June 3, 2010

how do you know?

What will my child look like?

Will I recognize my child when I 'see' them for the first time?

These are questions that I think all adoptive parents ask at one time or another, especially in the special needs program. If you're anything like I was, you manage to find sweet little faces, faces that need a mommy and a daddy. And as you pour over the pouty lips, round faces and somber expressions, you wonder, "Is that him?" or "Could that be her?"

There have been several times over the years that I could have sworn I was looking into the eyes of my child. And yet, I was not theirs. They were not mine. And while I'm not certain why this happens, I believe that God uses these children that capture us, if only for a time, as an opportunity to teach us something. To stretch us. To make us consider something bigger and often better than we might have imagined on our own.

Adoption isn't easy. Adoption through the special needs program definitely isn't easy.

And one of the hardest things a prospective adoptive parent has to do is determine if indeed a child is meant to be part of their family forever.

As parents to five children through the SN program, my husband and I have experienced the spectrum of referral scenarios. Isabelle, our first daughter, was referred to us after a mid-stream switch from the NSN program to the SN program. This was way back in 2004, when there really wasn't a line in the SN program... and a wait for a NSN referral from China was only 6 months. Unbelievable, huh?

When we filled out the SN checklist, we had a very specific list of needs we were open to, more than a few, but certainly not the entire list. And we were very specific on the age range we would consider. My husband really wanted to stick with our original 6-12 month age range, despite my best efforts to convince him otherwise. We were backed up against a wall time-wise as well, and knew that if we didn't receive a SN referral in a short amount of time, our dossier would be too far gone and we'd receive a NSN referral. Which would have been fine, wonderful really, except for the fact that my heart was telling me our daughter was SN.

So when, with just a few weeks to spare, we got 'the call', we knew she was ours. Without a doubt. When we finally looked into the eyes of the child we'd waited for... did we 'know'? No, not really. It was the circumstances that confirmed to our hearts that she was ours.

And indeed she was.

Our second daughter, Sophie, came into our lives in a decidedly different manner. I saw her tiny, angelic referral picture in a newsletter, emailed to me by a small agency. And I fell hard.

Honestly, when I saw her cherubic face my stomach dropped, my hands started sweating... I couldn't even think straight. It was a very surreal experience, to be sure. We had only been home for a few months with Isabelle, though, and I just could not fathom how she could possibly be ours. But I emailed the SN coordinator anyway... and God worked out every single detail. Even a husband who happened to be deployed to the desert at the time. I traveled to bring her home just 8 months later.

We started for Jude before we had a referral. In fact, when we started for Jude, all we knew was that he was going to be a he. My heart had been broken for all the little boys in China, and we agreed that a little guy would be the perfect caboose for our family (yeah, right!).

I had contacted several agencies and filled out as many SN checklists. Several weeks later, out of the blue, one afternoon we received a call: "I have the files of two very little boys. One with a cleft lip and palate, and one with clubfoot." We asked her to send us the file of the boy with clubfoot... we were so anxious to see his little face!

When the pictures opened up we both. just. sat. there. Please don't misunderstand, Jude is (and was) darling! It's just we didn't recognize him. There wasn't that immediate familiarity that we had expected. And without the dramatic circumstances to point us toward a yes like we had with Isabelle, we just weren't sure.

Was his SN manageable? Yes.

Was he cute? Adorable.

Did he need a family? Absolutely.

But was he ours? We just didn't know.

So we waited and prayed and prayed and waited. I was so conflicted, I insisted my husband make the final decision. He woke up one morning a few days later and, after reading Hebrews 11, said "Let's bring him home." And that was it.

Slowly and steadily I fell in love with that referral picture. I slept with it by my bed and carried it in my purse. And now that Jude has been home for three years, I can't tell you how grateful I am that we didn't insist on fireworks when we first saw his face. He is our son. We just needed to wait on God to confirm it in our hearts.

Shepherd came to us through a series of events that was undeniably God at work. We had determined that we were open to adopting again, and most of all open to another child with uncorrected clubfoot. Knowing that being stuck on any particular special need might keep us from seeing His plan, we filled out a checklist for Lifeline with lots of 'yeses' and 'maybes', and 'either gender' circled. We were told it would probably be several months until referral, due to the long list of families already waiting.

Imagine my surprise when just a week or so later, I got an email from the SN coordinator asking me to give her a call. Turned out that all the families, of the 40 in all that were waiting, none were open to boys. And it just so happened that they had an 11 month old little guy with, amazingly, uncorrected clubfoot. Who very much needed a family.

We didn't even have to think about whether he was 'ours' or not, God had already confirmed it by the circumstances, and in our hearts.

And the cherry on top? He was the cutest little bug we'd ever seen.

And then there is Vivienne. Who managed to find her way into our hearts before we really even knew it.

I had been doing some research for No Hands But Ours and had been in touch with WACAP about their Promise Child Grants. And, because I just am who I am, I checked in every now and again on their waiting child page.

One day I came across a picture that I sent along to my husband... and the rest is history. He knew she was our daughter from the first moment he saw her. He later told me he was so certain "because she needs us."

Looking back I'm not sure who needed whom more... Miss Vivienne has certainly found her niche in our besotted family.

So, when I am asked, "How did you know they were yours?" I don't really have a solid answer. None of our children came to us in the exact same way. What I do know is that God confirmed each child in our hearts as we waited to hear from Him.

Sometimes He speaks in a shout, and sometimes in a whisper. Our job is to be sure we've got our mind, our eyes and our hearts open to what He has to say.

"And as Elijah stood there, the LORD passed by, and a mighty windstorm hit the mountain. It was such a terrible blast that the rocks were torn loose, but the LORD was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. And after the earthquake there was a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire there was the sound of a gentle whisper." 1 Kings 19:11-12


  1. Perfectly stated.....I loved the stroll down memory lane. I didn't start following your blog until you were working on stuff for Jude, so I enjoyed reading about how the girls came into the family.

  2. We are just about to complete our first adoption, and our experience was much like yours with Sophie, once I saw our little guy's photo I just "knew." We weren't looking to adopt SN or a boy. There was no way I could get him out of my mind and I was immediately determined to jump through hoops to bring him home. I love that each of your children has their own story, isn't that how it should be, every child is unique, and their stories should be as well!

  3. love this post - I think so many of us have expectations of how God speaks. Your FIVE experiences :) bring so much encouragement and wisdom to those trying to hear God's voice. We have only brought two children home but they were (and continue to be) very different experiences.

  4. Big sigh....I love this!
    It's so refreshing to remember how the Lord works so individually with each child's referral.

    Thanks for some big smiles tonight!

  5. Wow! Thank you so much for this post. I needed it. We have our log in date and are trying to find our little one. It is an emotional ride for sure. We have felt the Lord's hand in all of this, and I just want to thank you for giving me chills and warm feelings as I read this.

  6. What a touching story! Brought tears to my eyes! Thanks for sharing your five stories!

  7. Very very lovely post. Thanks so much for sharing.


  8. Such a God thing that you posted this, Stephanie; you and I conversed this week over t-shirts and Dongguan and i was creepin back in your blog about Shep...and here is the whole story. Thanks for being such an open book and providing a measure of comfort to those of us who need it.

    Wendy in OH

  9. Thanks, Stefanie. We have not been matched yet, but we have absolutely seen God's hand already as we've tried to find our child. I have long believed that God will confirm it to us in His own way- a way that maybe only WE would recognize. But, to hear this from someone who had BTDT, it's a huge encouragement!

  10. What a beautiful post! Each one of those pictures is so very touching. Shepherd's pic makes me smile out loud!

  11. Thank you for sharing your stories, Stefanie. As a second time adoptive mom of special needs children, I am waiting to hear God's voice about a certain little someone. His plans are different from my plans and yet so much better. I'm anxiously awaiting what He has in mind this time around.
    Your words brought me comfort and encouragement on what has been a difficult day/week.

  12. This topic is rolling around in my mind too as I try to come up with the answer to those who ask "why special needs." Thank you for putting it so beautifully!

  13. Love this stroll down memory lane, as one commenter put it. I started following just before you intro'd Shep's picture, having been interested in just what a clubfoot was and how it was treated. I've so enjoyed this particular post, as it speaks to the creativity of our Father, both in forming and shaping these beautiful little ones and in His perfection in connecting them to your home and family. Such hope and joy in following His heart is expressed here. Thank you!