It’s sad when you look in your blog drafts and you see Elijah James turns 4 but you have to change the title to Elijah James turns 5 because you never got the first one done. I have vowed to do a better job of chronicling our lives for the kids as the grow up. I was fairly good at journaling with one or two children. I’m not doing such a great job with 13 kids still at home. But today is a new day and 2017 is a new year. There is always time to start over and do it right. Right? 🙂
Elijah is our littlest guy. His story is amazing and overwhelming and I am so humbled that I get to be a part of it. His sweet little face reminds me every morning that miracles happen.
What a gift he is for that reason and so many more. (I will add what I posted on Facebook about his story at the end of this post for those who don’t know his story.)
Eli has always had the sweetest little face.
He is the best little guy. He is easy going and loving and kind. Rarely does anything upset him or make him mad.
He has always been best friends with his sister Evie.
They were adopted on the same trip and their bond continues to be a blessing. Evie is easily fearful and Eli is brave. He holds her hand and comforts her. He is her best friend and protector.
He loves anything active – gymnastics, trying to be a ninja, running through our backyard.. He loves to play. He loves superheroes…
and since his color is green, Hulk is his favorite.
He patiently waited months for his PJ Masks Headquarters set.
His big sister, Gracie, is the cake maker in the house. He asked for a green cake with PJ Masks and dinosaurs and she did just that. It was a very green cake through and through.
We called Zach, Steph, and baby Nicholas to show him our Pj Masks Headquarters toy. I think Nick like it.
Usually we take the kids shopping for their birthdays. We spend a day with just them. I had a doctor’s appointment that morning and Elijah asked me to just pick up the toy. He said that he didn’t want to waste time shopping. He just wanted to play, play, and play. He asked if I could be sure that there were enough of the PJ Masks people for everyone to play.
He asked for Burger King and corn dogs for lunch and that place that sells fish and chicken and corn on the cob (LJS) for supper. Since the rest of the kids love those foods too, everyone was happy and full.
It was the perfect laid back happy birthday.
Happy birthday little guy! Daddy and I are thankful every day that we get to be part of your life.
The picture that started it all. We saw his face in a newsletter and asked if he was listed any where for adoption. His paperwork wasn’t prepared because he was considered “terminal” in China. We asked for them to please make him paper ready and the rest is history…
I don’t know how many of you know Eli’s story but it is amazing and every time I look at this little miracle walking around…
Well, it just takes my breath away.
He was born without main branch pulmonary arteries and now he is considered healed. He walks around with arteries that we’re made from his 4 large collateral vessels and some grafting material, during a 14 hour surgery by Dr Hanley.
When I hear him giggle or tell one of his great stories, I am reminded of this incredible gift he has been given – a chance at a normal life.
When I saw his picture for the first time, I just knew he was supposed to be our son. We saw his pictures and then waited for his papers to be prepared. In one of the craziest, God’s-hand-is-all-over-it stories ever, we had PA for Lainey and were waiting for Eli’s paperwork to become available. While we waited, not knowing if his papers would ever become available, we proceeded with Evie’s adoption. Dan kept telling me to have faith so we did the crazy thing and added Evie.
We had PA for both girls and saw Jasmine’s picture and added a third child. Six weeks before we traveled we received notice that Eli’s papers were ready and he needed to be expedited. It was allowed, which is unheard of.
We had no clue how we were going to pay for the extra fees or the 4th orphanage fee or the travel for the 4th adult that our agency was requesting we take with us.
On the very day we heard they would allow us to bring Elijah home, we received a check in the mail, from the University where Dan did his residency, for taxes that were wrongly taken out of Dan’s check for a few years starting in 1995 plus interest. The interest was the kicker. We sat holding a check that was enough to pay for the fees, the orphanage fee and the travel costs for our daughter. We were not expecting this check.
I know people think we were crazy for that year. I remember saying “You can’t possibly be saying what I think you are saying God”, but Dan and I heard him over and over again so clearly. Each and every time God provided in amazing ways on that journey to Eli. Every day when I look at his sweet face, I am reminded of this fact.
Eli is an amazing blessing. He is a great kid. We were blessed beyond measure for being obedient to His call and patiently* waiting for God’s timing to be made clear.
(*We’re going to pretend I actually did it patiently, never doubting, and readily agreeing to this journey! Even though it went more like “What? You want me to do what? Seriously? I don’t think so. I can’t handle that. Don’t you remember when I said ….? You name it. I probably said it.)
I’m so happy it’s not based on how great my faith is or how strong I am or how much I can do, because I would have missed this.
Last year I did a poor job chronicling our lives. My blog is my journal for our children. I want them to have their memories written down for the future. I vowed that this would be the year that I stayed on top of everything and then we got strep and I was already behind.
Now its time to catch up…
When we first received JJ’s file, I looked at her birthdate and it took my breathe away. One day after my mama’s. Ever since my mom passed away January 5th has been a sad day. My mom, my mother-in-law, and I always did craft sales together at Christmas time. We mainly did Christmas items so on my mom’s birthday we would load up the car and head out to find all the after Christmas items on sale for our craft sales the next year. We would eat at her favorite restaurant, Red Lobster, and we would have the best girls day out. It was one of my favorite days of the year. It was just fun to celebrate mom and hang with my friends who just happened to be my mom and my mother-in-law.
I miss my mom. I miss those days. I miss staying up late and crafting. I miss setting up our display at the sale and hanging out and eating warm chocolate chip cookies while we caught up with our friends at the sale. I miss all of it and my mom’s birthday is a constant reminder that it isn’t going to happen again. So when I saw JJ’s birthday, it made me sad because I know how sad I am on January 5th and I wondered how I could be happy on the 6th, BUT God in all His infinite wisdom knew better. He gave me a little bundle of joy that eased the pain of January 5th by allowing me to celebrate January 6th.
Psalm 30:5 Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning.
And what joy JJ has brought to my mornings.
Jessica Jean is the name she was given but she is JJ or Little J. She is a bundle of joy and her smile lights up our house.
But we didn’t start that way…
Her first month home included a hospital stay where she learned we would never leave her side.
It took her a while to warm up to the idea of family and what that meant. I think we overwhelmed her. She had spent a lot of time alone in the orphanage.
She felt safe with Gracie and Elyse and learned what the love of a big sister meant.
She slowly learned to trust her mama…
and her daddy.
He taught her how to dance
and the wonders of a treasure chest full of her favorite chocolate treats.
Slowly as the year went by we saw her start to loosen up,
and oh the joy she brought to our days.
She got her first pair of sparkly pink shoes, a brand new wheelchair,
and a very big pink bed.
She had her first picnic.
She met some new friends.
and learned how to play princess.
She went to her first state fair concert.
Which got rained out and she learned what a summer storm was as we hid out under the grandstand where she learned mama would always keep her safe.
She had her first time dressing up as a cow for Chick-fil-A’s Cow Appreciation Day
and as a pirate for Krispy Kreme’s Pirate Day!
She went to her first movie and ate her weight in popcorn.
She celebrated America
and watched her very first fireworks display.
She dressed up for her very first Halloween.
and had her first carousel ride.
Mommy and daddy learned how to make chicken feet just the way she likes them.
She learned about Thanksgiving and Christmas and loved decorating the tree.
She played a wise man in our church’s Christmas pageant.
She enjoyed playing in her first snow.
She enjoyed her very first birthday party ever. This was the first time that someone had celebrated the day she was born and she was overcome with emotion but by the time it came to blow out the candles on the cake, she was getting into the celebration.
And she loved her doll house that was bigger than she is.
JJ has learned that big sisters are a pretty big deal.
and she’s got a bunch of them that spoil her silly.
What an amazing, incredible, wonderful, blessed year this has been.
This sign says it all.
Happy birthday Jessica Jean. Mommy and daddy adore you and your feisty, spunky, quiet, brave, spirit that brings such joy to our lives.
Jessica Jean (8) – I don’t even know where to start with this girl. She came to us angry, shut down, afraid to love, and scared. She has done so well. In February she will have been home a year. She is happy, sweet, loving, caring, brave, and ready to take on the world. She is still very quiet. She practices her English until she can say it perfectly because she doesn’t like to be wrong. She talks with very little accent. She is doing so well with her school work.
I admit that while we were in China, I was so worried. Worried that we were too late. Worried that she would never bond or care to have parents. Worried that her little heart would never heal. Worried that she would never trust another adult again. But I was SO wrong. She has done unbelievably well. I love this little girl so much! I can’t believe we almost missed the blessing that is her.
Elyse (11) – Elyse continues to do well. She is so smart – very, very smart. As of 1/1/17, she has been in America two years. She takes being an American very seriously. She loves her freedom and the right to worship God. Elyse loves BIG. She is friendly and funny. She enthusiastically lives life to the fullest. She dreams big and I believe she will accomplish whatever she sets her mind too. She wants to design dresses when she grows up and send clothes to orphanages so little girls can wear pretty clothes. If Elyse had her way, she would have 20 brothers and 20 sisters. Her heart breaks for all those kids who still wait. Her biggest wish if for every child to have a family that loves them and keeps them safe.
Gracie (11) – Gracie’s lupus continues to stay in remission. We are so thankful that she has had a couple good years with very little issues. She is a huge help around the house. She is growing up so fast and I can hardly believe that she will soon be 12. Where does the time go? Gracie loves having a big family. She readily helps her sisters who are in wheelchairs and is my right hand. School doesn’t always come easy to Grace but she works so hard. She wants to grow up and adopt as many kids as she can. That’s a pretty good plan. We will see where God leads.
Jasmine (17) – Jasmine continues to learn English and progress well with school. It’s hard on a child who really didn’t get any formal education until she was 14. It makes her feel constantly behind even though she has come so far in just 3 1/2 years. The last two years have been harder then the first two for Jasmine. She had a huge set back when she realized that she would never walk. China had told her that America would fix her and no matter what we said, she believed them. She lost hope when she realized that her life would be forever in a chair. We continue to tell her that her life has purpose and she is finally believing that. She has made such a huge difference in other kid’s lives. She continues to write her own blog www.Flowerthatblooms.com where she shares her feelings about living in an orphanage and what it means to have a family of your own. I am very proud of how far she has come.
Jasmine’s Dream Update: To date these four girls – the fab four – as I call them, have helped 300 children. They work hard to save their money to donate to other adoptions and fundraisers. They have a dream to open up an Etsy shop where they sell their artwork, hats, t-shirts, etc. that they have designed to help even more children.
Hope (17) – Hope is as artistic as ever. She loves special effects makeup. She is constantly in her room coming up with some new design. She shows her work on instagram on DragonKnightMakeup. I’m not sure where this passion and talent will take her but it is fun watching her imagination at work.
We laughed because when Cassie took the pictures, Peter ended up being in all of them. Peter and Hope have been best friends forever. They started dating last year and as you can see from the picture, he is still here. hahaha He is a good kid and our family loves him. They are still obviously very young but we all love Peter and his family.
Cassie and Reece – in May they will have been married 2 years. Cassie is still teaching 2nd grade and has decided to pursue a masters degree to be a speech pathologist. Reece is attending Iowa State and has decided to become an audiologist. They continue to live in an apartment on our property so that they can be close to the kiddos and help out when needed. They both sign and are helping us all learn how to sign for Max.
Zachary, Stephanie and introducing….Nicholas
OH MY GOODNESS and the biggest news of the year!!! We have a grandson! A sweet-tempered, adorable little guy who we all adore. Zach and Steph continue to live in Wisconsin and Zach works for Raven Software on the game, Call of Duty. Stephanie is the best mama and there is nothing better than watching little Nicholas listen to his mama sing. It is the sweetest thing around.
Nicholas has the biggest fan club in the world. No matter what he does he has a cheering section of uncles and aunts that stand in awe of all that he does. This little guy is definitely loved!
Our new favorite thing is being able to Skype with them on our big t.v. We all miss them and love to be able to see them even if it is just on the t.v. Technology is amazing and makes living apart so much easier.
Codey (29) – And last but not least our oldest boy. Codey continues to live at home and is doing very well. He loves football and basketball games on his t.v. He is very close to Lainey and she loves to follow him around the house. Dan recently ran into a doctor who took care of Codey when he was an infant. It’s amazing to hear how they all believed he wouldn’t live to be a year old and here we are.
Life continues to be busy and loud and full of love and learning. Our floors continue to be sticky and never, ever perfectly clean. Things aren’t always easy and adopting comes with its share of pain. I won’t pretend everything is pretty and perfect, but it is perfectly ours. Life can be messy. Tears will be shed. Life lessons are learned. The most amazing thing happens when a child learns to trust you though. Hearts open and start to heal. Little souls start to bloom. It is an amazing thing to be a part of.
I could never adequately put into words what it means to be a mother to this crew. How can I put into words what it feels like to see their sleepy little faces in the morning, to have all those arms hug me, and tell me good morning. I look in the faces of children who have come so far. I am constantly amazed at the miracles that happened to bring them home and to help them get the treatment they needed. We are seriously blessed each and every day!
Wishing you all the best in 2017. Merry Christmas everyone!
Merry Christmas everyone!
We’ve had an exciting year in the Ellsbury household.
We receive the miracle of a healed heart for Benjamin. We were told that there was no hope and now his future is full of hope! Ben turned eight and is enthralled with soldiers and police officers. He has learned how to read and loves math and school. To see our boy filled with energy and no longer blue is a beautiful gift.
Little Evie has had a wonderful year. She has grown since her last surgery and continues to do well with her health. She is a ray of sunshine from the time she wakes up until her little head hits her pillow. She is everything that is good with the world.
She was adopted 3 and 1/2 years ago with Elijah. They continue to be the best of friends. These two should have their own reality show. They are a hoot together! I mean seriously who could resist these sweet, little faces?
I continue to stand in amazement of Eli. Every day I am reminded of the miracle of modern medicine. The amazing fact that he had main branch pulmonary arteries formed out of four collaterals and graft material in a 14 hour surgery just blows my mind. I stand in awe of our awesome God and the gifts He gives. It’s hard to take anything for granted when your life is filled with such miracles.
Big miracles come in all shapes and sizes. Lainey has come so far from that sad little girl who never looked you in the eye. She yells “mama and daddy”. She hugs with such sweetness. She gives love pats all day long. She can not say many words but her love language is loud and clear. She holds hands. She hugs. She loves and all the kids love her. And the very best news is that now that her seizures are better under control she is actually sleeping for 4-5 hours at a stretch. This has been very welcome to mama. She will often sleep for four hours and go back to sleep for another four. I can certainly live with that.
Maisey has become quite the little mother. She is quiet and shy but since she has gotten her BAHA (bone conducting hearing aid) she has become more vocal. She figured out that she is funny. She hears so much better and her speech has come so far. She takes care of everyone. She loves BIG! She loves art and drawing and writing. She has decided she wishes to be a ninja librarian when she grows up. It’s a job that would suit her well.
One of the best gifts during this past year is Maisey and Evie’s friendship. Evie’s personality is BIG and Maisey is quiet so they have always gotten along but Maisey would choose to play by herself a lot. That has changed this year as they both realize how much fun having a sister is. It does my heart good to see them play.
Max also received a BAHA this year. It has been amazing to see him actually hear and start to understand what conversation is. His world opened up when he realized he could actually ask for something. He continues to learn more signs – last count was 300+. We still have a long ways to go but he has certainly made great leaps this past year. Probably his biggest step forward was understanding affection. He asks for hugs and kisses now. He sits on people’s laps. It’s one of the hardest things on this mama’s heart to realize your children don’t know what hugs and kisses mean. It’s a cultural thing as well as an institutional issue but when they finally get it….well, there’s not a whole lot that is better in the world.
Because of facial issues it’s still hard for him to smile big but his giggle is contagious. He can barely contain his laughter and it makes the rest of us laugh too. The boys play pretty well together. They have their arguments as all siblings do but they really do get along amazingly well. Their favorite thing to do is to dress up in costumes and play super heroes. They make the cutest super heroes don’t you think?
Our seventh little is William, we all refer to him as Liam. Liam had a harder transition than any of the other littles. He enjoyed his treatment in China. He had a case of Little Emperor’s syndrome. Don’t believe it’s a real thing? Just google it. Anyway, it was hard for him to share at first. He wanted to always be first and when he didn’t get his way he would cry for hours. He has come so far and has learned what family truly means. I am proud of the progress he has made in 9 short months. His whole world was turned upside down and he had to learn how things work here. We still have moments, but they are few and far between now. Sometimes adoption brings unknowns that you really couldn’t even foresee being a problem. I’m glad he feels loved and cared for and that he trusts us.
He is sweet and caring and a natural born leader. He is charming and very smart. He loves math and eagerly learns new things. He loves to help. We instituted a Leader Day for each little and he eagerly waits for his turn. Wednesdays are Liam’s favorite days now.
There is nothing little about our Littles. The love BIG! They love life! Our house is noisy and chaotic and filled with laughter. There is never a dull moment with them around. They bring so much to our lives. Dan and I constantly say, “We could have missed this!” and I’m here to tell you that we would have missed a lot. Our lives would have been so much duller, quieter maybe, but so much less. We have been blessed beyond measure to be able to call these children sons and daughters.
Not a day goes by that I don’t stop in my tracks and think about the miracles that have happened to them with both emotional and physical healing. I don’t deserve the blessings they bring but I am forever grateful that we get to be a part of their lives.
Today we had to head to the doctor’s office for some routine things. The kids asked if they got ready early if I would take them to Burger King. Since today was the first day of our winter break, I decided that would be fun. They worked together and we left early enough to get food.
I ordered the food and the cashier asked me questions about our food and our bus. We talked about a little of everything while we waited for the 7 large fries and many nuggets. We talked about everything from adoption to sauce packets. We joked about how I don’t ask for sauce packets for the nuggets because the kids share the nuggets and there are never enough packets to go around. Today there were extra sauce packets and a few more nuggets at the bottom of our sack.
Little kindnesses from a stranger that brightened our day.
The middles needed some vaccines so I checked them all in at the office. JJ’s titers came back low and she needed a booster to be able to be put on the active transplant list. Everyone has to be up-to-date before we start the transplant. The middles all told me they could handle it so I stayed in the bus with the littles. The staff at our physicians office is so kind. One of the office staff even offered to sit on the bus with the littles so I could be with the middles. I told her it was fine, and thanked her for the offer. They told me to let them know any time I needed help. They even told me I could call them when I pull in the drive and they will get the door for the girls in the wheelchairs.
More kindnesses that make life just a little bit easier for a mom of many.
We decided it was so beautiful out that we should grab a few things at Target. As I started to unload the bus, a car came up beside us. We were parked quite a ways out in the parking lot so I thought it was a little strange for someone to park next to us. Then I noticed that the woman got out of the car and was coming over to talk to me. I hate to admit that my first thought was “Now what?” I’ve had people yell at me for taking up four spots with our bus. It’s one of the reasons we park way out in the lot. We need room to put down the lift and we don’t fit in a handicap spot so there aren’t any options besides taking up four parking spots.
Anyway, this women started her conversation with “You don’t know me, but I work with your husband.” Now that is one I have heard before so I started to relax. This women went on to say that she had recently had a kidney transplant and she thought JJ might want to meet her. I thanked her for stopping and told her it would take a while to get out of the bus, but that I was sure that JJ would love it. JJ is pretty quiet but JJ was touched by this women who took the time to stop and talk to her. JJ went on and on about how good this women looked after her transplant, which was only 5 weeks ago.
This women didn’t need to take the time to stop, but she did and by doing so her kindness helped ease a little girl’s worried heart.
When we were shopping at Target, a lady went by and said something we hear quite often, “Boy do you have your hands full.” Often times comments are made at the kids and it makes them feel bad. They don’t always understand why people say what they do. I guess this is a comment we have heard a few too many times because as the woman was walking away, Elyse yelled, “Our hearts are pretty full too.” The lady stopped in her tracks and came back to apologize. She said that she wasn’t criticizing me. She said she was just commenting on our large family. She was very friendly so we talked a bit, I smiled and thanked her, and off she went.
We ran into her again in the back of the store. She commented on how polite the kids were every time they answered me with “Yes mama!” I told her that they were wonderful kids most of the time. I told her I was blessed to be their mama. She asked, Are they all on the good list?” and I said, “Of course!” We wished her a Merry Christmas and off she went again.
A little while later she found me back in the other corner of the store. She handed me a gift card, told me what a great job I was doing, and wished me a Merry Christmas. I was too stunned to say much of anything besides “thank you”. She took me completely by surprise.
She didn’t need to buy a card or come find me again, but she did, and in doing so she showed our children that not everyone is negative towards big families. They were so touched by her generosity. This will stay with them a very long time. I wish I had been quick enough to get her name so the kids could have sent her a thank you. Some where there is a stranger that brightened my day. I cried all the way home. It touched my heart that much. I hope someone who reads this blog, hears this story and knows who this woman is and will send her our heartfelt thanks.
Part of me feels guilty because I am sure there are families that need it so much more, but the other part of me is thankful that she took the time to talk to the kids and to make them feel special. She went out of her way to show them she cared. We get lots of people who stare and count. There’s always a whole lot of counting going on when we pass by with our line of kids and carts, but we don’t often get a “hello” or a simple kind word. I’m sure most people don’t know what to say. I get that. I do that too.
Today was filled with the spirit of Christmas and I can’t thank those people enough. It was a really wonderful day for the kids. Our day was filled with little kindnesses and words of encouragement. We will do our part to pay it forward. This is my reminder to all of you that your kind words and acts of kindness really do make a difference.
I will honor Christmas in my heart and try to keep it all the year. – Charles Dickens
A week or so ago I stood in line at Target waiting with a cart full of items. The girl behind me had one item. I tried numerous times to get her to go ahead of me. She refused, said she wasn’t in a hurry, and stayed in line behind me. Other lanes opened up and still she stood there.
She listened as the cashier and I talked about why I had so much stuff in my cart. The elderly cashier was a little chatty, very kind, and not in a huge hurry. She kept asking questions as she worked. I told her that we had 16 kids, 13 still at home. She told me she was one of 12. She said she loved big families. She asked if I had given birth to all our kids. I told her we had adopted 11. We continued to talk about adoption and how blessed I felt.
As I was getting ready to leave the girl behind me spoke. She told me that she too came from a family of 12. She told me that her mom adopted her out of the foster system. She asked me if I ever resented having to buy so much stuff for the kids. I told her that I have never resented having to buy cartloads of stuff and was very blessed to be able to do so. She continued to say that her mom always seemed so happy and she always wondered if her mom was happy when the kids weren’t around to watch. She was thrilled to see another adoptive mama be happy to buy for her children.
Today I told Cassie that I needed some items at Target. Cassie said, “Let’s take everyone with us.” I thought, It’s a Saturday. It’s only a couple weeks before Christmas. “Sure! Why not? That sounds like a great idea!?!?!” hahaha We shopped with our row of kids – 1 double cart holding 4 kiddos, 3 wheelchairs, and Reece and Cassie walking with the others. We ran into a couple of people we knew. We joked with others about being a parade. We picked up what we needed to finish decorating the front of our house and headed to the front of the store to check out.
Reece noticed an open lane and we headed for it. We just happened to get the same elderly lady that checked me out a week or so before. She told me how sweet the kids were and how glad she was that she got to meet them. Once again there was a lady behind us who commented on what we had in our cart. She looked at all our kids and said, “Oh my goodness, are they all yours?” I laughed and said, “Yes!” I know most people aren’t being rude. They are just surprised. The cashier however said, “And I think it’s a good thing!” I’ve never been defended by a cashier before. It was kind of cute. We checked out and all the kids wished her a Merry Christmas.
We’ve been trying hard to get the house decorated for JJ and Liam. It’s always fun to light up the house big for the kiddos who have never had a Christmas before. The lighted garland I bought didn’t fit right so I headed back to Target by myself. I just happened to end up in the same cashier’s lane. I laughed and commented on her being on lane 12 before and now she was on lane 4. She told me they move them around after breaks and she laughed about how I truly am always at Target.
This little elderly lady reminds me of my mama. She was kind and talkative and sweet. She told me again how happy she was to see the kids. She asked about the talkative one and I told her the short version of Evie’s story. I told her how blessed we were to have these children in our lives and how sad it is that mothers have to give their children away to try to get them help. She told me she could tell that we felt blessed to have these kids in our lives and then she said she was proud of me.
It should have been a completely uncomfortable comment but it wasn’t. It actually brought tears to my eyes. I can’t explain it but it was like hearing it from my mom. All of a sudden I could see my mama telling me that she was proud of me. It was a very strange.
You see a little over 3 years ago my mom was so excited to see us heading to China again. She was at our house caring for our children, while we were in China, when she perforated an ulcer and had a major heart attack. She spent months in the hospital. She would recover a little bit and visit our house once to see those kids.
She ended up passing away three years ago on Christmas Eve. Mom never got to really meet her last 8 grandchildren. She never again told me she was proud of me. I liked to hear those words from my mom. So tonight standing in a line at Target, I got a small gift from a little elderly lady who probably has no idea why she touched me so.
P.S. My mom gave me many gifts over the years, but the biggest gift she gave me was a listening ear. She was always there to talk and encourage. She loved her grandkids and she was one of my biggest adoption supporters. I miss her, but the very last gift my mama gave me was understanding about dialysis and kidney issues. Because of this gift, we were brave enough to proceed with this little gift.
Life doesn’t always turn out the way we hoped but there are blessings and joy to be found amongst the tears.
Dan and I started out like most other people. We met. We fell in love. We got married. We dreamed of our first little house with a garden and a white picket fence. Someday we would drive cars that didn’t break down weekly. We would have a couple of kids, visit our family on holidays, go to church on Sunday, and lead a happy, comfortable life.
We had our kiddos. Codey and Kyle threw us for a loop but pretty soon we were back to our old comfortable dreams. The death of a son and 14 months in the hospital surely meant that from here on out our lives would be easy. Zach and Cassie were born. They grew up. They were bright, sweet, caring kids. They excelled at school. We dreamed of the day we would buy a bigger house and take nice vacations. They would go to college. Dan and I would retire and travel. We were living the American dream.
Then one day a little girl was born in the NICU where Dan was doing his fellowship. The pre-adoptive parents chose to not adopt her because of her heart defect and the bio parents chose to not to pursue treatment options. We had a choice. We could step up and do something or pretend there was nothing that could be done and just stand by and watch her die.
When we decided to do something, most people believed we had lost our minds.
We were questioned about it over and over again.
Why would you do this?
Why would you bring a child who may die into your family?
You are going to ruin your life.
How will your other children survive the pain?
They will resent you.
Your are going to ruin your children’s lives.
Over and over again we heard those words. You WILL ruin their lives!
Well, it’s taken me years to get to this point, but today I’ll admit it. It’s true. We ruined their lives.
I’ll own it. Heck, I’ll even go so far as to say it was the best darn thing that ever happened to them.
See although I once feared ruining our children’s lives, I no longer do. In fact, I love that their lives have been ruined. In fact, I praise God that it happened so early in their lives. My eyes were closed to the pain and suffering of the world for too long. They, however, understand how beautiful life is and how fleeting life can be.
They know more medical terms than any child should know. We ruined their normal, comfortable lives and filled their days with G-tube feedings, seizures, heart caths and surgeries, kidney failure, lower limb paralysis, SMA, PKU, brain damage, incontinence, and chemotherapy. They know what it means to spend many, many days, weeks, and even months in the hospital.
We brought hurting children into our home not once but 11 times. We ruined their picture perfect life. We made our kids share their home, their rooms, their parents. We’ve made them sit through doctor’s appointments and surgeries. They’ve cried tears over shots, blood draws, and i.v. starts. They’ve held trembling hands, wiped away tears, and been filled with fear as their sibling was taken away for surgery wondering if their sibling would ever come home again.
These things that we feared would ruin their lives for the worse have in fact made them better humans. These things have opened their heart to others. They don’t see the world the same way that others do. How could they? Adopting has opened their eyes to those who live without a mother and a father. It opened their eyes to what orphanage life is. It made them appreciate what they have.
They have been ruined for the ordinary because they have seen miracles in our home. Children who shouldn’t be healed are in fact, healed. They know how fleeting life is because there are children, who are NOT guaranteed tomorrow, running and laughing through our halls. They understand that it is better to love with your whole heart and maybe hurt later, than to never have known the love of these sweet souls.
They know that intelligence doesn’t make you a better person. They know that taking care of the least of these may not always be easy but it is worthwhile. They know that little souls who never utter a word can speak volumes.
They know there is no greater blessing than allowing God to work in your life. They know that being obedient, even when it scares you, brings blessings beyond measure.
Our children are not perfect. They still make mistakes. We all do. But what I know for sure is that God has ruined them for what the world stands for and instead has showed them what He values above all else. I praise God daily that they are no longer unaware.
I once feared those words that others uttered…
“You will ruin your other children’s lives!
But now I embrace those words and I celebrate them.
We have been ruined for the ordinary and instead have embraced the extraordinary!
It doesn’t get any better than that!
For years Jasmine has been asking me to make her spicy chicken feet. We couldn’t find them already done at the local Chinese store so Dan ordered them off of Amazon. We ordered them once or twice and she was in heaven. Then, for some reason, we just couldn’t get them.
When we added Elyse to the mix, she begged me to make chicken feet and then little JJ chimed in too. When we asked the littles they said they had never had them. Jasmine and Elyse said kids under the age of 7 or 8 weren’t allowed to have them because of all the gristle and little bony parts. The bigger girls, however, had them whenever there was a celebration like Chinese New Year or Children’s Day. They were only allowed two feet and it was a VERY big deal.
For some reason I just couldn’t bring myself to make them from scratch. I had been around when my grandparents butchered the chickens they raised. I gathered eggs from those same chickens. I’ve been in a coop. I am not in the least bit adventurous with my eating and even less so with my cooking. Who wants to make a big batch of something new and have all your picky eaters refuse to eat it?
BUT they just kept asking.
Our pastor and some of our good friends raise chickens. They were going to be butchering some and had heard the girls talking about chicken feet and asked if I wanted them to keep them for me. I answered a very hesitant “yes” and they delivered them to me.
Dan and I looked at recipes on line. I asked my Facebook friends for tried and true recipes. It seemed like it would be a bit time consuming because of all the steps, but it didn’t look hard. It is the same way when I make steamed buns from scratch for the girls. It takes all day by the time you mix the dough, let it rise, roll them out and fill them up, but the looks on their faces when they bite into a homemade steamed bun is priceless. I was sure it would be more of the same with these chicken feet.
Here is the recipe we used from Sparkspeople.com.
You wash them in water, scrubbing them until clean.
You then put them in boiling water for 30 seconds and instantly remove to a drying rack. This is what it should look like.
You then pull off the outer scaly layer starting at the nail and working backwards. It is fairly easy to remove. It will look like this when you are done.
Do NOT overcook or you will not be able to peel off the outer scaly layer, both layers come off and it is a greasy mess and not very appetizing.
It became a very, very sad chicken foot.
You then cut the nail up to the first bony joint.
Everyone joined in on the fun scaling the chicken feet. See the joy in Hope’s eyes? 🙂
Ben, Maisey and the middles wanted to join in and help.
After peeling them, you boil the feet for 90 minutes.
You remove them and dry them on a rack to remove the excess water.
Pat them dry, then brown them in a pan on each side.
You then put them in the sauce in a crock pot and warm them up.
This was the final product.
Even daddy tried them.
The first batch was not hot enough so I made the rest with a sweet chili sauce. I cheated and used some directly out of a jar.
They LOVED them. It was hot enough to make their noses run and their eyes water. Perfect is what I heard over and over again.
The proof is on their faces.
If I had known how much they would enjoy them, I would have made them sooner. Although it was nice that all three of them got to enjoy them for the first time together.
They giggled so much. Jasmine had the sauce all over her face. She was a good sport and let me take a picture.
I watched them each eat 8 chicken feet each. They talked again and again about how they could only have two before. They talked about how lucky they were to be in a family. How lucky they were to have each other. The giggled and laughed and told stories for 30 minutes.
When they were done it was much like eating too much at Thanksgiving dinner. They sat back and rubbed their bellies. The moaned a satisfied moan. The smiles on their faces were priceless. They were SO happy. I told them before that I would only do this once but I will do it again. How could I not?
I remember what I felt like in China eating foods I was not used to. I liked the noodles and the rice and the different dishes but it wasn’t like home. It tastes so good to have something that you remember and love. Chicken feet brought back good memories of the orphanage and they need those. They need good memories of their childhood to hold on to. Not everything in their past was pretty. I want them to remember these good memories and let the bad ones become a distant memory.
The thought of cleaning chicken feet and removing nails was more than I could stand at first, but that was replaced by the happy faces of my middle girls.
So Chinese New Year and Children’s Day will not only include my homemade steamed buns and potstickers (even though they aren’t pretty) but some very hot chicken feet too.
In yesterday’s blog, I asked the girls questions about how they were told about their upcoming adoption and what they thought adoption was. I also asked them two more questions that I saved for today. What kept them going and did anyone treat them special?
Jasmine’s story is so complex and full of pain and trauma that is beyond anything any child should have to endure. She has allowed me to share, and she herself has shared on her blog – Flower That Blooms, some of the least traumatic events that have happened to her. If you have read any of her story, just let that soak in for awhile – these are the least traumatic events. If you have been moved by her stories, just remember there is so much more that she has endured, things that bring tears to my eyes just thinking about them, her body holds the scars of that abuse and even more so her heart, and still she is a light in the world.
What kept her going? When the nannies were offering to help her die on numerous occasions, why didn’t she take that path? She sat alone in a corner all day long. She wasn’t allowed to join the kids for meals or school because those happened on a different floor. She was ridiculed and made to feel like a burden. So when her time was running out and she didn’t think a family was coming and she knew the horror of what was to come, why didn’t she end her life?
She told me she never chose that path because she felt a presence that she couldn’t explain. She felt like her life had purpose, that there was something she was supposed to do. She never understood it, but she knew she should not take her life. I have been told by someone who met Jasmine while she was in the orphanage that there was a light about her, that she exuded something good.
This just blows my mind. I’m not sure I would have been that strong. I’m not sure I would have kept my cheerful, hopeful personality facing all those adversities.
Did anyone have compassion for you? She told me that she remembers a better time with her grandma before she was unable to move. Things were better when she was younger, she could still sit unassisted and still move a bit. As her ability to move slowly faded, she became more of a “burden”. At the age of 5, she was left alone while everyone went to work. She was moved to the alleyway when family gatherings happened because no one wanted to be bothered by the child who was “cursed” with a disability. She was allowed to go to school for a little while until everyone complained about her being there. She was spit on and shunned by everyone. She remembers a little girl who moved in next door who stopped in to talk to her in the alleyway sometimes. When this little girl’s parents realized she was talking to “the cripple”, they moved (or at least that was what Jasmine was told). These are the stories she shares and yet still she is still compassionate and filled with joy.
She says no one in the orphanage was kind to her. Whenever anyone lifted her they complained about how heavy she was and what a burden it was to care for her. Whenever anyone brought her her meal, they complained about bringing food from another floor and having to go out of their way for her. When others visited the orphanage, the nannies were charming in front of the guests. Those days were special and good, because for a little while she would be treated kindly. She wishes she could tell stories of someone who truly made her feel special, but she isn’t able to.
Jasmine has lived through unthinkable trauma and yet she is a compassionate fighter who wants more than anything to change the lives for other children in need. She was able to live through the worst and hope for the best, for this reason and 1,000 more she will forever by my hero.
I asked Elyse the same questions. What kept her going? She says she was happy in foster care because she didn’t know any better. She thought she was treated well in China until she came here and felt the true love of a family and even the acceptance and compassion of complete strangers. The realization that she was treated so badly for so many years has been difficult and the anger is palpable.
Elyse’s “love language” is touch. A hug and kiss and snuggle and Elyse is in her happy place. She didn’t have that in China – quite the opposite. Harsh words and harsh physical contact. She thought she deserved it.
She said she kept going because that is “just what life was”. That is all she ever knew and it seemed okay at the time. The little ones kept her going. She said she enjoyed feeding and caring for the little kids, especially the babies and toddlers. While older kids were allowed to play outside on the playground, she played inside with the little children. Caring for the little ones gave her life purpose and kept her going.
Did anyone treat you special? She said her foster grandma loved her. She knows that now although she was angry at her after she first came home to us and realized that her grandma didn’t protect her from the abuse that was happening. She has now come to grips with those feelings. She knows that her grandma probably did the best she could, in the position she was in, and tried to show love.
The orphanage was different. Elyse was a burden. She was told this over and over again. No one wanted to change her. No one wanted to help her move. No one was truly kind. They just did their jobs and let her know how hard it was to care for her. Elyse says there were a couple girls that she was friends with and together they tried to make life more bearable.
Elyse says she loves life. I can see that about Elyse. She is a fighter. She is outspoken. She is full of love and has a bright spirit. Elyse knows what is right and fights for it. She is competitive and full of drive. She wants to change the world as much as Jasmine does but in her own way. She will always be my hero for her feisty, spunky, full of love ways.
JJ is still pretty quiet and I am very careful to not push her for answers she is not ready to give. I gave her the option of doing this with Jasmine and Elyse. She asked Elyse and Jasmine why they did it. Elyse and Jasmine both told her that the reason they decided to blog was that it would let others know what it was like for them as orphans. JJ said she wanted to help to.
What kept you going? She said nothing did. I told her that I had seen pictures of her smiling when she was very little. I asked her what changed. The last pictures we got of her were so sad. You could see the sadness in her eyes. I asked her why she was so sad and her soft whisper brought me to my knees. She looked me in the eyes and said, “I almost gived up mama!”
JJ was separated from everyone. She was in the hospital side of the orphanage. She had no friends. She wasn’t allowed to go anywhere. She wasn’t allowed a wheelchair. She was isolated, alone, and afraid. I told her I saw pictures of her at a table with other kids and she confirmed what Jasmine said – that it was all show for when people visited. She lived for those days.
Was anyone kind to her? She said no one was. I can believe it because when they handed her off to us on the day we visited the orphanage, their comments made Dan and I cringe. It was like they were happy to be getting rid of her and relived to not do her cares anymore. It was awful. JJ was so sad.
She said they often told her she was bad. They would “forget” to feed her. They said she was smelly and none of the adults wanted to be around her.
JJ is tough. She stands up for what she believes in. You should see her now. I am so proud of my little girl for fighting and holding on until we got there. She deserves a super hero cape of her own.
There are many people who tell me this wasn’t the reality for their children in the orphanage. I say thank goodness. But this is my girls’ reality. I know there is a pecking order in these orphanages. Even among the children if you can not walk, you are looked down upon. If you are incontinent, it adds a whole other layer of disgust from others. There are many factors – province, directors, nannies, disability, the list goes on and on. We are sharing their story to show one side of what happens. To open eyes and to help others understand that an institution is not a family. It never will be family. Children need families.
“A hero is an ordinary individual who finds the strength to persevere and endure in spite of overwhelming obstacles.” – Christopher Reeve
Maybe your home could use a superhero too! 🙂
A friend asked me if the girls had ever talked about what they were told before being adopted, what they thought adoption would be like, and how they feel about it now. The girls often talk about how they felt before being adopted, how they felt when we met in China, how they felt when they first came home, and how they feel now, but I’ve never put in my blog. I am going to pose these questions to Jasmine, age 17 – adopted at age 14, Elyse, age 10 – adopted at age 9, Jessica, age 8 – adopted age 8 and write their answers below.
What were you told by the nannies about adoption before you were adopted?
Jasmine – Adoption means you get a daddy and a mama. They won’t do anything for you. They will tell you to do lots of hard stuff like cooking, cleaning, dig dirt. You have to be very good. If you are not good, then they will sell you. The other people will buy you and you will have to do even harder work or they will send you back to China. If you come back to China, they will treat you like a pig because you are so fat and covered with hair.
Elyse – The nannies said that Americans have so much money. They will give you whatever you want. They told me it would be great and I should be happy to get to go to America where everyone has lots of stuff.
Jessica – The nannies say I will have so much money and my parents can buy me so many toys and stuff that I want.
What did you think adoption/having a family would be like?
Jasmine – I had a grandma who cared for me until I was 8. I sort of knew what a family meant. I thought I would work hard for the family and maybe they would love me a little bit and be proud of me just a little bit because I helped them. I just wanted to have a family so I didn’t have to just sit with old people in an institution.
Elyse – I was in foster care so I knew what it was like having a family. I thought the people would like me and I would work hard for them. I thought that the family could help me be able to walk. The nannies tell me that if I can walk and have babies, then maybe someone will love me and I will have great worth. Before when I see people come to adopt children, I saw great love but I am not really sure what love is but I think that is what I see.
Jessica – I don’t know what family is. I was scared because I don’t know what family means but I really want a mama and daddy. (When I asked her how she knew what a mama and daddy were, she said that she didn’t know. It was much like a story that she hoped was true. Elyse said she meant a fairytale.)
When and how did they tell you that you had a family coming to adopt you?
Jasmine – The boss came in one day and he said “You have a family adopting you. They really like you. In a couple months, they will come get you.” The nannies all cheered because they wouldn’t have to take care of me any more. They drank beer and celebrated by eating really good food because I would be leaving. The big kids and the nannies laughed and said, “You are so fat. We should cook you and eat you.” I was upstairs by myself and they took a picture of the party and brought it up to me. I almost cried but I was just happy that I had a family coming to get me. I had almost given up that anyone would come. Anything had to be better than this. The nannies often offered to help me die. I didn’t want to die. Family had to be better.
Elyse – The helper of the boss said that I had a family come in a couple days, but it was a very long time that I wait. She said you will have good family. She showed me pictures. She said there is a lot of people in your family. Other people say it must be an orphanage or a foster home that I am going to. After I get home, it was a long time before I realized my family was a family and not a foster home.
Jessica – A girl who is the boss of everything tells me that I have a family coming. They said that she was so happy that I can go to America. They were happy that they don’t have to take care of me anymore because I am not good girl and do stuff that is not good and they are tired of taking care of me.
What did the caregivers say the day you got adopted?
Jasmine – The nannies said I had to be very good or mama and daddy would send me back. The nannies told me that mama and daddy wouldn’t want me when they saw I couldn’t walk so I had to be extra good. They told me that if I didn’t get adopted that I would go to the old people place where I can’t have wheelchair. I would just have to sit on the floor with the crazy old people. No one would feed me and I would die.
Elyse – They told me that today is the day you can meet your family. You will get to walk when you get to America. They tell me that I have to call them. One girl said that the family would be good to me. I was very scared. I kept wondering what this family be like.
Jessica – They got all my stuff together and they said I was going goodbye. They told me they would see me later. I was very, very scared.
What did you think when you first met your mom and dad?
Jasmine – Daddy is so tall and mama has curly, yellow hair. Mama is so pretty. I had never seen American people. Mama and daddy were so nice. They acted like they cared about me. They let me pick what I wanted to eat. I had KFC and Coke. I couldn’t believe they let me pick my food. They let me have two glasses of pop. I wonder why they be so good to me?
It was so funny to be hugged. I don’t know what a hug is. Mama took my arms and put them around her. I really, really liked to be hugged but it was weird at first. Mama and daddy said over and over again, “WoAiNi”. In China you only say, “I love you” if you are dating or married, but mama and daddy say it over and over again. Mama and daddy seem so happy to be with me. I can hardly believe it.
Elyse – (Dad wasn’t able to travel on this trip.) I thought my mama was Stephanie’s mom. When I found out that she wasn’t grandma but mama I was upset because I don’t want an overweight mama. (Elyse is crying as she says this because it upsets her so that she judged me by China standards.) In China I was told that being overweight was bad and we made fun of people who were fat. Mama hug me and say “WoAiNi” and I don’t understand what those things are. I don’t know love but mama show me love. By the night, I wanted mama to sleep with me because I was scared to be by myself.
Jessica – I thought daddy was so tall. I was so afraid. Mama held me and I like it but I am was afraid to like it. I don’t remember some stuff because I was so afraid.
What did you think about America when you first got here?
Jasmine – Americans eat really weird food like burritos and sandwiches. They use a fork and knife to eat their food. I only use chopstick in China. But I like to use a fork because it is so easy. I can drink as much as I want. In China, I can only have two little glasses of water a day because the nannies don’t want to take me to the bathroom, but in America I can drink more.
I never knew people could drive. It was so weird to drive around in the car. I thought the only people who had cars drove taxi. Mama and daddy had change in the front of their car in the cupholder so I thought daddy was a taxi driver, but I didn’t understand because daddy said he was a doctor.
Elyse – There is so much food and I have lots of sisters and brothers. I have lots of clothes and toys. In orphanage, I never get to pick my clothes but now I have my own. I liked most of the food and I was so happy that they have corn, fish and lots of fruit. I came home right at Christmas time and it was crazy. I don’t know what Christmas means. It was fun with family and presents and laughing. Daddy let me fall asleep on his lap. Daddy tell me that Christmas is about God’s birthday. I didn’t understand what God means. Family treat me really good and I am really happy and I really like it.
Jessica – I do not like America food. I like the house. I did not want to be around anyone except Grace and Elyse in my room. I was so scared all the time. Everyone is so much bigger than me. I feel like I don’t deserve stuff or that people will not like me.
What do you think about adoption now?
Jasmine (home 3 1/2 years) – I think adoption is a great thing. I like my big family. I have a really big family and lots of people to love me. Having a big family is fun. We can have big parties. I am so happy that I was adopted. Everything the nannies told me before being adopted was a lie. Now I can live my life and figure out my purpose. I want to help many, many kids get adopted.
Elyse (home 1 1/2 years) – I like adoption. I wish all kids could get adopted and see how it feels to be loved. Before I meet my sisters and brothers I don’t know what it will be like but I am so happy that I have family to play with and have a mommy and daddy. Family is so very good. I think family treat me really good. They always hug me and kiss me. I can not walk but they tell me I can do anything. I wish I could tell all kids to not be scared about adoption. It is a very good thing. I hope people will understand how scared the kids are.
Jessica (home 6 months) – I like family. I like be loved. I like that no one tells me I’m smelly or bad or that they don’t want to help me. Mama never be mad that she has to help with my tube or pick me up or help change me. Mama never say I am smelly. Mama and daddy say I am beautiful and smart and sweet. I like the way I feel inside when mama and daddy hug me. I like that mama carry me places. Adoption is good.
- Chinese Children Adoption International
- Hats for Gracie
- Love Without Boundaries
- New Hope Foundation China
- Show Hope
- China 2013
- China 2014
- Congenital Heart Defect
- Evangeline Faith
- Family Life
- Food for Thought Friday
- Jasmine (Shuang Shuang)
- Jasmine's Dream
- Lainey Rae
- Love Without Boundaries
- Making a difference
- Muscular Dystrophy
- Orphan Care
- Thoughts to ponder