2 Corinthians ch 4 vs. 7:
If you only look at us, you might well miss the brightness. We carry this precious Message around in the unadorned clay pots of our ordinary lives. That's to prevent anyone from confusing God's incomparable power with us.
By God’s grace, Daniel and I are going to be parents.
We’re in the early stages of adopting internationally. The little girl whom we are pursuing madly has special needs. God wrote this story. We don’t pretend to understand it in whole, but we learn to trust Him. It’s a longish story. It starts with two imperfect teenagers who were raised in the Truth, took it for granted, and then were patiently and gently led back to His Truth that’s love.
Daniel and I met as college freshmen. We were muleriders : ) There’s no telling his first impressions of me, but I immediately dubbed him the Cocky Texan. But maybe that’s redundant?? He and I both had ACL replacements on our knees and had both last minute opted out of collegiate sports. We were in the honors college together. We were both raised in church and felt we were strong Christians. Daniel and I both were interested in ministry. Daniel has a passion for mentoring and working with Jr. High and Middle school guys, and I just wanted to ‘do’ occupational therapy in far away places where people couldn’t access it. We dated for a couple of years, were engaged for six months, and then married. I was excited when we were engaged, thinking of the awesome things that we would be doing in ministry.
We agreed on lots of things and had so much in common. We both came from large extended families. We talked about having kids when we turned 28. That was the magic age. The magic number(s) were 4-6 because we wanted a big family. I guess that’s relative, though. We live in Arkansas where the Duggers set the standard for big families.
I thought we had done everything the right way. We were both involved in campus ministries. We weren’t wild. We did well in school. We tried to put God first (probably failed miserably). We waited to be together until we were married. We tried to find a home church as soon as we were married. None of these things helped.
The first three years of our marriage were SO very, very hard. I never imagined that Christians would have such a hard time with marriage. Who knew? If people did know, I wish they would have told me. That might have made it a little less stressful, thinking that we were the only two wildly dysfunctional raised-in-church spouses. Why do people keep that a secret?
Despite the misery at home, life rolled along. Isn’t it amazing how life does that? Daniel’s job transferred from Conway, AR to Fayetteville, AR. I finished grad school and was blessed with a job at an amazing clinic, Children's Therapy TEAM There I became involved in an international ministry, TEAMworks Ukraine which had really been a life-long dream. In April 2010, we traveled to Eastern Europe where our TEAM saw a young girl newly admitted to an orphanage. This little girl, “Nastia,” was about 11 months old. She had blonde hair, vibrant blue eyes, chicken pox, and arthrogryposis. Because the orphanage felt they could not meet her physical needs nor manage her intermittent fevers, she remained in medical isolation. Therapists engaged the head doctors and urged them to move her into a room where she would get interaction. One group leader (my boss who is a physical therapist) held this little girl closely and turned to the rest of the group saying, “Who’s going to take her home?”. I thought, wow, that’s a good question.
Who can do something like that? Definitely not people with crappy marriages. Amazing people only. Some of my co-workers on the trip (including thetwo group leaders ) had completed international adoptions for children with special needs. I was and still am amazed by these families. They are amazing. Period. They love their children, deeply. They didn’t just rescue these children to give them a better American life; they raise them just as they would their biological children. So, I felt no compulsion and let my thoughts paint out a life for this girl with some amazing people.
We left Eastern Europe not by our traditional route of Germany to Chicago to Arkansas, but by a creative route avoiding Iceland’s volcanic ash.
This new route brought us home by taking us literally around the world. This expensive and stressful detour sadly left me thinking of myself rather than these children left behind. (Looking back, the detour itself was a blessing from the Father. We were able to spend a day in Australia. I have always wanted to go there, and our brief tour was beautiful and will always be remembered.)
Unfortunately I didn’t have a smart phone and was only able to update Daniel sporadically. Poor guy, he’s very organized and a planner. It was a tough time for both of us. My emails or texts probably went something like this:
“Hey, landed and everything’s great!”
“Things still going well here-doing good work.”
“Heard that the ash might be a slight issue with our flight. Nothing to stress about.”
“We’re stuck. No flights out west. Can you check for boats?”
“Hope it’s okay with you, but we’re all getting creative to pay for tickets around the world to get home.”
Can you imagine the stress that this unique situation put on a volatile marriage? It was not pretty. Needless to say, when we got home, I felt in my heart of hearts that I would never be returning to Eastern Europe. It was very tough working through jet lag and trying to explain everything that had happened (the beautiful and the bad and the sad) between my spotty communications. I think it was over a week before I was able to articulate what we had done on the trip. It would come out in un-eloquent and emotional spurts.
I would say that the stress coming home from this trip was a catalyst for our relationship. Daniel tenaciously fought for the good marriage that he knew we could have, and found a local ministry. This ministry was associated with a church we’d been trying. We had tried it a year ago, dismissed it, and then came back to find that it was a wonderful fit for us.
God used the ministry and our church to heal our marriage. It will never be perfect, but it’s such a relief to know that as long as we truly (not lip service) put Him first and work towards unity in our marriage, we will thrive.
About 3-4 months into our healed marriage, Daniel heard about Daniel Bennett from his parent’s home church in Texas. He told me about this guy he had known years ago who had married, adopted internationally, and wrote a book about it. Daniel told me that it was “neat.” Something to think about. We talked about it some, and thought it was really “neat” that other families were doing it. In fact, Daniel’s dad was adopted, so it was a "neat" and comfortable topic, but not something we seriously considered.
Adoption had long since made the jump from being a last resort for infertile families, to being something celebrities did to save their waistlines, to being a social revolution. We knew of so many families who had adopted or were preparing to adopt, that it almost felt like a Humanitarian fad. Almost.
Like some people planked,
some people Tebow,
and some people adopt.
Don’t judge me! I’m being completely honest. We never, ever thought that it was bad or that friends weren’t sincerely called to adopt. It was just everywhere. Overwhelming and maybe clouding our judgement. At one point it seemed like ALL OF OUR FRIENDS were getting pregnant and starting their families. It was great for them, but it would have been a terrible time for us to have started a family. We felt the same way about adoption. We didn’t want to pursue this life changing option unless God wanted us to. Our preference was to have biological children, and we didn’t think that God was calling us to adopt.
Then in August 2011, our group leader send out a text to the committee, with this picture of Nastia,
saying “still in isolation.” Still?!? That had been nearly a year and a half ago, that we urged the doctors to move her into a baby room. Impulsively, I forwarded the text to Daniel saying, “Do you want to go rescue her?” Daniel and I talked about it very, very briefly. He wanted to know if I was serious. I told him that we could. It was possible. We left it at that.
Our TEAM began to prepare for another trip to Eastern Europe and a pilot trip to Guatemala. The Eastern Europe trip was unique in that the first leg, a local family was going to travel alongside two speech therapists to meet their daughter for the first time while the speech therapists worked daily at an orphanage. As part of the committee, I met with the group to help make plans, but knew that Daniel wouldn’t be okay with me going. The last trip had just been too stressful and too far away.
So, I prayed that if someone couldn’t make it on the trip for some reason (I was honestly thinking a wedding or someone having a baby), that God would let me go. Once you serve there, your heart is forever bound. There were no weddings and no one had any babies. However, I was so very blessed to be able to instead go to Guatemala and be used by God to bless children there with special needs. The trip was wonderful. God answered so many prayers and I think I fell even more in love with Him.
I returned from Guatemala to help with some last minute plans for our TEAM as they prepared to travel again to Eastern Europe. It was hard to try and help plan when I wasn’t able to go. I knew that I was blessed beyond measure by being able to go in 2010, and being able to go to Guatemala. I focused on praying for the TEAM, believing that their trip would be blessed and productive. One night I got a text from a TEAM leader asking me if I was okay being an alternate for the first leg of our trip, as a co-worker, Carmen, was battling a persistent virus.
I gasped. My hands shook. I lit up. I maybe squealed. Then I honestly repented because I knew how much Carmen LOVES Eastern Europe. I knew that I was happy to go anywhere God led me, but this woman has a special God-given love for Eastern Europe. Daniel saw that I was having a fit and asked me what was up. I tried to be calm as I told him about the text. He warned me to guard my heart, because it was very likely that Carmen would get better in a few days’ time. We prayed about it. I prayed that God’s will be done, but that because I didn’t know it, I prayed for Carmen to get well. I prayed that if for some reason, God was going to bless me and let me go again, that he would pave the way. My heart was so broken for her.
I waited for a couple of days only to find that she was not getting better and was actually getting worse. (We later found out that she had Fifths Disease. Her doctors were skeptical because it usually doesn’t last over a week-two weeks, but hers had lasted about a month.) She couldn’t go. I told Daniel. He said, “Well, I guess you’re going then.” He also told me that in the future, I better tell him when I talk to God about traveling.
With a few days notice, I was traveling again to Eastern Europe. I was elated. The local family we traveled alongside is simply awesome. The Mooneys. They have an amazing grace-filled story and ministry. They’re one of those ‘amazing’ families. They are so fun and love God passionately. They celebrate life.
The speech therapist whom I was blessed to travel with, Amy, is a kindred spirit. She and I worked together but got to know each other a little bit better over our April 2010 trip. She is an amazing Christian woman, an advocate for children with special needs, and a wonderful friend. She didn’t care at all that I ate stinky smoked salmon for breakfast in our little room every morning (I have the weirdest and cruelest food food allergies and am hypoglycemic). She loves like God asks us to-with unabashed loving kindness. She and I stayed up late most nights and talked about the children we were working with in the orphanage, dreams for these children, plans to make our work more efficient and make a larger impact, and we also stayed up laughing into the night. Laughter is good for the soul.
We were blessed to be able to help video and take some pictures when the Mooneys met their beautiful daughter Lena for the first time. Such a wonder-filled moment. Such a blessing. And again, by God’s grace only, we did good works. Amy and I worked well together. She led with love, holding these children in a loving embrace, instilling them with a love that can only help to show the children their true worth. While Amy immediately loved, I sat back briefly to view the children clinically. I was thinking about their cognition, sensory systems, musculoskeletal systems, and central nervous systems. I’m not typically emotionally-driven but rather clinically minded. After quickly assessing the children, I would then follow Amy’s lead and begin to lovingly engage the children.
We assessed the children, made very basic suggestions to facilitate their development and ultimately worked towards preventing further physical and psycho-emotional delays. We also collaborated with physicians and caregivers to work on implementing basic strategies to prevent choking and pneumonia.
Our TEAM has an established relationship with the orphanage we were working in. This was only mine and Amy’s second trip, but felt that we were able to develop a relationship because we were there every day. Our translator, her husband, and her sister have strong ties there and were also able to help us become more rooted and more comfortable.
Amy asked Olga, our translator, to ask the doctors if we could see Nastia. After receiving the text in August, we were all sad to see that she was unable to be moved from isolation. The doctors were gracious and allowed us to evaluate Nastia even though she was in isolation. They even let us work with her later on. It was such a blessing.
We walked into her ‘room’ and saw her in her crib. She had gotten so much taller, but was still the precious little girl we remembered with so much potential! Nastia doesn’t speak yet, but she is very introspective and takes everything in. She watched us closely.
Our first day, we weren’t able to hold or work with her. She was very scared. I cannot imagine how hard it would be to leave your crib (her home for nearly 24/7 for about two years now) and be accosted by strangers. We were able to talk to her doctors though, which was helpful. We were able to get some more updated information about her health.
Our second and third days with her were much better. Again, Amy led with love. She cuddled her and helped to get her more comfortable. Then Amy passed her to me, so I could assess her trunk control and arm/hands function while Amy worked on eliciting speech. It was such a lovely moment to be able to hold her, especially after the day before seeing her so afraid. Together we were able to assess Nastia and play. It was so sweet and so fun.
Eventually I had an opportunity to speak with Nastia’s doctor and thoroughly and respectfully explain why she should be moved from isolation to a baby room. I went over all the medical and psychosocial reasons. There were many. The doctor seemed to have an excuse to combat everything I said. After I felt I had mad a very medically sound rebuttal to everything she responded with, she sighed and told me that Nastia just needed to be adopted. I agreed. Wholeheartedly. I wanted to just say to her, “fine then, I’ll do it.”
Then we bought two bottles of champagne and very nice chocolates for Nastia’s doctors. If our arguments wouldn’t work, we figured we should try a Gift. The gift made a stronger impression.
Olga told Amy and me that the doctors signed papers (which means that it’s official and ‘official’ is a big thing there) to have her moved the next week. I wept. I was so relieved. I realized that I really wanted to be her mom-if I could. I was 27, coming up on that magic number for Daniel and me to start a family. We planned on getting pregnant sometime in the very near future. We live in a house that we’re renovating. My parents had just sold their home an hour away to move five hours away for a relocation. The time couldn’t have been worse. That night, I prayed that if God wanted us to be Nastia’s parents that He would give Daniel a dream about a baby in a basket. So, the fact that I was praying about adopting a child with special needs was a lot weirder to me than the baby in a basket part. The baby in the basket seemed very rational. It would be a very easy to read, clear sign. I didn’t realize how ridiculous it was at the time. Very Abby-ish.
After the end of a wonderful week, I left with the Mooneys to head back to the states. I cannot imagine how difficult it was for them to leave without their daughter, but they had some paperwork that needed to be completed. It was hard to leave Eastern Europe, the kids, and Amy as she planned to stay for the second leg.
As we returned home to our weekly schedules, Amy continued to work in Eastern Europe with the rest of the TEAM who arrived that weekend. They saw over 100 families. God blessed the work they did. Amy tirelessly educated and cared in some good and some challenging situations. She’s a strong woman. I got a message from Amy during that week. She told me that over the weekend Nastia had developed a fever and wouldn’t be moved. The doctors feared that her fever would spread to the other children.
I was devastated. We had fought so hard for her. We had prayed so hard. Why would God let her get sick just after we got the papers to get her moved? I didn’t know, but I prayed. Again, I prayed for God’s will, but because I didn’t know it, I prayed that she would be moved as soon as possible.
I started thinking and praying about Nastia all of the time. Every morning I would try casually ask Daniel if he’d had any weird dreams. Casual only worked for about a week and then Daniel wanted to know what was up. I told him that I had a specific dream in mind and that if he had it, it meant we were supposed to adopt Nastia. Daniel saw that I was serious. He reminded me of all the practical reasons why it wouldn’t be a good time/fit. I knew these things. I asked him to pray.
Over the next month, Daniel had LOTS of seemingly coincidental incidents where adoption came up. Yes, November is adoption awareness. But, these were quirky and specific. One that was really sweet happened at church. A little boy came up to Daniel and said, “I have a new Bible.” Daniel said, “Hey, that’s cool.” The boy replied, “It has my new name in it, because I just got adopted.”
So yes, maybe we were reading into things, but why wouldn’t God use something like that to speak to us?
I had a dream about it. It was very short, but I woke up with such a deep feeling of God’s love and peace. In my dream, Daniel and I were in Nastia’s orphanage. He was holding her, rubbing her back and said, “Can you believe we almost didn’t get her?”
I woke up. It was amazing. I told Daniel. We tried to find a balance between reading into things and yet listening to God in whatever way He wanted to get His message across.
Over the next few weeks, I began to feel pressure about determining whether or not we were going to do this. She was on Reece's Rainbow, and I was so afraid that another family would commit to her. Now, this would also be a good thing-but please understand that I was beyond seeing her as someone else’s child. I really wanted God to choose us to love and raise her. I was also feeling pressure because with musculoskeletal issues, the sooner you begin treatment the better. So, I began to gently nag Daniel. Can nagging be gentle? Probably not, but I tried.
Then, God let me know that He is in control. Period. He reminded me of times when I tried to fight my own battles. I couldn’t do it, and it wasn’t my ‘fight.’ I mentally released Nastia and our situation to God. I prayed that if God wanted us to adopt her, that He would let Daniel know and I praised Him because His works are good and He’s all we need.
The next Sunday at church through a very simple conversation, Daniel heard God. He was approached by a volunteer who was also working with children’s church, Kendall Byers. Kendall was a total stranger to Daniel, asked him what was going on in his life. Daniel (who is usually pretty close-lipped with personal info) told him that we were involved in international therapy missions and that he and I were praying about adopting a little girl with special needs but that we just hadn’t heard a clear answer. He told him that he definitely felt like God was tugging on his heart, but that we just hadn’t gotten that definitive answer. Kendall listened and said, “We tend to think we need some special calling to follow God. Usually God just leads into the things He has for us.”
That was exactly what Daniel needed to hear. He immediately had peace about it. I contacted a local social worker. We are working on our homestudy and the gazillion other papers we have to have. We are trying our best to do this quickly and get our house Nastia-ready.
Daniel is excited. God’s love pours through him. He loves a little girl he has never met. He loves a little girl whom we can have no expectations regarding her development. He trusts God to lead us. My husband is an amazing man.
We have told family, I’ve told co-workers and Andrea from Reece’s Rainbow as well as Peg and Alexis from Arthrogryposis Adoption blog. From talking with them, I have learned that Nastia was going to be adopted in October, but the family was unable to complete the adoption. This was just a matter of days before I saw her and God placed her so heavily on my heart. I have to say that I think my dream was from God. We literally almost didn’t get her.
We are going to rename her when we complete her adoption, by God’s grace. We wanted to give her a family name, Eva Claire, after my Gran who hung the moon.