling out "Mia! There's Mia! Hi Mia!"
That's how I knew that you had introduced yourself- all on your own without help from me or your brothers to insist on the 'L'. You're never far from my side and certainly not out of eye sight and yet somehow I missed you making new friends. 
They tower over you but they're probably only a couple months your senior. You ran around the playground, new playmates giggling and chasing you. You perceived that they were teasing and you threw your tiny arm out and yelled 'Stop!' And they did. 
And then you were off again with your posey. Swings were next. They waited with you, counted the obligatory 30 seconds for the next turn on your behalf, lifted you onto the swing, and gave you a push- all on their own, no grown up intervention or prompting needed. 
And you squealed and called out to me. And when I caught your eye you grinned and proudly pointed to the kind little girls giggling with you. 

Kindness matters. To the parents of these little ones- you have done an amazing thing. You have taught your girls to look beyond physical differences, perceived age differences, and limitations (speaking is so overrated anyway!). Thank you. From #mightymila and her mother, thank you. 

Friday, November 18, 2016

Then and Now: Mila

"This before and after is so clearly beyond any of our human efforts – it’s so obviously God working in the walled off heart of a hurting little girl. And even more hidden, His gentle touch on the insecurities and fears of this mama’s heart as well."

Read More at of my guest post at No Hands But Ours

Sunday, November 6, 2016


Love... hard fought, bravely chosen, slowly grown. Our relationship has never been easy. Maybe someday we will look back and remember the hard but maybe it will always be a battle- but one that's worth fighting. Love isn't feelings, hugs, or sappy words. Sometimes those things are there, but often they are absent and what remains is resolve, showing up, going through the motions. And allowing God's love to be enough- because God's love is always enough. And it is slowly transforming, reshaping, remaking my heart into something beautiful through this little girl and all her mischief. Good things come in little packages- #mightymilasized ones to be exact! #wecouldhavemissedthis#adoptionrocks #adoptionawarenessmonth

Saturday, November 5, 2016


Our first trip to the beach she clung to us as if her life depended on it. She refused to touch sand, water, or crack a smile. Our second trip to the beach we were too loaded down with gear to carry her so she cried pitifully behind us as we trekked to the perfect spot. At one point her shoe fell off and she suddenly no longer had use of her legs. I recall dragging a wagon full of beach chairs and umbrellas and a tiny Chinese girl who had gone completely limp over the dunes. And here we are, 11+ months since that first beach trip soaking in a warm November evening. She asked me to burry her and when I dug a hole for her feet, she slipped her whole body under the sand and squealed as it covered her. If only all of her transitions and adjustments to family have been as monumental and easy as her appreciation for the beach. Adoption is hard. Much harder than a tiny Instagram square can truly accurately depict. But it is so worth it. November is #nationaladoptionmonth and we are tagging #wecouldhavemissedthis to show the joys and the reality of adoption. Hard? Yes. Worth it? As many grains of sand at the beach yes!

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Happy birthday

A very pink birthday cake this year - and one eager birthday girl devouring it. One year ago we were celebrating solemnly as our little girl was waking up on her birthday in an orphanage. Just another day passing her by, no cake, no presents, but more significantly, no adoring brothers singing loudly and no mama and dada cheering her on. 

Or at least she didn't know she had all those things and so much more- extended family, best friends, a home of her own, and a slobbering dog. So much has changed in a year. 

She has learned to eat solid foods, has started speaking a new language. She can ride a balance bike, pick out her favorite cartoon, and has a growing posse of adoring little boys who all think that she loves them best. But the biggest change- home. Family. Forever. She belongs. She is chosen. She is loved. And she knows it now. Happy fourth birthday baby girl!

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Things you should know- 9 months home

-I pray every day for God to give me His love for Mila.

-I am faking it and I hate faking.

-I miss how things used to be. But I am so ashamed to say that.

-I see glimmers of hope.  But I am terrified to hope.  Hope leads to being let down and if this is my reality I need to accept it.

-Sometimes the kids all play together and it takes my breath away.

-The physical transformation of our girl is absolutely amazing- yet I rarely let myself marvel at it.  Though this is the thing friends and outsiders see and comment on the most.

-I never doubt that God purposefully placed Mila in our family.

-I do doubt my purpose in all this- as I am completely failing on so many levels.

-I wonder if my existence in Mila's life is adding more trauma to her than healing.

-I see my kids and am so proud to call them mine.

-I love the relationship Mila has with her brothers.

-Every once in awhile I get a taste of that dreamy mother-daughter relationship that is clearly fabricated in my mind but was a driving force in bringing Mila home.  I savor those moments.

-Trauma is everywhere.

-Somedays trauma looks like hateful rages. Ripped off clothes and shoes thrown forcefully in my direction.

-Trauma looks like hours of walking on eggshells around a tiny ticking time bomb that is insistent on fighting.

-Trauma is taking its toll- when I am offered help I don't even know what to ask for.  If I have a free moment, I don't have any idea what to do in order to recharge and refill myself.

-Some days humor is the best medicine.

-Some days my head pounds from the constant teeth clenching I do to prevent myself from doing the wrong thing.

-I know it is getting better.  I want to do everything I can to help her, to give her the tools to communicate and connect.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Why I have PTSD from Walmart.

Today I extracted a sliver from a finger, washed out eyeballs that got some thing scratchy in them, cleaned out an old foot wound, dealt with the 'fun' of a suspected uti, checked for broken bones when one of my tiny geniuses attempted flight, and had a blood- splurting gash on my hand from a broken glass-that actually made me consider how I would load up the kids and drive to the ER if I couldn't get the bleeding under control. That felt like a lot. Then this happened...

When I entered through the giant sliding doors and passed under the icy blast of air conditioning, I was an average Walmart shopper, just like so many others. I had my list, my three kids who were out dangerously close to lunch time, and the goal of getting in and out of there as quickly as possible with those listed items. And we were doing so well! My cart was full- yes I had two boys in the basket and my daughter in the seat but also nearly all the things we came in for. None of my crew were yelling, throwing things, or being otherwise obnoxious. That last elusive item was causing me to back track through the store when my youngest, who had gotten eerily quiet, let out a whimper and then threw up all over his brother's lap and down through the cart. 

Thankfully he missed all the items in the cart but Corbin let out a yowl and burst into tears to accompany Leo's . Mila watched on perplexed. I removed vomit covered boys from the cart and frantically searched for one of those clean up stations. A lady with a cart rounded the corner, beheld the carnage, and then made a hasty retreat. But not before making eye contact with me and giving me the look of horror. I grabbed  Leo's hand, told his brother to keep up, and pushed the cart to the nearest main aisle. Thankfully an employee with a cart full of cleaning supplies appeared on the horizon- I changed course and rushed up to her.  "Excuse me! We need a clean up a few rows over- we're looking for some paper towels but don't anyone to get hurt back there..."

I was answered with an icy stare. I motioned toward Leo- soaked and sobbing- and gestured back toward our puddle. She nodded and slowly pushed her cart of cleaning supplies away- without offering me so much as a paper towel. 

I pushed on- if we could find something to wipe off the boys, we could get to the front of the store with the cart, run into the bathroom, and return to check out super fast. That was not to be. 

Nearly every back to school shopper- nose buried in a list of supplies and weary- eyed children following behind them- proceeded to cut us off in our efforts to escape. Leo's pitch rose and I looked down in time to watch him hurl in front of the paint department. The employee I had seen just seconds ago restocking a shelf had magically vanished. Corbin whined louder and declared this to be 'very bad.' 

I pushed the cart a few feet further, still wondering if there was any hope in purchasing the things in there and Leo lost his cookies once again in front of pet supplies. 

Decision made for me, I unstrapped Mila, grabbed her and Leo's hands, and pointed Corbin toward the bathrooms. We darted around other shoppers, Leo pitifully crying the whole way and Corbin running with his legs spread wide to avoid feeling the nastiness. 

Mila stumbled about 100 yards from the bathrooms so I scooped her up mid-stride and barrel carried her under one arm. Any college football coach would have been proud of our darting and lurching.

At this point shoppers could NOT be oblivious to our spectacle.  Wide eyes followed our trajectory and came to their own conclusions. A few snickered. One stooped to wave at Leo and say hello. We blundered past and I gave the lady an incredulous look. 

The restrooms were blocked by the long line of customers waiting for returns. I shoved Corbin through a gap and dragged Leo behind. I think I actually leapt over a preschool aged girl who was sitting in the middle of the floor. We finally all tumbled into the bathroom and I got Leo to the sink. And realized there were no paper products to be seen. 'You're kidding me!' I blurted out to the universe or the powers of Walmart or the two teenagers 'hanging out' in the bathroom. I didn't  even know. Or care. I splashed Leo a bit and told Corbin tough luck until we got to the car. And turned and hustled my clan out of the restroom, back through the line of returners, across the lobby, and out the door where a clueless employee dared to call out "Thank you for shopping at Walmart!"  I stifled the millions of responses I wanted to shout back and made it to the car where paper towels and wet wipes awaited. 

All before 12:30. Contemplating a 1:00 happy hour...

Monday, August 15, 2016

Mighty Mila

8 months ago all of her food was delivered via bottle. Her teeth couldn't take bites or chew, her tongue didn't know how to move food around her mouth, and swallowing anything other than thick liquids would send her into a panic. Three years of drinking only formula and some unknown trauma around food created a feeding nightmare. We saw OTs and went to feeding group. We introduced purées and I whittled spoons out of vegetables. Several months ago she took her first bite of a banana- with her teeth! Then she discovered sweet potatoes and carrots and polla asada ! Guacamole and hotdogs became favorites, noodles and rice. She's not a huge fan of candy but will happily take a granola bar. And anything with ketchup! Today she ate an in n out cheeseburger and fries like a boss. 

Feeding challenges have not been an easy need to meet and handle. We've all been frustrated and disappointed at some point and we're not completely past these challenges. But the progress is undeniable. The confidence that taking a big bite and chewing gives #mightymila cannot be ignored and the growth that God has worked in our family through our daughter's struggles has been surreal. Food and feeding is essential to life- and when that most basic thing is rocked and challenged there is room to implode or to flourish. We've done both in this journey but have come to a point of tangible and intangible flourishing that is amazing to witness. Thanking God for #innoutburger and every bite that has led us to this place. 


Thursday, July 21, 2016

Will you?

Some number to consider...

576,000 - official number of orphans from Chinese government, 2014
1,000,000-estimated number of orphans in China from NGOs
2,354- number of children adopted from China in 2015
98%- percentage of orphans with medical or special needs
25%-percentage of adults in America who have seriously considered adoption
2%- percentage of adults who have actually adopted
5%-percentage of Christians who have adopted a child
$25,000-$35,000- average cost of a Chinese adoption
14- age at which a Chinese orphan is no longer eligible for adoption...ever
4- age at which an orphan is considered an 'older child' and much more likely to not be considered for adoption

"We learned that orphans are easier to ignore before you know their names. They are easier to ignore before you see their faces. It is easier to pretend they’re not real before you hold them in your arms. But once you do, everything changes.” – Radical by David Platt

Everything has changed friends.  And this is coming from someone who has seen the orphan crisis and experienced it first hand for years. But now having lived the heart wrenching, back breaking, nerve trying, day in and a day out of transforming an orphan into a chosen and precious family member, I can say everything has changed. The need is great and urgent. And while at times I wonder if I would ever wish this journey on another person, my heart breaks and tears threaten to spill each time their lonely faces fill my computer screen.  

Children belong in families. Not in orphanages, group homes, institutions, or hospitals. Is adoption easy? Absolutely not. Is it costly? Preciously so. Is it worth it? A thousand times yes. 

If you say yes- if you allow yourself to be changed forever, to hear their names, to see their faces, to listen to their stories- you will be broken and stretched beyond what you ever thought yourself capable of. Your darkest parts, your deepest insecurities- laid bare. And you will be forced to acknowledge the very worst of your soul and cling desperately to the Father of the Fatherless- the one who has paid the most costly price and chosen you.  And you will rise. And the little one now residing in your home, in your family, will serve as a reminder to you of how great the Father's love for you. And you will do anything to show that little one safety.  Family.  Forever. Everything will change. 

And your children will change. They will be forced to share, to act with compassion, to sacrifice. And it will be hard and it will hurt your heart to watch. But they too will rise. Corbin's heart has been tuned to the plight of these precious ones. Each month, he has chosen a few waiting children- kids who have their adoption paperwork ready and are waiting for someone to step forward to call them to their family- to pray for and to advocate for. He shares their stories and carries their photos with him wherever he goes. I've agreed to share 'Corbin's Kids' with my corner of the social networking world. If you are interested in learning more about any of these precious ones or about adoption in general, please contact us. Corbin will show you his pictures and Austin and I will share our story and point you to more resources. 

The numbers may seem overwhelming. The costs too great. But I can testify to the greatness of the reward.  Allow everything to change. Look at their faces, learn their names, hear their stories.  Then do something.  Pray that their family finds them quickly. Share this post and their stories. Ask yourself, "could I do that?" And then ask, "will I allow God to move through my family in that way?" Because if you say yes, then He will, and you will never, ever be the same. 


Gil is a seven year old boy with severe Thalassemia.  This is a blood condition that is managed and treated in the US but is not adequately cared for in China. Gil is in desperate need of a family to step forward as his disease has progressed. This is a great starting point for understanding this disease.

Despite his diagnosis, Gil sounds like a remarkable little guy. He speaks clearly, can write with a pencil, plays with other children, and enjoyed interacting with a team of volunteers at his orphanage.  Read what the team had to say about Gil:

"Gil may be a little guy, at 7 years old he stands about 3 ½ feet tall, but his personality is mighty. Somehow he manages to simultaneously be calm and rowdy, silly and serious, shy and outgoing. One minute he is fully engrossed in the picture he is coloring, the next he is flopping around in the ball pit. One minute he is hamming it up for pictures—tilting his head to the side, flashing the peace sign, and grinning ear to ear—the next he is on the floor intently doing a puzzle. And during it all, he just has this endearing nature. His sweetness draws you in.”

Get more information on Gil here. He is listed with WACAP and has a $4,000 grant available toward his adoption. This little one needs someone to RUN to him and give him a chance at life.


Duo is 11 years old and has scoliosis and a prosthetic leg. Corbin was drawn to this boy because of all the sweet and funny comments written in his advocacy summary. Duo lives with a foster family with several younger siblings and seems like a good 'big brother' to them. He is very good at his self care and is in grade 4 in public school. He can walk and is receiving physical therapy. Duo in interested in animals and loves to read- his friends even jokingly call him 'the encyclopedia!' He also loves art class and knows a few words in English too. 

Read this heart breaking paragraph:

"Tian Duo is sad that he is not tall enough, nor strong enough, in his eyes, because of his physical limitations. He also wonders when it is his turn to have a forever family, or whether anyone would “pick” him, after witnessing one after another younger siblings leaving with their very own mom and dad. For him, adoption also means he would have a lot more opportunities for education, and it is his dream to go to college some day, which is impossible for him in China.”

Can you imagine how much joy this smart little boy would bring to a family? And how amazing it would be to show him the athletes that compete with prostheses?  You can read the full advocacy post here and find contact links to Duo's current agency.

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Birth mother

Dear First Mom, 

This is all new to me. I honestly spend quite a bit of time not thinking about you because there's so much I don't understand and so many feelings to process. But for the sake of the little girl who shares your features and DNA but who calls me 'mama', I will attempt to process those feelings. Because one day she will ask about you. And ultimately, though I will never know your story, I want to express my gratitude and love for you- even though it is messy and complicated and even a little painful. 

For nine months she grew inside of you. Brain cells and bones forming, tiny legs kicking and stretching. Your hearts being knit together. Then she was in your arms. I wonder if she has your eyes or your forehead shape. I wonder if you could feel the vibrancy of this tiny person radiating off of her even as a newborn. I know the first time I laid eyes on our girl I knew there was spark and fight and personality that was larger than life, buried under layers of clothing and layers of self preservation. 

And that self preservation.  That's where things start to get messy inside my heart. She wouldn't have those layers of protection if she hadn't been given away, sent to an orphanage, and left for three years. I don't know why you made the choice you made. Perhaps it was the only choice you had. Every time my little girl closes her eyes tight, closes me out, I battle the anger that it shouldn't be this way.  Little children shouldn't grow up inside institutions. Mothers shouldn't have to choose to abandon their children in order to follow the law or even to save their lives. But if this wasn't the reality, then our daughter wouldn't be in my life.... See the complications and messiness that I struggle with?  

I wish she didn't have trust issues.  I wish dozens of caretakers hadn't been in and out of her life, giving her a tiny taste of what a mama is, only to leave and never come back. I wish she didn't know hunger.  I wish she didn't know neglect. I wish she didn't have the skills to charm every adult in the room in order to have her needs for attention met.  I wish she had only known nurture and comfort from her mama- from you. But she is here with me and while I wouldn't ever wish her away, my heart is still broken from the what ifs. 

So on this day before Mother's Day- what the adoptive community refers to as 'Birthmother's Day,' I will attempt to express my gratitude for you. Your choices were your own and beyond my understanding.  But I do understand that you chose to continue your pregnancy with our little girl. You chose to give her life. You nurtured her for as long as you were able and then brought her somewhere safe, somewhere she would have the best opportunity at a life that you were unable to give her. Your hearts were knit together- and now through your sacrifice, my heart is joined to yours as well. Mila will only know my love and gratitude for you- a task I take very seriously. She will know that she was always wanted, cherished.  And I will pray, every Mother's Day eve, that by God's grace and mercy (for which Mila was named) you will experience a peace beyond all comprehension that your little girl- our mighty Mila- is safe, loved, and treasured. 

With love and respect, 

Mila's Mama

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Chunky oatmeal, hunger strikes, and God's amazing love

Seven days ago I sat nervously in the waiting room. A sense of dread made my stomach churn as I watched Mila. She was blissfully unaffected by my nerves as she performed chair gymnastics and charmed the sweat pants-clad people waiting their turn for physical therapy. Two weeks prior we had been in this same office. Mila had wowed the occupational therapist and we had a list of feeding tasks to accomplish before coming back. However, we had only one thing checked off that list that day.  Mila could eat peanut butter. That's it. No chunks, no dipping, no 'hard' food items anywhere near her mouth. We had failed. I had failed. 

We had our session. The OT didn't seem too disappointed as Mila happily participated in 'snacking.'  We were instructed to make her modified food- things she likes but with a chunky twist. So yogurt with graham cracker dust sprinkled on top. Apple sauce with cracker crumbs inside. Purées with small chunks. We call them 'parfaits.'  And in our session, Mila munched down on all these things, much to our OT's delight.  "No more formula and only one pediasure drink per day. Lots of parfaits. And see you in a month."

We went 18 meals without Mila eating. Hunger strike. All the things she ate in front of the OT were refused at home. She was hungry- at mealtime she would climb into her high chair and eagerly babble.  Her food would be put in front of her and immediately her mouth would turn down and her tiny hand would smack the table. She might take a bite or two but would then spit out everything and refuse to eat anymore. Her face lost the plumpness that it had gained the last four months home and her behavior tanked along with her blood sugar. Meal times were an angry battle and every other in between time we all tolerated (or didn't tolerate) an angry, hungry tiny three year old. I struggled mightily with accepting her mealtime rejections and dealing with the bad behavior all other times. I tried everything I could think of. We tried letting her self feed.  We tried feeding her.  We tried tricking her into tasting her food.  We even let her favorite buddy JJ try to feed her a big spoonful of applesauce with his chubby baby hand.  She turned it all down.  Frustration. I dreaded meal times and the battle that would ensue. I hated seeing Mila get so excited to eat and then dump her food on the floor or spit it out all over her clothes. I took it personally and frankly I could feel myself start to place my frustration on Mila instead of on the situation.  I wanted someone to blame for this problem and the tiny human covered in chunky oatmeal and screaming at me was a good target. But I knew that was wrong so I distanced myself emotionally from her. 

At six days into the hunger strike, I reached my breaking point. I was scared that she was losing too much weight, angry that we were in this situation in the first place, and just sad that I felt myself growing further and further away from Mila. After a day of phone calls and email exchanges with some medical people, I got a few more guidelines to follow for this feeding plan. But what had a greater impact on my heart was admitting all this out loud to my bible study and having a few close friends share words of wisdom and encouragement to me. I was at once convicted that my perspective of this was completely wrong. I was basing my love and affection for Mila on what she could- or couldn't - do. Her performance was a prerequisite for her acceptance and I was way off base. Running parallel to this, as it ALWAYS is, was my relationship with God. I felt that Mila's failure to eat was my failure to feed her.  Her rejection of food, and subsequently her rejection of me was because I wasn't good enough.  I was assuming that God's acceptance of me (because who else's really matters?) was based on my performance... And I was completely wrong again. 

Why is this lesson so hard to learn? Once I 'get it' - everything changes. God's love isn't provisional or limited or dependent. My love, on my own, is all of those things. But thankfully I am not dependent on my provisional, limited love. 

"There is no fear in love. Instead, perfect love drives out fear...We love because He first loved us." 1 John 4:18-19

This was a verse I turned to often while we were waiting to bring Mila home. I even made a necklace loosely based on this verse that said "Let your faith be bigger than your fear."  At the time I felt that we were stepping over our fear, in faith and love to follow God's call for us to adopt. There were many scary unknowns about the whole process and God was showing me that His love - and what He was calling our family to do in faith- was far greater than my fears. He still is speaking that message to me now that Mila is home. My fears aren't about an adoption failing because China didn't deem us qualified. Nor are they about  unknown health conditions that we would discover upon meeting Mila.  And they aren't even about what would happen to our family and the boys with another child- possibly one with special needs- coming into our family. My faith is bigger than those fears because God's love is bigger than those things. Ironically, the fear I struggle the most with is believing that God's love doesn't apply to me.  That I am not enough for Him to love. And here, manifested in an 18 meal hunger strike by my resilient daughter, that fear flashed to center stage and I let it take over. 

Meal 19 Mila ate all of her food. After the prayers of my friends, the confession of my heart, and the reality call that God's love is enough and applies to ALL, we are on a different trajectory. Meal 20, Mila ate her food again and had second servings. Meal 21 she ate a few bites and refused any more. But she is NOT defined by her ability or inabilities. Mila is my daughter, loved, chosen, wanted.  More importantly, she is a child of God, who's love for His children never falters. He sets the lonely in families- and as we say in this house, family is forever. 

And through these sometimes epic and sometimes insignificant battles in our lives, I am learning that I am a daughter, loved, chosen, wanted by a never failing, good, good, Father.  

Mila may choose to strike for another 18 meals. She might have enough will power to actually endanger her health and cause us to abandon the feeding plan we have. 

I hope and pray that this isn't the result but what I will continually remind myself of is that God's love is deeper and stronger than the willpower of a fighting three year old and more steady and sure than the insecurities and doubts of a 30 something year old who has striven for perfection and acceptance her whole life. God's love drives out fear and empowers us to love others.  May we fix our eyes on these truths and live like we truly believe that God's love is enough!

Friday, March 11, 2016

90 days

Ninety days. Twelve weeks.  Three months. That's how long Mila has been HOME. I vacillate between feeling like we're just barely staying afloat and figuring this new life out and being perplexed that it's only been twelve weeks- hasn't she been here forever?  Today was one of those 'it's only been twelve week?' kind of days. We began working through one more Mila mystery at our first occupational therapy appointment today. We are seeing a 'Feeding Team' to help introduce Mila to solid foods.

We arrived a little early but Mila was having a wonderland time finding 'treasures' in my purse and being confounded by the automatic doors in the dr office. Our therapist Katherine called us back eventually and took us to a small room with kid- sized tables and chairs. She read through the notes in Mila's file and handed me a stack of articles about picky eaters. She then asked, "so, how long has she been having feeding trouble?"  I answered, "She's been in our family for three months..." 

"You're kidding?! She seems so settled! And you adopted her?"

I gave her a little background... And then she started crying. The therapist. Not Mila. 

"I am just SO excited to be working with you guys!"

We spent the next hour dipping graham crackers in apple sauce and practicing chewing on the sides of our mouths. There were lots of exclamations of "Amazing! She is just amazing!" And analogies of watching a flower bloom on a time lapse video (seriously- we apparently got the overly-poetic occupational therapist!). I left with a set of instructions, a plan in place!, and directions to disregard the picky eating articles since that's clearly not the issue. And we managed to get squeezed into a follow up appointment in a few weeks (despite a fully booked month for the office). 

So we are putting spoons away and playing with our food.  There are plans to introduce dipping and thicker, stickier textures to encourage her little tongue to move food towards her teeth. And so far (and it's only been two meals and a couple hours so early I know) she's eating it up! (Pun intended!). It helps that her partner in crime, Leo, is eager to play along and try new foods and play with whipped cream with his fingers too.

Here's to our next twelve weeks- whatever progress they may hold, we will walk that path one step at a time with our Mighty Mila. 

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

3 Months!

A long car ride in busy traffic, photos and signatures on lots of paperwork, one very solemn and scared  little girl.  Afraid to trust, weary and suspicious of this strange person called 'mama.'  The next month brought her first plane ride, first ride in a car seat, and insta-family. It also brought home and brothers and a big sloppy dog that patiently waited for her to fall in love. And slowly, each day things became a little more permanent, a little more forever.  And mama wasn't so bad anymore either.  The next month we experienced doctor appointments and nursery at church.  Again, trust was strengthened as mama and dad always came back.  Siblings fought but began learning that three was better than two. And though there are boundaries and a new favorite word- "No!"- we are all settling in. Three months. Over three pounds gained, new language being understood and slowly sampled, physical milestones sailing by (she runs! She jumps!), and lots and lots of smiles.  Three months since family day Mighty Mila!

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Super glue, super kids, super God

I was dangling off of our folding ladder, half way out of the attic.  The dust and insulation made my eyes water and my toes turned white from griping my flip flops - not the best ladder climbing shoes. We were switching out toys- one oversized concrete mixer and a garbage truck exchanged for two yellow pick-up trucks. Corbin, being the oldest and responsible one was a few feet back from ladder, ready to 'catch' while his little brother and sister were banished to the playroom after too many attempts to climb the ladder.  I began to lower the first truck down but it slipped out of my hands.  Bouncing off the ladder and crashing into the light switch on its way down, I was plunged into darkness and Corbin barely manage to scoot out of the way. The truck landed with a thunk, and a one legged construction worker figurine popped out on the carpet. 

" Aww mom- he's broken!"

I glanced around for the missing leg, which was nowhere to be found. "No he's not- he's just a one legged construction worker!"

"But what can he do with one leg mom?"

"Oh he can drive a truck and operate the crane.  He can be the architect or the carpenter- in fact he can do pretty much anything!"

I pulled my iPad out as we released Corbin's younger siblings from their captivity. "Do you want to see some  kids who can do all the things you can do but may not have legs?" I asked him as I pulled up my favorite special needs/Chinese adoption Facebook group. With all kids crammed around me to get a better view, we flipped through pictures and noted a little gymnast missing one forearm, a boy without legs who rode a battery-operated tractor around while his brothers peddled bikes, and many other amazing kiddos who clearly were not letting a missing limb or differently shaped fingers get in their way of being kids. Corbin was in awe and gave his one-legged construction worker the seat of honor in his yellow pick-up truck. Leo meandered back to his other toys but Mila remained on my lap, staring intently at the Chinese faces on my iPad. 

We know that Mila was close to one or two of the young children at her orphanage. I have a few photos of her life before us- her referral photos, a group shot of all the kids from the orphanage, and a couple pictures of Mila with another child.  We were only a few weeks home when I showed her the group photo.  She looked closely at it with recognition and then proceeded to melt down and be inconsolable for the rest of the day. We put photos away after that. At just three years old, the risk is that without seeing these photos often, she will completely forget those friendly faces. Yet, at only three, she lacks the communication to tell us if seeing the photos are comforting or harmful to her. Are they really friendly faces?  With her so transfixed on the other Chinese children, I decided to try again.  Instead of pulling up the more personal photos that we had received from the orphanage, I instead showed her one of her friend's referral photos- a little boy who will be joining his forever family in the next few months. I remembered that this little boy was perhaps closest to Mila and that the two of them called each other 'brother' and 'sister.'  She squealed at seeing his familiar face and jabbered off in her special language. Her excitement drew Corbin and Leo away from their trucks and soon all kids were asking about and talking to the little boy on the screen. I said his Chinese name quietly and Mila perked up again. We looked at a few other kids from her orphanage and she recognized them as well. 

We flipped through photos of our trip to China and she happily tapped Austin's face and said 'Baba' and my photo as well and declared proudly, 'Mama!'  The first photo we took of the three of us - squished together in a van with Mila looking very afraid- was received well, but from there on she began to withdraw as she saw photos of herself in China. Finally she hopped off my lap and turned to some of her coping methods that we have seen all but disappear in recent days. I turned the iPad off, scooted the boys back to their trucks, and spent some time snuggling Mila. She was soon smiling and giggling again. 

What started as an attempt to avoid super gluing another 'guy' turned into a moment of recognizing that there was life before becoming a Nielsen for Mila. I am reminded of this more often than you might think- as we make the rounds of doctor appointments, there are always more boxes left blank for unknown than checked yes or no on the forms.  Her ability to put shoes and socks on by herself serve as reminders of some other woman's hands who must have patiently showed her how to stretch the socks out or untie the laces before fitting her foot in. And when I first climbed that ladder that started this whole crazy story, Mila took one look at my lower half dangling out of the ceiling and began sobbing and stomping the floor. I just have no idea...

So how does one honor an unknown past?  Because that truly is our desire. Not to fabricate a fairytale or portray a grand rescue, but to tell the truth,  as much of it as we know, as she is able to receive it.  Our time in China was perhaps the most challenging two weeks of my life. Yet I look back fondly and with nostalgia, a love for a new people and a new place that did not exist before that amazing adventure. At this point, our time together in China is not a fond memory for Mila.  I don't know if it ever will be.  But as the one entrusted to keeping the fragmented pieces of her past, I will do my best to express my gratitude for unknown hands that tied little shoes, unknown friends who reached through the bars of cribs, and most importantly, an unknown mother who chose life for her daughter even though it would mean making another heart breaking choice later on.  I am honored and humbled to have this responsibility and forever grateful for all the unknowns that brought our little girl to us. 

The common phrase is "demons in your past".  And while I know there are things that we are probably better off not knowing the specifics on regarding Mila's first three years, I'd rather focus on the God of Mila's past.  The God who protected her from inside her mother's womb, watched over her as she was found outside the orphanage gates, provided for her physically in a destitute and remote village, and instilled in her a fiery spirit that would persevere despite her cold surroundings.  A God that redeemed a hopeless situation for a little girl in China and a God who is teaching a very average family how to love extravagantly, just as He loves them.   The God of her past who will hopefully be the a God of her future as she grows to trust and love Him.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Only love can...

The month of love is upon us. February now also hosts Chinese New Year - a new holiday for our family to celebrate. So as I sit under our red construction paper lanterns strung along side blow up hearts and Xs and Os, I am pondering love and my little Chinese daughter napping in the other room.  

While we were in process to adopt, stories of those home and the transformation their children experienced was inspiring. The rallying cry was often "only love can."  Only love can mend this broken heart. Only love can make a family.  Only love can give this child a chance. What I've learned recently is that only my love "can't" do it all.  It can't heal my daughter, teach her safety, gain her trust.  It can't repair hurt feelings in my little boy who has lost his status as baby nor can it make every situation of stolen toys or lack of attention fair.  It can't bridge the three year gap that my daughter was not my daughter and fill me with the motherly feelings that I have for my kids who were with me from birth.  My love can't patiently show consistent connection with my little girl who seeks out other adults for positive attention as a self preservation means.  Daily I am reminded how much my love falls short.  

Love is patient- my love dried up at the many opportunities to be patient. A perfect example is corralling three little ones into car seats, waiting for them all to either refuse to sit down, refuse to let me buckle them, or refuse to buckle themselves into said car seats. My love is certainly not patient. 

Love is kind- too often kindness is sacrificed in my house.  Pajamas put on a little too roughly, good night tuck-ins rushed through, special requests denied just out of weariness. Kindness matters. But my weariness wins out more often than not. 

Love is not jealous- the online community of adoptive families is wonderful- but also misleading. I know what people show on Facebook is only a tiny piece of reality and yet it is increasingly easy to feed jealousy rather than respect for others and contentment in my own circumstances. My thoughts are not fueled by love but by jealousy as I wonder if I am the only adoptive mom doing this all wrong. 

Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things- nope. My love does not even come close. I'd rather claim the victim than accept the responsibility. My love is weak and lacking. It is disillusioned and not hopeful. And it has an amazingly short memory. Those days pining for news from China, praying fervently for a child we had not even met, so quickly forgotten when that child is home, but crumpled on the floor and twitching, overwhelmed with everything new and refusing connection with her family.  My love comes up short. Only love can... But mine certainly cannot. 

And that is where I have arrived. At the end of myself. I can do hard things- for a little while. And then my human frailty shows through the cracks. My love is not enough. But God's is.  My morning ritual of thinking though each day's potential scenarios and how I will respond to them has changed to a plea for help, a cry for an ever present reminder that I. Just. Can't. Do. It. But God can. 

"God I am at the end of myself. This is hard and I don't know what I am doing. Surely I am doing more harm than good even though I've tried so very hard to be the best. Only Your love can redeem this mess that I've made. Please let me love her with Your love." 

I love the Phil Wickman "Amazing Grace" line, 

"Who makes the orphan a son or daughter? The King of Glory.  The King above all Kings.  This is amazing grace...."

I thought we had witnessed that already when we signed the dotted line in China, giving a scared little Chinese girl our last name.  But I've come to realize that shared last names do not guarantee love. As my attempts at loving her as my daughter have fallen short, a new prayer has been added to my morning ritual, 

"God, thank you for loving me as Your daughter. Please help me love her as my daughter.  Only YOUR love can."

My amazing friends and family ask me "how are you doing?" And I've jokingly answered how our bar has been lowered- if everyone has been mostly fed, we're good! Or if we all show up with shoes on, we're doing ok!  But really, I'm not doing ok. I've watched my best efforts at being a mother, being an adoptive parent, being a Christian crumble before my eyes. I am at the end of myself. And strangely, it seems that that  is where God wants me. At the end of myself leaves plenty of room for God's love to work. And really, that's better than my best efforts any day. So, if you ask, I am not ok. This is the hardest thing I've ever done and I feel like daily I screw everything up.  But I know that that is ok, because only God's love can truly bear, believe, hope, and endure all that life has to throw at it. The bar has been dropped- not just lowered- and the freedom of allowing God to move is absolutely amazing.