Sunday, February 26, 2017

A Family Update

A couple weeks ago we enjoyed some family time together while on a school break due to Chinese New Year.  It's such a festive and fun time of year, and the break also gave me some time to look back on the past couple years.  I reread old blog posts and was able to remember and reflect on God's goodness to our family.  "Come and see what God has done, how awesome his works in man's behalf!"-Psalm 66:5

Way back in April 2014, I wrote a post that expressed my disappointment in not being able to foster a little girl named Qun.  I shared how I had learned that God asks us to love and to love big.  It still amazes me that the little girl I wrote about is now my daughter, and it's a testament to who our God is.  I had no idea five years ago when we moved to Hong Kong that Maddie would become a part of our family, but I'm immensely grateful and thankful that God's purposes and plans are always so much bigger and better than I think they could ever be.  It makes me really emotional just thinking about it.

Maddie back in 2014 when we hoped to foster her
Maddie this February holding up a CNY red packet

Back in that same month over two years ago we shared the difficult story of watching our friends' daughter and her family walk through an incredibly hard season in their lives.  Bijou got very, very sick and we feared that we would lose our dear little friend.  I still remember sitting outside Bijou's ward just pleading to Jesus that He would save her life.  And I shed so many tears with her mom Cara.  But we also saw God work in Bijou's life in the way that he brought her to Cincinnati safely, showered her family with support in their new community, truly healed her little body, and took care of the finances to provide for her care.  We have been witnesses to a little girl's body restored, and this past summer while we were in the States we got to see the Legers again.  I can't tell you how joyful it is to see Bijou run, jump, laugh, and LIVE like she does.  She has the same BIG heart to love and we just revel in the times we get to spend with their family when we visit the States.

Cara has shared that Bijou's doctors at Cincinnati Children's Hospital are wonderful, and her disease and symptoms are able to be maintained through just one powerful drug.  She had a lung function test recently and did great and her bloodwork has been perfect.  She only has to see the lung and heart doctor once a year because she's doing so well, and meets with her rhuematologist every four months for checkups and an eye doctor due to cataracts from the steroids.  She has had a bit of swelling in some of her joints lately, so in December she received steroid injections to bring the swelling down.  Fortunately, the swelling hasn't caused her any pain and hasn't slowed her down one bit!  She truly is a living miracle and we praise our Abba Father that she is doing so very well.  You can continue to pray that Bijou would keep thriving and for her disease to continue being maintained well.

Bijou in April 2014, not too long before they left for the US
With the Legers this summer in the US :), Bijou is 2nd from the left

One of the other posts I reread went further back to August 2013 when we had just moved into the middle floor of a three story apartment in a village.  The nature lover in me loved our neighborhood of three story apartments and didn't ever imagine our family living in the high rise apartments that Hong Kong is so typically known for.  But this past June, we moved into a high rise apartment (mind you, we're on the 1st floor) :) and we are so very thankful to be here.  As much as we loved living in the village, the uphill walk home pushing a stroller with an increasingly heavy three year old with limited mobility along with groceries and two other tired kiddos was getting to be a challenge.  We loved our apartment but fighting the stairs to help Maddie get to the front door was making me sad.  For someone that isn't able to bend their knees fully, Maddie either had to be carried or needed a strong adult hand to help her get up each step.  It seemed like moving was an option we needed to pursue.  However, when we looked around at high rises in our area that had elevators and an easier commute, they were double the cost of our rent and way out of price range.

So when a rare opportunity arose to move to an apartment with an elevator, close to school and the hospital, and at a rental price we could afford, it turned out to be such a big blessing to our family.  Our new home has been even better than what we could have ever hoped for and in addition to checking off those boxes to meet Maddie's physical needs, it's almost double the size of our old apartment, making it gigantic for us!  At 1300 square feet, it's the biggest home we've ever lived in since we got married.  And I especially felt grateful this past October when Maddie had surgery again and the hospital was only one train stop away.  The proximity made going back and forth to the hospital and trading turns with Shannon a lot easier.  We feel spoiled to live here and it's been so fun to be able host larger groups of people and visitors too.  We look forward to seeing how else God will use this home to bless others in the future as well.
Having a CNY celebration at our place with some church people last month
Making dumplings too!

This fall Josiah started 2nd grade, Ava started 1st grade, and Maddie started preschool.  Josiah has become a voracious reader and continues to have a sweet, tender heart (most of the time).  He's also picked up bit of sarcastic humor from his father and loves to tell and figure out jokes and riddles.  He likes to play soccer and baseball with dad, and still loves to build with legos.

Ava can be seen most days in our home upside down on our couch doing a headstand, and she loves showing off gymnastic tricks she's learned at recess like doing cartwheels or hula hooping. She learned how to ride a bike on two wheels this fall and she likes creating little crafts that leave scraps of paper all over the house.  All of the kids have picked up a love of games from Shannon and it's been fun to watch them grow to age where they can play some board games on their own, and sometimes even without an argument!

Maddie continues to love life and love people, although she's definitely picked up some sass from her sister.  She loves taking care of her baby dolls, singing songs, coloring, and riding on her scooter.

Last year we had some apprehensions about how school would go for Maddie but she absolutely loves it, she has a wonderful teacher, and she has made many friends.  I was reminded this year how fortunate we are to be a part of the ICS community where Shannon teaches and the kids go to school.  When we weren't yet sure whether Maddie would be able to attend ICS due to her physical needs and limitations, we had a meeting with the administration at the school.  I was slightly nervous about this meeting because I wasn't really sure what they were going to say.  In the time that we've been here, we haven't really seen other kids with physical needs like Maddie and there aren't specific programs or accommodations to support someone with arthrogryposis.  But as Shannon and I sat down for this meeting, the first thing they did to start the meeting was with a prayer.  And it immediately put my heart at ease because I thought, "If God is in this, we needn't worry.  He will take care of her however it may be, whether here or somewhere else."  And as we opened our eyes, the first question they asked us was, "We just wanted to meet with you so we knew better how to accommodate Maddie's needs."  I'm not going to lie, I cried.  I cried because I'm thankful that my kids go to a school where they are loved.  I cried because my Maddie isn't forgotten or rejected, she's supported and loved.  And it is such a blessing to be at a place that loves like Jesus does.

First Day of School, Aug 2016

I've had a lot of people ask me how Maddie is doing as she had surgery again this past October.  For those of you that don't know, she basically had the exact same surgery she had last year, but on the opposite arm.  Her right arm is her dominant one, and with it she can now lift her hand to her mouth and feed herself.  She still needs some help if the meal has liquid, but it is so wonderful to see how she's gained independence in this area over the past year.

Since her right arm surgery went so well, her surgeons discussed doing surgery on her left arm.  Maddie wanted to "make my left arm strong too!" so went ahead with the surgery four months ago.  The surgery itself went great and the pain resided after a week or two, but Maddie hasn't progressed with this new transferred muscle as well as the first time around.  The problem is that some of the sutures anchoring her bicep to her elbow have pulled away, affecting her strength, lifting of her arm, and position of her bicep. Whereas she was able to lift her right arm to her mouth in two months post surgery last year, this year she is now just getting closer to lifting her left arm 90 degrees but it has taken four months and lots of physiotherapy and strengthening exercises to get to this point.  We have had many conversations with the surgeons over the past couple months, and this past Friday the surgeons decided that a second surgery will be necessary to repair the problem.  A new surgery date has been set for July of this year to re-anchor the sutures so that she can use her left arm better.

This news has been discouraging but we thank God for the blessings too.  While Maddie was in the hospital for her surgery and the week following her surgery, we were reminded how God always provides people that love and care for our family while Maddie is in the hospital.  As thankful as you are for the care received in a hospital, it's a tiring and sometimes depressing place because you (and I don't just mean the patient but the parents too!) just really want to go home and a plastic chair just isn't a very comfortable place to sleep.  We were tremendously grateful back in October that my mom was able to come in to help take care of the older two and for our friends that brought meals to our home, helped to take care our kids, made visits to the hospital or sent things to play with, and encouraged us with their prayers and love.  We had many people help our family as Maddie went through this big surgery and recovery, and we're grateful for her doctors and to have that kind of loving community here.

In October the day she got to go home from the hospital.  There's nothing that beats that moment when you get to go home!
Despite the slow progress Maddie has had post-surgery, there is so much she CAN do that she couldn't do before.  She can bend her left arm and that is something she could not do pre-surgery when her arm was locked in a straight position.  It's easier to put shirts on Maddie since she can bend both arms now!  It's easier for her to ride her scooter and feel a little more secure standing on it because she can adjust the bend of her arms when holding the handle bars.  She can put her arm around a bowl to help hold it in place better when she eats.  There is much to be thankful for that I didn't really think about until I was writing this post.  And regarding the surgery itself, the suture anchor at her shoulder, the bicep itself, and all her nerves in her arm are just fine.  Her bicep continues to get stronger as we work with her, and I am thankful that she can lift her arm almost ninety degrees.  Less than two months ago Maddie was unable to lift her left arm at all, and I was really concerned.  So, as disappointing as it is to hear that she will need further surgery on her left arm, I am encouraged by the progress that she has made.

Sometimes I feel like I need to remember the good so I don't forget that God is in this with us.  He's with us in the everyday, whether the moments are mundane and little, and he's with us in the big, joyous and hard moments too.  I would be lying if I said that caring for a child that needs extra help is all peaches and cream. :)  I don't like it when people think I'm a saint for adopting a child, or think I'm extra special because I adopted a child with physical needs because to me she's just our kid.  Period.  And we would love her regardless of what her needs were, just as we love all our kids regardless of what their specific needs are.  But it is true that caring for a child with physical limitations can make you weary.  We've spent the past four months going to the hospital around three times a week, and the extra appointments with her surgeons, getting fitted for three new splints (and two more to come), physiotherapy, occupational therapy, in addition to the stretching and strengthening exercises that we do at home with her every day are TIRING.  However, we also know that these things are needed to help her heal, recover, and get stronger.  The waiting and wondering if you made the best decisions as a parent for your child's care can be weighty.  We make decisions all the time as parents and hope and pray we made the best ones for our kids.  But when you're making decisions that involve cutting into your daughter's body, knowing that there will be risks that things may not work out as you hope, it's scary.  And if you're someone that prays for our sweet daughter on a regular basis that God would do some big things with her arm and her body, we ask that you please pray that Shannon and I would have the wisdom to make good decisions for Maddie's care.  We ask that you pray that we would have patience to care for her well, especially post surgery when after care can seem neverending.  The reality is that caring for our sweet daughter is a life long commitment, and sometimes knowing that is overwhelming.  The truth in that reality is that God cares for and loves our Maddie SO, SO much more than we know and he will always provide the strength, love, and perseverance for her (and us!) to keep going when all you want to do is give up.

The most patient person in all of this definitely hasn't been me.  I think Shannon would have to be a close second, but hands down it's been Maddie.  The girl has the ability to be patient when sometimes we've been waiting over two hours to see a doctor.  She does it with a smile on her face as she waves hello over and over to the babies sitting around us or chats up a storm with me.  She's a pretty incredible kid and her patience and joy humble me just about every day.

I realize that the great majority of our update is about Maddie and it's because a lot of this year has been spent focusing on her care.  Although I'm involved in lots of other things, this is really where my heart is the most.  I still take part in a moms' group, women's group, volunteering at the kids' schools, and helping out at church.  But my greatest ministry will and always be my family, and this year it's been hard.  It's been hard to have medical care take so much of your family's time when all you want to do is be able to play with your kids instead of spending it at a hospital.  It's been hard to be selfless when I want to be more selfish with my time.  It's also been so, so good to finally be a family without worry of finishing an adoption and to have three kids and a husband that are incredible despite these worries and flaws of mine.  I thank God for his grace because I sure have needed it this year.  

A milestone from this year is that in August, Shannon and I celebrated our ten year anniversary!  I am so thankful to have a partner in life that loves Jesus and loves his family so well.  While in the States this summer, we were not only able to see our wonderful families and friends, but also celebrated our anniversary with a trip to the mountains for a couple days while Shannon's parents watched the kids.  We had a wonderful time and we all loved being able to spend time with the people that we so dearly love in the US. :)

For those of you wondering how Shannon is doing, he switched from teaching 6th to 7th grade Humanities this year.  He continues to enjoy teaching in the middle school and ministering to his students.
Celebrating our anniversary this summer in Tennessee
Fun with cousins in Chicago
Fun with cousins in Tennessee

We ended 2016 with a short trip to Guilin and Yangshuo in mainland China, which is just an hour plane ride away.  It's an area known for it's unique mountains and we enjoyed family time together while getting to explore a new area.  It was the first vacation we had taken as a family of five without an agenda of finishing adoption paperwork, so it was so wonderful just to be able to enjoy time together.  I loved being out in the countryside, walking to the river, taking the kids for bike rides, and getting to see some tourist sites.  
Josiah was so excited when a kind villager let him hold the rope of the bull he was leading out to pasture.

Taken on boat ride from Guilin to Yangshuo

Hanging out at the Yulong River in the countryside near our hotel

Silver Cave, Yangshuo
Boat ride from Guilin to Yangshuo

Countryside in Yangshuo in front of our hotel

While walking to the river, we happened (or smelled) upon some pigs in pen houses.

 As I look to what this year holds, I am excited for what God has in store.  There are other stories from the past couple years that are also close to my heart, but I'm not sure I'm ready to tell them yet.  What I do know is that we're immensely thankful for what God's done and we praise him that we've gotten to witness him move like he does.  I recently attended a women's conference online called the If:gathering and it did much to rejuvenate my heart and soul.  Jill Briscoe, one of the speakers at the conference shared, "Go where you're sent, stay where you are, and give everything you got."  That truly is my prayer for this year that I would love Jesus more and love those around me as my Savior does.   If you need a jump start to refresh your faith, please watch her talk.  It's honest, it's real, it's funny, it's applicable, and it cuts to the heart.  You can watch it here.

If you somehow managed to read to the end of this very lengthy family update, bless you!  I'm amazed you made it to the end.  Thank you for taking the time to read it too!

Sunday, February 14, 2016

How Our Little Valentine Came Home to Us

It's been a long time since I've posted anything on our blog, and part of the reason why was because our lives got very full.  Shannon began taking classes again in 2014-15 to complete his Masters (he finished summer of 2015, woohoo!) and in the fall of 2014, we began the process of adopting our daughter, which took quite a bit of paperwork and time.  We also had the privilege of fostering her during some of that time.  Throughout our adoption process, our agency wanted us to be careful and cautious about not posting anything personal about Maddie, so I decided to take a break from our blog since so much of our year was about bringing her home.  But now we are home, and we can share!  This is a long love story, but if you're up for reading why our family decided to adopt and how Maddie came to be our daughter, here's the full story.  You can also check out the video that shows in pictures what I've posted here.  Just a note about the video, it may not play on some mobile devices.  

In the spring of 2013, we met a smiley little four month old named Long, Xiao Qun (we kept her middle name, pronounced ‘Choon’, and called her by that until the adoption was complete) from Xining, China. Our good friends, the Thompsons, were fostering her in Hong Kong.  She had traveled here through the help of Christian Action, a wonderful nonprofit organization that among many other things, provides medical treatment and care to orphaned children.

Qun was born with a medical condition called arthrogryposis multiplex congenita, which causes her joints to be crooked, and she has limited and fixed range of motion due to weak or missing muscles.   I got to see Qun pretty regularly that spring since her foster mom and I were in the same moms group.  I remember how she loved to interact with people.  One morning when her foster mom went downstairs to help our kids get off to preschool, I watched Qun for a couple minutes upstairs in her home.  Qun had recently acquired casts on her arms and legs because of surgeries that helped position her arms and legs better, and I remember how she thumped her casts up and down on their floors. As she looked up at me and smiled and giggled while she lay on their colorful baby quilt, I just fell in love with her.  I loved her with the same deep love that I had for my other two kids when they were born, and my heart just swelled.  

It took us more than a year from that point to build up the courage to dive into the journey of adoption and all that it entails, but God opened our eyes by gently teaching us through friends that had or were adopting.  He instilled the deep knowing in me that Qun needed a family that would love her fully and forever.  I desired to be her mama so much, but I was so scared.  I was scared of the financial cost of adoption, I was scared of her medical condition and care because I didn’t really know much about it, and I was scared of changing our little family of four.  But I remember coming to a point where I just wept and said, “Okay, Lord” because he had so deeply burdened my heart with the knowing that she was supposed to be ours that I couldn’t ignore it anymore.  I loved her so very much and I am so thankful that I finally listened to my Abba Father.  I believe there are times in life where God urges your heart to move, but ultimately we have the choice to move towards the best He has in store for us or settle for just what we think is good.  When we say “yes,” it’s incredible to see what God does.
After talking and praying through the decision with Shannon, we began the path to make our dreams a reality in September of 2014.  During this time God continued to affirm our steps by making it known that her care would be provided for.  However, we were told by a Hong Kong adoption agency (at the time the only agency we thought we could work with) that because we didn’t meet the financial requirements for the adoption application, the Chinese adoption authorities would not accept it.   We were so discouraged that our journey had come to a halt so quickly.  Also, because we were trying to adopt a specific child that we had prior contact with, it made our situation difficult.  The agency we had contacted said that they had not had any success in the past in similar situations such as ours.

I did a lot of crying in those early weeks.  At that point, we thought we would have to wait at least two years just to meet the requirements simply to begin the application process, and then another year to complete the adoption process.  I’ll never forget when I shared my frustration with a dear friend, how she prayed for me and later wrote me a card.  I don’t remember exactly what the card said, but her words of hope encouraged me more than she’ll ever know and gave me the faith to keep going and researching other options when it seemed like we were at a dead end.

Soon after that conversation, we were able to get connected to a social worker in China (who had seven adopted children of her own!) that worked for a different US adoption agency.  She not only informed us that financial waivers were a possibility, but she personally knew Qun because she lived in Xining and worked with the local orphanage where Qun was from!   Her agency said that securing Maddie’s file would be very complicated and without any guarantees, but that they were always up for a challenge.  I was so excited to know that someone had told us that hope was a real possibility!  I was also deeply encouraged to know that our social worker was a Christian who prayed for Qun and her family to find their way to each other even before we formally began the process to adopt her.   

Our agency was able to obtain Qun’s file on November 5, 2014, which meant that we could start the application process.  Right before Christmas of that year we received pre-approval to adopt her!  

The next month we had the extra blessing of getting to foster Qun for five weeks when she came back to Hong Kong for medical treatment through Christian Action.  As we prepared for her stay in January 2015, I was a bundle of nerves since this was the first time she would ever stay in our home.  I wondered what she would think of us, our food and language, if she would like us and feel comfortable with our family, whether she would able to understand any of the little Mandarin that we learned, but we didn’t need to be concerned.  Qun was as happy and eager to play with Josiah and Ava as they were with her and she started calling me “Mama” before I could even wonder about what I should have her call me.  

First day we fostered Maddie

During that month, through lots of physiotherapy and hard work, we had the joy of seeing Qun learn how to sit up from laying down AND take her first independent steps at two years old.  To be able to have that privilege of watching those firsts was such a wonderful thing.  When the time came in February to give her back to her foster mom in Xining, it was incredibly hard to say goodbye.  People have asked me what the hardest part of the process was, and that was probably one of the most painful moments for me.  However, we were so thankful that we had the opportunity to have her in our home.  I also had the pleasure of meeting Qun’s foster mother from Xining at the airport in China and to see her walk from my arms into hers.  I was not permitted to tell her that we were in the process of adopting Qun, but I could thank her for all the loving care she had and was going to provide her in the months to come.

After Qun left, I ached to know what she was doing each month; if she was progressing in all that she had learned, to see how she was growing and changing.  I longed to be able to kiss and hug her.  The waiting continued as winter turned to spring and then summer came.  In late summer of 2015 when we thought we would be receiving good news that we were nearing the end of the adoption process, we found out instead that there were problems that were going to require our documents be returned to Hong Kong for extra paperwork.  I was crushed and didn’t understand why our adoption process had to be delayed when we wanted her to come home so very badly, and I questioned whether God knew what He was doing.

I wish I could say in the midst of this process that I was a woman of faith who trusted that God would work out the little details.  The truth is that I worried, fretted, and stressed the whole way through the fourteen months that it took to bring our daughter home.  It was especially during that summer that Shannon would remind me, “Carol, you know she’s going to come home, right?  You know that God will do it, right?”  And I wish I could tell you that I responded with, “Yes, I absolutely do!”  But instead I was filled with fear and tears that we would lose her or that something wouldn’t work out.  I want to give excuses as to why my fear was justified, but I won’t.  The truth is that I married a man that trusts in God, and I am so blessed to have a husband that looks at life with calm and without worry because of it.  There are many lessons I learned through this adoption process, and one of the things I was reminded of was just what an incredible husband I have and how much more growing I need to do in my faith.    

In hindsight, it’s not surprising that the delays in our adoption process actually ended up being a blessing.  On Sept 22, 2015 we got matched to Qun, which meant that we got a letter from Beijing seeking confirmation that we wanted to adopt Qun.  We rejoiced at the news, but it still meant that we would need to wait a couple more months to go to China. Since our adoption process wasn't complete, we were able to receive approval to foster Maddie again from the Xining Civil Affairs Bureau and the Qinghai Provincial Department at the beginning of October for six weeks when she came to Hong Kong through Christian Action.  And because Christian Action was her legal guardian while she was in Hong Kong and we were just her foster parents, they were able to fund two surgeries, therapy, and treatment for Qun that fall.  She went through a successful eight hour surgery to remove a muscle from her back and relocate it into her right arm so that she could have a bicep muscle.  Christian Action not only graciously let me be Qun’s main caregiver, even paying for a bed for me to sleep on next to her in the hospital, but they let our family make final decisions regarding her surgery and care.

First night she returned to our home

In November, when Qun’s visa was about to expire, Christian Action was able to receive permission again from Qinghai and the immigration department in Hong Kong to extend her visa another six weeks.  We found out three days before she was scheduled to leave that she would be allowed to stay, and we were thrilled!  The visa extension meant so many extra blessings.  It meant that Qun could remain with our family until we were permitted to travel to Qinghai to finalize her adoption in December.  That meant we never had to say goodbye and could spend the next month continuing to bond with our daughter until we could make it official.  It meant that we were able to celebrate Qun’s 3rd birthday with her, which was just a couple days after she was originally supposed to leave.  It meant that Christian Action was able to provide the funds for another minor surgery for her.  Five weeks after her arm surgery, Qun’s foot doctor did surgery on her toes and achilles tendons, which were very tight and couldn’t be corrected with physical therapy or stretching.  The surgery was successful and opened up her toes so she could balance and walk better.  All of these extra blessings God had prepared for us, and they were possible because of the delay in our paperwork.  What I had seen just months before as frustrating news, I now understood as God’s perfect timing and gracious provision for our family.

In that same month, Christian Action had a big anniversary dinner, and they brought Qun’s foster mother from Xining to Hong Kong to attend the dinner.  Since she was here for an entire week, we had the opportunity to spend time with her foster mom in the mornings.  We got to show her around Hong Kong, and I got to learn more about the wonderful woman that had cared for her over the past three years, as well as what it was like to have Qun in her home.  This was the same week that we found out that Qun would be able to stay continuously with us.  Our happy news was sad news for Qun's foster mother, who loved Qun so much and had expected to be able to take her back to Xining with her.  It was also the first time she learned that we would be adopting Qun.  Seeing things from her perspective made me truly appreciate all the foster parents out there that love the children that are in their care until their forever families bring them home, and how hard it must be for them when they have to say goodbye.  We are incredibly thankful for all the love that Qun’s foster family poured into her over the past three years and are glad that we can continue to keep in touch with them.  

In early December, four weeks after Qun’s foot surgery, the doctor took her foot casts off and the next day we flew to China to finalize her adoption.  Even the fact that we were able to do that was a tremendous answer to prayer.  Before that point, we had already booked our tickets to the States for Christmas, where we would need to go in order to get Qun's US passport after we left China.  When we booked our tickets, we thought there would be plenty of time to complete the adoption process before we headed to the States.  However, because Qun's casts needed to stay on for four weeks and her doctor was only available to take them off on Monday, December 7th, the same day we were originally supposed to start the final process in China to adopt Qun, we had a problem.  

You see, when you adopt a child from China, the adoption authorities will only start the final process on a Monday because the process takes a full five days.  And in the ten years our social worker has done adoptions, Chinese authorities have always started the process on a Monday.  We could not possibly get her casts taken off and fly to Xining to start the process in less than a day.  So when we asked if we could come the next day on a Tuesday, and explained that she would be getting her casts taken off on Monday, we got a firm "No".  The Chinese adoption authorities told us that we would need to wait until the following week to start the adoption process, which meant that we would need to change our tickets to the US and we would be spending Christmas in China instead of with our families in the US like we had hoped.  

This was frustrating news and up to this point, we had prayed that the timing of everything would work out.  We were so very close, but neither the doctor nor the Chinese adoption authorities said they could change those dates.  That weekend was Thanksgiving weekend, and I didn't feel like being thankful.  A good friend of mine spoke with me and told me that she was still praying that we would somehow be able to go on Tuesday, December 8th.  I told her that we had already received the final no as an answer, but she said she was going to continue praying that it would be changed to a yes.  

Guess what happened?  At the beginning of the next week, our agency told us that they had changed their minds and were going to allow us to come on a Tuesday after all.  It was one of those unbelievable moments where you shake your head and go, "Wow."  So many people prayed for us throughout this entire journey, even when I stopped praying because something just seemed too impossible to change.  I am grateful that we have incredible friends and family, and an even more amazing God.     

There are so many other stories about how God provided for our family and blew us away with His goodness once we headed to mainland China, but I'll have to share that on a separate post.  On December 8, we flew to Xining and on December 10, Qun became Madeline (Maddie) and officially became our daughter!  We chose the name Madeline for her because we thought it was a beautiful name and it means “strength giving.”  We spent a couple more weeks in China to finish adoption paperwork and flew to Chicago right before Christmas to get Maddie’s US passport and to introduce her to our family.  We spent three wonderful weeks introducing her to both sides of our family and in January, we came HOME.

Lastly, we end this lengthy post with gratitude for the many people that provided a loving home to our daughter until she could come home to us.   One of the greatest gifts we received along the way was getting to meet every single person that has ever cared for our daughter.  It is a tremendous blessing that we don’t take for granted, and we can't put in words how thankful we are for all the people below that made the choice to serve, love, and care for our daughter.  From the time Maddie was born until she came home to us, God provided these wonderful people that loved her.

-          Her parents, who gave her life, and who we discovered made sure she was safe and cared for until she was found
-          The woman that took care of Maddie for five days when she was a newborn until police were able to take her to the orphanage in the capital city
-          Caregivers at the local orphanage, who cared for Maddie from when she was a newborn until she was three months old
-          Melanie Case and her family, who took care of Maddie for five days when she first came to Hong Kong at three months old and needed a ffoster family
-          Emily Thompson and her family, who fostered Maddie in Hong Kong from three to six months old, and then again at nine months old
-         Sarah Kong and her family, who fostered Maddie in Hong Kong from twelve to eighteen months old
-          Kang Peng and her family, who fostered Maddie in Xining from six months old until she was almost three
-         Siew Mei Cheung, the director of Christian Action and their amazing organization
-     Lydia, Ken, Gracia, and many other social workers from Christian Action, who accompanied Maddie as her legal guardians on her medical trips from China to Hong Kong as well as all her doctors' appointments

Christian Action is an incredible organization and every time I think about what they gave our daughter and our family, I am blown away.  They brought Maddie to Hong Kong FIVE times for expensive medical treatment and therapy.  They gave her the best care when her biological parents were most likely unable to do so.  Maddie’s condition was so severe that the doctors in the region where she was from did not know how to help her, and even her incredible surgeons in Hong Kong were not initially sure they would be able to operate on her when they first assessed her condition.  In the three years the organization was her guardian during her stays in Hong Kong, they never failed to provide the best medical treatment they could give.  Thanks to the way their organization loves the kids they serve without holding anything back, Maddie can walk.  She can move her arms and legs.  Today, four months after her arm surgery, she can bring her right hand to her mouth to feed herself, and her arm gets stronger every day.  The foot surgery has allowed her to extend her toes fully again so that she can balance and walk better.  She can do all these things, because they have loved her as their own and said ‘yes’ so, so many times for her medical needs.  I will forever be grateful for the way that they have loved my daughter and our family the way that Jesus loves me. If you would like to learn more or support the work that Christian Action does, you can click here.

The journey to bring Maddie forever home to us would never have been possible had it not been for our big God and for the many friends and family that loved us, supported us, and prayed for us over the past year.  It’s hard to put into words just how thankful we are.  They say that it takes a village to raise a child but in our case, we felt like it took a village to adopt a child!  Our journey to bring Maddie home was not an easy one and I gained a lot of white hair, but our daughter will know just how hard we worked and longed to bring her home and how her Abba Father was there to make it all happen every single step of the way.  Whenever there were moments of discouragement, God always provided what we needed.   Sometimes it was a Christian Action social worker sending me a picture of Maddie the same day we received discouraging news, and other times it was God showing us that he could turn a ‘no’ into a ‘yes’.  Through the Christ like love of so many people that have loved our dear Maddie, she is healthy, happy, and the most inquisitive and friendly three year old you’ll ever meet. She has a smile that tells of how much she has been and is loved.  We love her so very much and are so happy that God brought her home to us.  We serve an incredible, powerful, yet tender and compassionate God.

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Thank you, Abba Father, that I get to get to be your daughter and for bringing Maddie home. (Galatians 4:4-7)  

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Pray for Guinea

Today's blog entry is a throwback to the start of our blog, a thankfulness post, and a huge prayer request all wrapped in one.  Our blog was born when we went to Guinea, West Africa eight years ago as a way to keep our family and friends updated on us and what God was doing there.  We spent two years teaching third and fourth graders at Teachus Mission International Christian Academy, a small boarding school for nationals.  After we left Guinea we tried to keep in touch with our students by sending letters or a package every year or two and by reading the full time missionary's newsletters as well.  However, we were only able to receive correspondence back from our students once when a friend went to Guinea a couple years ago and was able to bring back letters our students had written.  Those letters were so precious and we treasured them very much.

Silly picture! Taken at the end of our second year

So you can imagine our excitement when one of our former students sent me a Facebook request this summer!  Guinea is a third world country and we lived in a village with no running water or electricity, so I was really surprised that technology advanced enough there to make this possible!  Since that first Facebook request, I have been able to reconnect with other students and write emails back and forth.  When I see recent pictures of them, I can't believe how much they have grown.  My once little third graders are now men and women!  I am so thankful that we can now keep in touch more regularly as I have missed and prayed for them over the years.

To have the ability to reconnect with our students from Guinea has been a huge and timely blessing because I've been able to keep better updated with how the students and their families are doing.  Many of you know that the Ebola virus has hit Africa hard, and the outbreak actually began in Guinea.  Soon after the 2014 school year began, the full time missionary and his family that we served with made the very difficult decision to temporarily close the school and evacuate Guinea.  To give some perspective on how hard this decision was, I can tell you that they chose to stay in Guinea when one of the first teachers at TMICA died of cerebral malaria in the school's opening year.  In the ten years that have passed since the school opened, their family of five has stayed through many bouts of malaria, other sickness, riots, and other hardships.  In the following italicized paragraphs below, here are their words from their August newsletter regarding Ebola and their decision to leave.

"Liberian president declared the state of emergency for 90 days so that the military could be deployed to search for the hiding Ebola patients, door to door.  In the public announcement, she said, “Ignorance and poverty, as well as entrenched religious and cultural practice, continue to exacerbate the spread of disease.”  I totally agree with her assessment.  Ignorance is the key factor.

Ebola patients have about a 50% survival rate if they are treated but they would rather go to their village witch doctors.  They are simply hiding and spreading their virus to their family members around them.  Without treatment, the patient survival rate drops to about 10%.   Because of ignorance, they are spreading the virus more and more.  It has come to about 2-hour distance from our village.  (Originally it was about 8 hours away.)

Unlike the neighboring countries, the authorities in Guinea are doing almost nothing to stop the spread of the virus that is killing their own people. Life simply goes on.  The Ebola virus is deadly but it is not easily transmitted.  The virus is transmitted only through the bodily fluids like blood, saliva, urine and sweat.  If one washes one’s hands thoroughly, Ebola virus can be avoided.  (The experts agree on this point.) 

Our native coworkers at our center think that Ebola virus is concocted by the authorities to keep the public in control.  They don’t see the detrimental consequence if the virus comes to our center. It will probably close our school permanently.  Over ten years, we have been educating our coworkers about hygiene to keep our center clean so that we can avoid much of the sicknesses prevalent in this part of the world but they do not seem to understand it.  Every year, we are repeating the same things over and over again.  Last week I told them to limit the visitors during this time of Ebola epidemic because they could be carrying the virus.  They chuckled among themselves in a distance.  That made me sad that they don’t see the seriousness of the Ebola virus...  

With heavy hearts, we are making our preparations to temporary closing, not knowing when we will be able to return.  But we will return to reopen the school soon.  We are teaching our students and volunteers about the Ebola virus so that they can keep themselves safe until we meet again.  Though we are closing now, we will return to advance further in M4 missions."  
Just last week I read this article in the news that an Ebola education team of eight people composed of health workers, journalists, and local officials were killed. They had been visiting villages to raise awareness about preventing and containing Ebola.  They were stoned and brutally murdered by a mob that believed that the bleach they were distributing to kill Ebola was the virus itself.  The day after I read the horrible news, one of our former students sent me a heartbreaking message that his uncle was one of the eight that had been killed.  His uncle, Moise Mamy, was the head of his clan, a native pastor, and health worker with a Christian relief organization   I read about the tragic events that unfolded from an article in the Washington Post here and was so saddened by the news.  My thoughts and prayers go out to Martin and his family as they mourn the loss of a beloved community leader who died trying to do good.

Many of you who are reading this post prayed for us and the country of Guinea while we lived there.  We ask that you please continue to pray for Guinea.  Please pray that this epidemic would stop.  Please pray for protection on the TMICA students, their families, native staff, and the villages of Sambouya, Bilingkoro, Manya, and others surrounding the center that none would get the virus.  Please pray for Guinea and its neighboring countries Liberia, Sierra Leone, Nigeria, and Senegal that have been affected by Ebola.  Having lived in Guinea, I look at what's going on and I am deeply concerned .  In a place where people gain knowledge and understanding by what they can literally see because that is their livelihoods (most of the people in the villages where we lived were subsistence farmers), you can imagine how educating people to trust in outsiders bringing in soap and bleach could be hard to receive.  The importance of good hygiene and sanitation were lessons that we needed to teach our students (we wondered why so many students had high fevers and got sick so often that first year until we did so), and it's telling of why the Ebola virus has been incredibly difficult to contain and eradicate.  So please, please pray with us.  Please pray so that the school can reopen again and the students can return to a place where they receive a good education and are encouraged and discipled in faith and love.  Please pray for the health care workers that are treating and educating people that their efforts would be well received and fruitful.  Please pray that the spread of this virus would cease and that the rest of the world would look at what's going on and see that there is a need to help.  Thank you for your prayers!

Monday, September 29, 2014

Thankfulness Part II- Our Summer in the States

Dear friends and family,

Every single day that we have is a gift, and that statement is something that's been running through my head recently.  I was reminded of this truth this week (I'll share why in my next post) and then again when I thought back to the six weeks we spent in the States this summer.  During our stay we received the gift of time with our parents, who we had not seen in two years!  We also saw our siblings, extended family, good friends (some that we didn't think we would have the opportunity to see!), and we even hosted a Hong Kong friend in Chicago for a couple days.  We got to see firsthand the healing work that God and the team of doctors in Cincinnati had done when we visited the Legers.  We marveled at our friends' new babies and how much kids had grown.  In six weeks we spent time in seven states, slept in six different beds, and praise the Lord, we learned that the kids could handle long road trips even if they weren't used to being in a car. :) The kids marveled at lush green lawns they could run in, pointed excitedly at "foreign" wildlife like squirrels, rabbits, and deer, and became good at recognizing whether a field was full of corn or soybeans. If you need any evidence of how excited I was to see our family and friends and we're friends on facebook, just scroll through my summer posts there and see just how many pictures I posted.  Here are some out of the many that I took.

Josiah hiking with Grandma in the Rocky Mountains
Ava enjoying a ride on Grandpa's tractor

Ava with Harabuji (my dad)
Josiah with Halmoni (my mom)

Kid pic at a family get together

Stanley, our church friend from Hong Kong, visited while we were in Chicago for a couple days

All of these experiences and get togethers (and food!) made for a wonderful summer.  We were so appreciative of the time people took to see us and treat us to foods we had missed, but the best gift we received was during our first two days in States when we flew into Tennessee.  We got to have the precious gift of time with Grandma June, Shannon's grandmother.  Two years ago when we left for Hong Kong we knew we might not see Grandma June again.  And we knew two years later as we headed to the States that she wasn't doing very well.  But Grandma June held on and the night we landed and the following morning we got to stand by her side, hold her hands, and tell her how much we loved her.  She passed away quietly that afternoon and three months later, I still miss her and it's hard to believe that she's no longer on this earth.

Grandma June was funny, warm, loving, and made you feel at ease from the moment you met her.  You would never know from spending time with her that she lived a life full of difficult circumstances because she wasn't defined by them.  She was thankful for what she had and she even dealt with hardship by throwing in humor and laughter.  She loved listening to gospel music and stayed young at heart even as a great grandmother.  I loved that there was nothing stuffy about her. She was genuine and incredibly down to earth.  She loved to tell a good story and have someone play along.  She loved her family and Jesus very much, and that was very evident in the many times she opened up her home and kitchen to all that walked in.  To have had the gift of time with her this summer and to be there for her beautiful funeral service that celebrated her life and the way she joyfully lived it was incredibly special.  I truly thank God that I had the privilege to know her and call her my Grandma June and look forward to the day when I'll be able to see and dance and laugh with her again in heaven.

She lived out this verse. "This is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad." Psalm 118:24

Grandma June striking a movie star pose :)