Seven years ago, after being in Ukraine for many weeks, I finally walked out of the orphanage with two very loved and treasured little girls in my arms.

Harper (left, in the photo) was just a baby and loved nothing more than to be loved and cuddled.  She could not get enough of the hugs and kisses that were coming her way and adjusted to her new life very quickly, as we knew she would. As the baby of the family, those tiny feet didn’t hit the floor very often as she was passed from person to person–everyone getting in their Harpy-time.  Harper blossomed from Day One.  Coming home at such a young age made a huge difference in her life.  She learns quickly and has never really had any major obstacles from her past to overcome.

Hailee, on the other hand, was in complete turmoil the day we walked out of the orphanage.  At five years of age, weighing just 11 pounds, she had been taken out of the only environment she had ever known–the confines of a small crib.  For five years she spent her days and nights behind those crib bars–rocking to self-soothe and banging her head for any kind of stimulation.

Hailee was confined to what is known as a “laying room,” room at the back of the orphanage where they put the most profoundly disabled children.  For many, it’s a death sentence.  The frailest of these precious children just cannot survive the neglect and sheer abandonment. Sadly, Hailee ended up there. For five miserable years she was drugged with an adult tranquilizing drug for what they called “best sleep”–the drug that literally knocked her out so that she would be less of a burden on the staff.  Fed just enough to keep her alive, her tiny little body stopped growing at some point–a combination of being confined and not being fed enough for her body to grow.

I will never forget the day I walked out of that place with our two little girls.  Hailee started crying from the moment I carried her out of the building.  Everything was new.  Everything was terrifying.  Everything was beyond what she had ever experienced.  The withdrawal symptoms of the harsh narcotic quickly kicked in and she became manic–completely and utterly inconsolable. It was beyond anything I had ever experienced as a mother.

As I walked out of the orphanage that sunny day in May, one of the supervisors of that awful place stopped me and pointed to the screaming, distressed, freaked out child in my arms.

“Why do you want this child?” she asked me in her broken English.  “She will never be able to learn anything in her life. Her brain doesn’t work. She will never be a normal person.”

And through my tears that day–a combination of exhaustion and shock at her words–I looked at that woman who, for five years, had never once seen an iota of worth or value in the little girl in my arms, and responded, “Just you wait and see how far she will come!”

Our conversation played over and over in my mind over the next few days as Hailee suffered horribly.  No words can express how tough the next few weeks were. Hailee didn’t know day from night and slept very little. The withdrawal symptoms from the very strong drug were awful and she got very sick as her body struggled to adjust; so sick that we had to take her to a local hospital before we even left Ukraine.  She couldn’t walk and just spun around in a circle because she didn’t realize that it was possible to move beyond a tiny space to which she was so accustomed. Her ears were raw and infected from the pulling and scratching, and she spent her days either rocking or self-harming. It was excruciating to watch.


I cannot tell you how many times I looked at our tiny girl and wondered if perhaps I had got it all wrong.

Perhaps she would never recover.

Perhaps it would be impossible to teach her new things after so many years of neglect.

Was my faith which seemed so much smaller than the smallest of smallest of mustard seeds just an unattainable dream in my own heart?

Did I yearn for something for this beautiful daughter that was simply impossible?

We walked through some pretty tough months after Hailee came home.  But around the six-month mark, something glorious started to happen.  A beautiful unfolding before our eyes.  From those ashes, beauty started to rise.  Hailee started to tolerate our endless hugs and kisses. She started to love music toys.  The rocking didn’t stop, but it got better.  Her ears started to heal and she began to hurt herself less and less. Her hair started to grow as she stopped pulling it all out. She slept through the night and got into a routine.  She started to reach for us and loved human touch.  She began to eat new foods and started gaining some weight on her tiny body.

And she found her “Hailee giggle”–the sweetest, most delightful thing in the world at that point.

Before our eyes, Hailee began to learn and grow.  And attach!

It’s been the most blessed, amazing seven years with Hailee in our lives.  Easy?  No, not always. We never asked the Lord for easy, only His perfect will in our lives. The blessings, the giggles, the victories, the amazing milestones and the absolute joy in parenting this child far, far outweigh the difficult times. It’s been joy indescribable watching our little darling go from where she started, to becoming an energetic, happy, content child who loves life and everybody in her world.  Today, Hailee hardly ever sits still.  She’s a girl on the move and is learning new things every single day.

Last Friday I got an update from her speech therapist, and it brought tears to my eyes. I could not help but reflect on Hailee’s journey over the last few years.

“Just wanted to give a shout out to Hailee! Today during Arbor Day, I facilitated the mural in the hallway. Hailee fully participated by gluing pieces of paper her peers handed to her. She worked harder than other peers by staying on task the whole time and following directions with a positive attitude! It was so cool to watch her put glue on the paper and then pat the colored images onto the picture. It was also great to see peers getting excited to find a new picture to hand to Hailee and giggling with pride when she followed through with the task. Hailee is amazing!”

The little girl who COULD!

As I ponder the last seven years of our lives with Hailee in it, I get tearful remembering how I could’ve missed out on all of this. I will never forget the first day I met Hailee and Harper.  I had traveled to Ukraine on my own. After our first meeting, I went back to my apartment and called Anthony immediately.  After telling him all about our new daughters, through many tears I asked him, “Honey, I don’t know if I can be a good mother to Hailee.  Her needs are so profound and way more than we expected.  Can we parent her?  Can we help her to become all that she can be? I feel so inadequate and uneducated for what lies ahead.” So many fears had risen up in my heart. So many insecurities about my own abilities (or lack thereof!) and what the future would look like.

My husband!  On the other side of the world, without even laying eyes on Hailee, his answer was, “Of course we can!  She’s our child! God will give us the grace to parent her.”

He has been good to us! Hailee has been one of the greatest joys and blessings He could EVER have given our family. She makes us laugh, keeps us guessing with what she’s going to get up to next, ensures that we never sit in one place for very long, adores hugs and kisses, and is just our spunky, beloved Hailee-girl.

“Why do you want this child?” the woman asked me seven years ago.

Because God knew before the foundation of all things that out of all the orphans in the world, this one was destined to be a Salem.

Because God knew that more than she would ever need us…we needed her. 

And no matter whether Hailee fails to learn, meet expectations, or whether she astounds us with her growth and development…

She is pretty darn amazing just the way she is!

“‘Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit says the Lord Almighty.'”  ~~  Zech 4:6