the light shines in the darkness – announcing our next big adventure

“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:5).

That verse has always been one of my favorites. I love the hope it proclaims, the certainty of the ongoing triumph of good in a world that seems full of evil and uncertainty. I trust in this hope and in the Person who provides it. And in the midst of this difficult time in our lives, we’ve seen God at work, shining many rays of hope through darkness.

While I sat in those hospital rooms, listening to the ventilator breathe for my husband, I wondered if he’d make it out of the hospital alive, and I wondered how many of our dreams might also be dying during those days – our dream of raising our kiddos together, sending them off to college, and seeing them grow into adults themselves; our dream of traveling the world together, returning to Italy and China, someday visiting more of Europe and Asia and exploring the southern hemisphere; our dream of continuing to study and learn together.

What I haven’t shared here yet is that there was one dream I was really pretty sure was dying. You see, Matt and I had been talking for quite a while about when the timing might be right to pursue our next adoption. We’d been setting aside money for over a year, and we were thinking we’d start the process at some point during 2016. Then on the evening of January 19, I showed Matt a blog post I’d read about a little girl who needed a family. This happens with relative frequency, but what doesn’t happen all that often is that he asks for more information, and that’s exactly what he did that night.

The agency working to place this little one sent us her file the next day, and we reviewed it closely and began researching and reaching out to others for counsel. We spoke with some close friends; we talked with the social worker with whom we’d worked for Madeleine CaiQun’s adoption, who knows us well; we had conversations with other parents whose children have the same special need as this little one; we sent her file to our pediatrician, to the local specialist he recommended, and to the national specialists recommended by other adoptive parents; and we were able to get some additional information about this little girl from another agency that has done some work with her orphanage. We prayed for God to bring a family for her and for wisdom for us to know whether that was us.

And ultimately we came to the conclusion that we believed we could be a good family for her, and we wanted to submit the necessary documents requesting that China approve us to pursue adopting her. On February 9 our agency submitted our Letter of Intent (LOI) to China, and on February 16, we received pre-approval (PA) from China to adopt this precious little girl!

But then, the next night, Matt had a heart attack. And so, as I sat there in those hospital rooms, I was fairly certain we would have to surrender our pre-approval and, instead of completing an adoption and becoming her family, we’d be advocating on her behalf and trying to find another family to adopt her.

As the days went on, though, and Matt’s cardiologists were saying that they expected him to have a full recovery, we asked them about adopting. They saw no reason why we shouldn’t continue. I talked with our agency, and they said we’d need a letter from a cardiologist saying they expected him to be healthy and they believed it would be alright for us to continue with the adoption, but assuming we could get that and our home study social worker was on board, they would see if we could continue. We talked with our home study social worker, and she agreed that if Matt’s cardiologist was willing to write a letter in support of our continuing the process, she believed we could still be good parents for this little one. Once we were home and set up with Matt’s new cardiologist, we discussed it with her, and she was very positive – she said Matt’s heart function looked great, and he needs to make lifestyle changes and take the medications they’ve prescribed for him, but she does not expect further issues for him, and she was very willing to write a letter in support of our continuing the adoption process. Our agency reviewed the cardiologist’s letter and said we should be able to proceed!

As full as these last weeks have been with trying new meals and going to cardio rehab, they’ve also been full of home study visits with our beloved social worker, collecting paperwork, and starting to pull together our dossier. As we’ve talked about how to re-structure our lives to be as heart healthy as possible, we’ve also dreamed about what life will look like with four children.

It might have been easier to back down, to walk away, to say that with Matt having had a heart attack, anything and everything could be too risky, too dangerous. But as we’ve wrestled with what we want our post-heart-attack lives to look like, we’ve concluded that we don’t want to live in fear. There’s a quote I’ve appreciated much over these past few weeks – “A ship in harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are built for.” We’ve had to ask ourselves what we are built for – and we believe we are built for loving God and for loving those around us, for doing justice, loving kindness, and walking humbly with Him. We believe that we are called to step out of comfort and safety and to reach toward those around us. And there is a little girl right now in China who needs a family – we believe we can be a good family for her, and we’re going to do all that we can to get there and become her family.

And for us, this is one way in which we get to bear witness to the light shining through into the darkness. What we thought was a dying dream is still alive. It looks like we will be able to adopt again. In Psalm 68:6 it says that “God sets the lonely in families,” and we believe He is at work in making a way for our baby girl to come into our family.

Friends, we share this news with you with excitement and humility, and we ask that you consider whether you might be able to be a part of this journey with us. We ask that you consider praying with us and for us through this process. And we ask that you consider helping us to cover the costs of her adoption – we’ve been doing extra work and setting money aside for a while now, and we’ve been able to cover all of the costs that have come up thus far, but we know we’re not going to be able to pull together all of the remaining necessary funds ourselves. We’d be honored if you’d consider purchasing an artwork from Matt’s etsy shop or contributing financially to our adoption fund.

And we ask that you pray for our little girl. She is 2 years old and has deep, soulful eyes and a smile that could light up a room 🙂 The agency with which we’re working is very conservative and asks that we not share any photos publicly until she is actually our daughter, but if you ask us in person or via a private message, we’d love to share a picture and prove to you how adorable she truly is! She has osteogenesis imperfecta (sometimes referred to as brittle bone disease) and is very tiny and rather delayed in terms of her gross motor skills, but we look forward to seeing her develop as she gets the medical care that will help her reach her full potential.

We’re excited to be embarking upon this new adventure and hope you’ll be excited with us and perhaps even be a part of the journey with us. We’ll have many more updates, I’m sure, in the days to come!

a great parenting resource: No-Drama Discipline

Several years ago, as Miranda was growing out of the baby stage and as Matt and I began preparing to embark on our journey to become adoptive parents, we started reading and researching more about parenting. Interestingly enough, it was the resources aimed specifically toward helping adoptive parents raise their children that we found most compelling. Those books rely heavily on the latest research about child development, neuroscience, and the ways in which children learn, particularly with regards to the skills necessary for the ability to develop successful relationships.

One of the tenets of the philosophy we have embraced is that the purpose of disciplining children is to teach them – not to punish them – and within that context, nurturing our relationships with our kiddos is of paramount importance. I just finished reading No Drama Discipline: The Whole-Brain Way to Calm the Chaos and Nurture Your Child’s Developing Mind by Daniel J. Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson, a book that subscribes to that same philosophy, and I found it to be an incredibly encouraging read with a number of examples that offered timely application for our family.

Siegel and Bryson describe how many of us default to punitive discipline strategies that our children experience as pain or rejection, and they discuss the ways in which our children’s brains respond to those disciplinary strategies – primarily by shutting down their higher brain functions (which are the areas that enable them to learn) and instead staying locked into more primitive, reactive areas of the brain. However, we as parents can instead choose strategies that focus on setting healthy boundaries while also respecting and nurturing our children.

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Our children’s brains are still developing, so, as we give them practice using their higher brain functions, they’re learning the very process of how to use those functions and even structurally building their brain in a way that predisposes them to be able to calm themselves, exercise self-control, think rationally, and have empathy in the future. Hebb’s axiom tells us that “neurons that fire together wire together” – in essence, as neurons respond together to various experiences, the connections between those neurons grow, making it easier for them to respond together in the future (p 42-43). When our kids experience a problem, we can train them to calm down and be thoughtful about potential solutions, and then their brains will be wired in such a way to encourage them to default to those modes in the future.

If we focus on connecting with our children and making sure that they – and we – are in a good place to address any issues that arise, we’ll be cultivating our relationships with our children and we’ll be much more effective in teaching them. I remember it feeling like a revelation to me when, during one of the CCEF courses I took, the instructor discussed the ideal that the driving force behind our approaching anyone about an issue we see with their behavior should be their good – it shouldn’t be about getting something off your own chest or making you feel better, but about whether it’s actually in that person’s best interest for you to discuss the issue with them. It’s interesting to me that many of us who are Christians embrace that idea when it comes to our interactions with other adults but feel perfectly comfortable expressing immediate frustration or displeasure with our children. I want to be treating my children with at least as much care as I treat the adults in my world, though.

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Of course, children are not adults and need to be treated appropriately. No Drama Discipline encourages us as parents to “chase the why.” Behavior doesn’t exist in a vacuum but is the outflow of what exists inside of a person, in their heart. Our children may not be able to express to us why they’re acting in a particular way, but we need to dig deeper and seek to understand the reason for the child’s behavior, because if we address only the behavior, we’re going to miss out on anything deeper going on with our children at the heart level.

And children need their parents to establish and maintain consistent structure. Our end goal, though, should not be to obtain mere obedience. We want to help our children gain insight into themselves, grow in their ability to be empathetic and thoughtful, and develop the capacity to participate in healthy relationships. In this book, Siegel and Bryson offer numerous strategies (and examples) to help parents do just that.

Matt and I are finding it both encouraging and transformative.

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The other day, one of my girls was getting out a plethora of art supplies to work on a project, and she carelessly knocked my beloved water bottle onto the floor (twice), thereby breaking its straw. I ignored my immediate impulse, which was to yell at her and perhaps impose some arbitrary restriction on the art supplies, and instead I just asked her to pick it up. Later, when both of us were calmer, I asked her to come talk with me, and I showed her where it was broken. She offered to fix it for me and immediately attempted (unsuccessfully) to repair it. When I told her I was sad that she’d broken it and I couldn’t use it, she offered a genuine apology and went to her cabinet to get me a cup of hers that I could use until my straw could be fixed or replaced. Of course, it doesn’t always work out that smoothly – but I’m confident that I wouldn’t have gotten a heartfelt apology or creative attempts to repair the situation if I’d yelled at her and tried to force her to say she was sorry in the moment.

I’m hopeful that Matt and I will be able to live out, more and more, parenting strategies that build relationship with our kids and encourage thoughtfulness and growth in them. And I’d definitely recommend the book No Drama Discipline to any other parents out there!