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When my husband and I decided to expand our family, we turned to adoption. We decided to adopt through China’s special needs program because (thanks to my Crohn’s disease) we were familiar with the whole medical process. A word needs to be said about the special needs adoption program. Most of the children in that program have what we in the States would consider small needs—cleft palates, limb differences, and in our daughter, Grace’s case, a small heart condition that had already been surgically corrected.
We flew to Nanjing, China in December of 2005, eager to meet our daughter Grace. When we met, I knew right away that something was very wrong. She was twenty-two months old and couldn’t hold her head up, she couldn’t walk or sit up. She couldn’t feed herself or speak. The backs of her legs were covered in welts, and she was so sick we had to take her to a hospital in China. We were faced with a decision: either leave her in China where she would likely be labeled as unadoptable and left to die, or bring her home and face the unknown (and scary) future, relying only on faith.
We took her home. I secretly hoped that we would be one of those families where love miraculously cures everything. We weren’t. Things went from bad to worse. Grace was diagnosed with tuberculosis, developmental delays, and autism. She was cast for ankle braces, and she started having seizures.
During the first year with Grace, most days ended with me in tears, overwhelmed by all of her needs and the fear that I had ruined our family. I felt that God had abandoned me, and I wondered why He would let this happen. Hadn't we been through enough?
But He sees so much more than we do. Gradually, that fear and anxiety left me. Grace began to smile when I entered the room. I discovered that she liked me to sing old Gospel hymns and Broadway show tunes. She loved to touch the lamb’s ear in our garden. I adapted to parenting a special needs child. Grace was no longer my disabled daughter. She was simply my daughter.
Once life settled down and we adapted to our new normal, we started thinking about adoption again. We now knew the conditions children--especially special needs children--were living in and we couldn't ignore it. It's one thing to read about children crammed three to a crib. Or children living without heat or enough food. It's something else entirely to see it. To meet some of those children. Life is even harder for special needs children. (As an example, my youngest son Jonathan, has spina bifida. He is paralyzed from the waist down. We adopted him when he was seven. He didn't have a wheelchair until he was six--one year before we adopted him. He moved by dragging himself along the floor with his hands.)
We adopted again, and again, and again. All five of our children from China were considered special needs children. But we don't see their needs. We just see our children.
We didn't set out to have a house full of special needs kids. But God shines brightest in our broken places. He was there when our biological son was born ten weeks early and I was so, so sick. He was there when we adopted Grace and didn't think we were strong enough to handle her needs. He saw us through all of the dark times in our lives, and He used the very things that caused us the most pain to bring us the greatest joy.
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