If you would have asked me during the course of our adoption what the most difficult thing about adopting was, I would have said the process. The paperwork, the fundraising, the waiting. The 9 months it took us to get to Elliott it often felt like my heart was taking a beating. I ached for her. I thought nothing could be more difficult than the race to get to our daughter. I thought it was inside of that time that God was changing us and molding us the most.
I would have been wrong though.
The months following bringing Elliott home were hands down the hardest thing either Russ or I have ever done.
Although we had been educated by our case workers, we had read books, and we had done hours of online training, nothing could have prepared us for what was coming.
We didn’t anticipate the amount of trauma she would have, the way her fears would consume so much of our every day, and how overwhelming it would be to navigate things like indiscriminate affection, her dislike of children, or her struggles with the transitions that happen in everyday life.
We didn’t anticipate how little she would know or understand about being in a family, how long and hard the road to build trust would be, and really just how selfish we were – how much of our own ugliness we would see as we were stretched in this way.
We didn’t anticipate how overwhelming her grief would be to our whole family, how long it would last, and how scary simple things like sleeping and eating would be for her.
For months, she would cry for hours and hours at a time. Not wanting me but not wanting to let go of me. She would cling to me, clearly angry at me the whole time. We held her during meals, while we slept, while we went to the bathroom, while we cooked. And yet for all the hours we spent trying to soothe her, she remained scared and angry.
There was a point in the beginning when I was so frustrated that I had no control over making things better for her and it felt like my actions didn’t seem to make much of an impact. I became angry. I was angry with her for being so overwhelmingly difficult. I was angry at myself for not having any clue how to help her. I was angry at Russ for getting to get up and go to work every day and leaving me there with this child that I could never soothe. I was short with Campbell and Bennett and felt like I had so little left for them.
We were pouring out everything we had, but the reality was – it felt like she was hurting far beyond what our small efforts could impact. There were moments in the first couple months where Russ and I looked at each other and wondered if all five of us would make it through all of this.
In the beginning of February, God reminded me that it isn’t my job to redeem her life. It is my job to be obedient to Him and let Him do the redeeming. It felt like a weight lifted as we decided to wake up every day, love Him, each other, and our kids the best we could, and let Him do the redeeming.
Around the beginning of March, it was like all the little efforts we were making began to amount to something. It was like we were able to begin to physically see things heal in her – pieces that were broken and fragmented be put back together and made whole. She went from being a child who clung to me in her sleep to sleeping peacefully. She went from having to be held at every meal to being willing to sit in her own chair to feed herself most of the time. She went from showing anxiety often to having a sense of calm. She went from being frantic to get attention from every person she saw to showing that she knew where she fit in our family and shows more and more contentment with that. We saw her begin to communicate, begin to show trust, begin to show love for her siblings, and begin to show confidence that her needs really would be met.
It stopped being hard because of her trauma and fears and mostly now when it is hard it’s because she’s two (and pretty strong willed!)
These days, I marvel over and over again about what love has done. Seven months ago she lived in an orphanage and spent most of her day in a crib. Last weekend she learned to sing the first part of “Happy Birthday” and wore Minnie Mouse ears while she played at her friend’s birthday party. Six months ago she would only sleep on top of one of our chests at night. She would cry if any part of her body touched the bed. Tonight, she sleeps soundly in her own bed in the room she shares with her big sister. I see her have victory after victory – some big and some small – and I am overwhelmed at the power and goodness of God. He didn’t just bring an orphan home to a family, He is restoring the broken parts of her life in front of our eyes.
As Elliott healed and transformed from an orphan to a daughter and our lives started to look more normal, we sort of breathed a sigh of relief and began to try to get back to normal ourselves. We invested ourselves back in ministry, in friendships, in the life that had gone on around us for the past few months. But going back to normal was harder than we thought it would be.
From the very beginning, even when we were still in China, we talked about adopting again. What we have seen and learned has changed us. We can’t go back to pretending we don’t know. But we assumed that would be a future conversation. Something for future Russ and Kristin to think about. We would talk about it from time to time, but we never really allowed ourselves to go there fully.
We love God and have been so privileged to serve Him in ministry. We have seen Him work miracles in peoples’ lives and serving Him and being a part of what He is about is overwhelmingly the desire of our hearts. And yet nothing has ever meant more than what we have seen in Elliott. In nothing have we ever seen God at work so powerfully. Nothing has every felt as sacred, as holy, or as worthy of laying our lives down for. We learned so much through her adoption about who Jesus is and how He works. He was not flashy or showy. His miracles were often quiet. There was no fanfare.
If He was among us today, He would be meeting the homeless and the desperate in the dark alleys. He would be running towards those with lifestyles that most of us run away from. And He would be holding the terrified orphan girls for as long as they needed to heal the broken parts in their hearts.
As we made efforts to reengage with life, we kept getting stuck. We had been changed by what we had gone through. We struggled to go back to life as normal, yet it seemed like God was keeping us from diving into things that seemed like “good” things, and we couldn’t shake what we had learned about who He is and how He works. We both had the question in our mind about what God might be saying to us through all of this, but didn’t allow ourselves to go there fully.
About a month ago we stopped avoiding the question and finally looked at each other and said the things we had both been avoiding saying:
Are we crazy or are we being obedient? Could we really do this again? Could we do all the fundraising? Could we do all the paperwork? Could we do the travel? Could we trust God to provide and direct and sustain us in the hard moments all over again?
And as much as it is terrifying, even the 2nd time, the answer is yes. Yes, Lord. We will go wherever you lead and we believe you are capable of equipping us with every good thing we need as we go there.
And so we said yes. Again. And we are thrilled this time to be working towards bringing a son home from China.
A boy?? What??
For many years, girls were primarily available for adoption in China. It was well known that orphanages were full of girls that had been abandoned because of the one child policy and the strong preference Chinese families had to have a son. It became the norm and the expectation for people looking to adopt in China to adopt a girl. Over the past several years there has been a shift. Children are now abandoned in China likely more as a result of special need than as a result of gender, so there are equal numbers boys and girls entering the orphanages. The trend of adopting Chinese girls has remained the same though. In essence, when you go to China to adopt, you typically think girl. What this has done is left many, many boys in orphanages without families. Girls tend to get adopted regardless of how many or how significant their medical needs are or if they are a bit older, however it is to the point that being a boy is generally considered a special need itself.
Six years ago when I was pregnant with Bennett I really wanted another girl. Over these past years, I have thanked God hundreds of times that He gave me a son. My boy is funny, he loves fiercely, he challenges me, he has a drive to protect, and he has brought me joy in so many unexpected ways. Raising a son is one of the most significant blessings I never knew I wanted.
As we walked through our first adoption and we learned more and more about the plight of boy orphans in China, it broke our hearts. We felt confident that we were supposed to bring home a girl during our first adoption and Elliott is without a doubt the daughter meant for us. But knowing what we know now, we are thrilled to be going back to China for a son this time.
Where are you in the process??
We are currently working on updating our home study. Because we are fresh off adoption #1, there are some parts of the process we won’t have to redo entirely. While we don’t know this for sure, we are hopeful that the paper chasing portion of this adoption will go a bit faster than the 6 months it took for Elliott’s adoption. Either way, here we go!!