It was April 2012. Our lives were so busy and so blessed. The Lord had given us so much more than we could ever have dreamed possible in our married life. Truth is, our lives had turned out nothing like the plans we had. The ‘I want two children, a nice home, a successful career, and to live in the same place’  honeymoon dream was something we laughed about as we had recently celebrated our fifteen years together. We had lived on three continents, in more houses than we could remember, had precious family and friends scattered all over the world as we uprooted ourselves and followed His still, small voice that led us on, and had far exceeded our two children max rule.

Anthony and I found ourselves in a season of peace and contentment. Our seven children were all doing amazingly well. Hailee and Harper had been home from Ukraine for two years and were thriving. We had learned the absolute joy that came with parenting children who have Down syndrome and had, by grace, learned how to navigate life with medical needs, therapies, homeschooling, meeting the needs of each beautiful child in our home while still finding time to pour into our marriage. Life just felt good. We were in a good place and loving every minute of the crazy, busy life that God had chosen for us.

While driving out of town with my family that day in April, I was catching up on emails on my phone while Anthony drove. A new e-mail popped up in my inbox and I opened it immediately, recognizing the sender.

As I read through her note, mixed emotions rose up in my heart.

A plea. A tiny, fragile emaciated little girl in Bulgaria desperately needed someone to come for her. As I read her story to Anthony, we struggled to comprehend the reality and the gravity of the situation. We had adopted a tiny girl from the brink of certain death, but this…this…was more than we could wrap our human heads and hearts around.

Fourteen years old.

Fourteen pounds.

Fourteen years old.

Fourteen pounds.

We read. And reread. Looking hard for the typo.

Begging God for the typo.

Later that night, after putting all of our children to bed, we sat on our bed together. Holding hands tightly, with broken hearts and so many unanswered questions, we prayed. We cried out on behalf of a young lady who had endured more than our human hearts could fathom. We begged God for mercy.

And when we ran out of words to say, our tears flowed freely. They would not stop.

Would we prayerfully consider going?

The weight of it all felt so very heavy.

And in those moments, every fleshly desire I ever had rose up in my heart. I gave the Lord a list of reasons why this would be a very, very bad idea.

“Lord, we already have seven children—four with special needs.”

“Lord, we know nothing about her needs. Nothing! We haven’t even heard of some of them!”

“Lord, we have no medical training!”

“Lord, what about our other children? How will this affect them?”

“Lord, what if she dies? I don’t think I can handle that!”

“Lord!” “Lord!” “Lord!”

Minutes turned into hours and before we knew it, we had been sitting there, pondering, talking and praying for a very long time. The Lord, He was good. Before our feet hit the floor to get off of our bed that night, we felt sure where God was leading us.

We knew that in spite of us…

Us.

Two very flawed human beings.

Us.

In all of our mess and our brokenness and our short-sightedness and our fears and our hesitation and our shaky, fickle faith and our pathetic excuses and our already large family…

The creator of the heavens and the earth…He didn’t need us to have it all together.

He didn’t need us to have medical training.

He needed just one thing…

Our willingness.

Our yes!

Before she was our daughter, she was His.

He never let her go and would not now.

Her story.

The stories of many others.

HIS unfolding story of the orphan snatched from darkness and brought into His glorious light.

A couple of weeks ago I stayed up way too late one night as news of China’s new adoption requirements spread like wildfire on the Internet. I am a part of many groups and forums.  I read comments, stories, and the heartache of families whose hearts were aching as they received devastating news. Due to the new requirements, many were instantly disqualified from adopting their child.  There were no waivers this time. No grace. No more exceptions. My heart broke for every family who had lost a child of their heart because they no longer met the adoption requirements. Many, many children now left without the love of a family. This isn’t new, really.  Over the years we have seen many countries change their international adoption rules and requirements. Many programs shut down completely. The effects were truly catastrophic for the children.

And then there were the other comments. The ones where people applauded the new rules. The comments where some took it upon themselves to tell the world that this would be the very best thing for the children. There were the comments where people unashamedly, loudly, and publicly slammed some families who, in their opinion, already have way too many children. I read about how children who are medically fragile are actually so much better off where they are because they probably won’t survive anyway. I read about how children are way better off in their own culture—even if it means having profound special needs or being close to aging out (becoming unadoptable due to their age) and having zero hope or future. I even read about how it’s our (families like mine) fault that these new requirements are in place because, after all, we’re to blame for the number of adoptions that, sadly, end in dissolution.

Am I surprised? Of course not. I’m not surprised a single bit by the heinous things that people say online anymore. The Internet has, unfortunately, become a very unkind place.

Our story? Our life? Our family? The journey we have walked in embracing children who need a family? We’re so not alone. Every family who has ever stepped out in faith to adopt or foster has journeyed a similar road in seeking His will. We’re nothing special (at all!). We’re not some out-of-the-ordinary family who has walked the road less traveled all alone. No, there are many, many families who have chosen to lay down their lives for the sake of a child. There are many families who have chosen to say yes over and over again. Not out of some crazy obligation or feeling a need to save the world, as some accuse. Nor because they’re on some mission to be better than the next person, as I have read.

But simply because the absolute cry of their hearts is to make a difference in the life of a child.

One life at a time.

One child at a time.

Period.

The families I know and am so blessed to be acquainted with in the adoption community are some of the most selfless, loving, courageous people on the planet, willing to sacrifice everything because they fell in love with a child born to another mother. There is nothing they would not do to ensure that the child—who is often just a tiny picture they hold in their hands—will come home.

They are families who willingly and joyfully go to the ends of the earth to adopt children who have terminal illnesses. They’re the families who gather finances and paperwork in record time to adopt a son or a daughter who is about to age out of the adoption system in their country.  They’re the amazing people who put their pride aside and put their lives out there and do every fundraiser that has ever been done–because the child waiting for them is worth it all.  They’re the families who have a few lines of information about a child and that is IT…but they go anyway…ready and willing to embrace every sickness, every limb difference and every detail they know nothing about. They’re the parents who bring children home and fight with everything that they have for the services, medical attention and care that their new son or daughter needs.  They’re the families who embrace children for mere months or years…before God takes them to heaven. They’re the precious people who downsize, cut back wherever they can, take second and third jobs, and are willing to sacrifice for the sake of a child who needs them. They are my inspiration.

No matter what anyone says, THIS is adoption.

When countries close their borders to international adoption (and there have been many), when rules are changed and tighter restrictions are enforced, when adoption time frames are lengthened (sometimes indefinitely), when incredible families are no longer able to bring a sweet one home…

…It’s the children who hurt the most. It’s the precious children who are robbed of hope. Children are left to die in cribs. Five year olds are transferred to institutions where conditions are unfathomable. Those who are barely teenagers become too old to remain in orphanages and are sent out into the world with no life skills, no money, nowhere to stay. The statistics are just too devastating to even think about. It’s the children left behind who suffer unimaginably while life as we know it carries on.

Adoption changes lives. And for many, many children…

…ADOPTION SAVES LIVES!

Like Katie.

Adopted at nine years of age from the same orphanage as our Hasya.

Katie today at fifteen years old.

“What adoption has meant for Katie?  From death to life!  From neglect to care!  From indifference to love!  From boredom to joy! From nothingness to adventure!  What it’s meant to us?  The opportunity to witness a miracle!”  ~~  Mom, Susanna

And like sweet Aiden.

“Aidan was adopted at the age 6. When we first met him he was tiny, frail, and absolutely terrified of touch or any sort of human contact. He would scream, bite, and self injure to the point of drawing blood simply from being hugged or kissed. He is totally blind, non-verbal and has severe autism.”

“The care givers told us that he spent his days either strapped to a high chair or in his crib because he was not mentally aware enough to care otherwise. The truth was…it was easier on them to have him contained to one place so they didn’t have to deal with him. The stench of the facility he was in was unbearable, and the muffled moans and shrieks of the other children could be heard behind the closed doors lining the hallway. Within a week of being home Aidan had gained 2 pounds and would allow us to hug and comfort him. He has now been home nearly 4 years. The tiny, frail boy that had been written off by society and deemed an invalid is now learning to verbally talk, can use sign language to communicate his needs, loves cuddles and hugs, and his favorite thing in the world is to go swimming. He is smart, cuddly and has the best laugh I have ever heard.”  ~~  Mom, Katherine

Precious Aiden today.

Or beautiful Zhuang Lu La and Zhuang Lu Mei.  Twin girls living in Jiangxi, China, for the first two years of their lives. In the Chinese culture boys are of great worth to a family. Can you imagine giving birth to not one, but two girls?

“Lu La became very ill as an infant and was diagnosed with hydrocephalus. These were two very sad little girls that had little to nothing. Fast forward to now. We have two healthy, thriving, social 11-year-old daughters who are full of joy! Their lives changed dramatically, and ours changed as well. I 100% believe we saved each other!”  ~~ Mom, Rett

God, in His amazing grace and mercy, kept these two precious girls together.

Or, handsome Conner.  Born in Eastern Europe with Down syndrome.  For so many years, he languished in a crib.

“Conner has taught us all what a true warrior is. He shouldn’t have survived his conditions prior to adoption, but he persevered through challenges and conditions that were not in his favor. But God was on his side, and we have been blessed beyond measure to see Conner thrive. For Conner, adoption meant the difference in life and death. We are grateful God chose life. Abundant life. For ALL of us. Blessed beyond measure.”  ~~  Mom, Lorraine

Or, meet beautiful Clementine.  Born in the country that is now restricting larger families.  A precious little girl born with Down syndrome in a country where she would have no hope, no future.  “Clementine who was almost too ill to be adopted when we traveled for her in 2014. She was hospitalized with pneumonia and, no one knew it at the time, was suffering from a tracheal condition that caused it to be the size of a coffee straw (3mm). It almost killed her.”  ~~  Mom, Stefanie

Clementine was adopted into a very large, amazing family.

Today, the sweetest little treasure is thriving with her many siblings and parents who adore her.

“How to sum up in a few sentences what has changed since adopting our Clementine? Words fail me. What I can say is that, despite an undiagnosed and often fatal tracheal deformity, as well as several other special needs, we haven’t blessed this little love even half as much as she has blessed us. She teaches us daily how to live life fully and love others completely. We simply cannot imagine our lives without her – she is the embodiment of absolute joy.”  ~~  Mom, Stefanie

I cannot even imagine her life had she not been adopted.

And Jordan.

He spent his days in a crib in Eastern Europe where children who have special needs have no worth or value.  “He was sedated, not spoken to and not interacted with. Now he is the brother to three sisters and soon another brother from “his” orphanage. It’s our privilege to be his family.”  ~~  Mom, Rachel

Jordan home just one year!

Meet Charlotte.

“Charlotte’s life has changed incredibly since coming home. At age 5 she weighed 15 lbs and was confined to a crib. She couldn’t even sit up, let alone crawl or walk, and was still eating from a bottle. Since coming home 5 years ago she has had strabismus surgery on her eyes, received extensive PT, and now is entering the fourth grade where she is an incredibly popular little kiddo!”

“She’s never met a stranger and has an engaging personality. She is full of life and happy most of the time! In addition, this kid who couldn’t walk until almost age 6 consistently wins gold medals at the Special Olympics both for running races and throwing! She’s shown a lot of determination and drive!”  ~~  Mom, Janice

And this handsome young man.

“My son was in late stage heart failure when he was adopted almost 10 years ago.”

“They didn’t know if he’d make it through surgery, but he did and is still hanging in here. He now has a wife and two kids!”  Mom, C.

Adoption miracle. After miracle. After miracle.

And Igor.

Adopted four years ago.  His legs were bent permanently in the frog position.

Home, loved, treasured and doing amazingly well.

Meet precious Mariella.

“We adopted her 2 years ago from China. She has CP and was 7 years old when we brought her home and weighed 17 lbs. Mariella has been home 2 years and is doing wonderfully and weighs 39lbs!! She is such an amazing blessing.” ~~  Mom, G.

Chosen and dearly loved.

Meet, Ruby, Jeremy, Sarah and Amelia.

“Ruby is one of 4 special need teenagers we adopted. We adopted them all together from the Ukraine. We knew God lead us to these children, It has been a blessing to see how they have grown and changed over the last year and a half. They bring so much joy to our family that we would have never known if we haven’t said yes to God .She has gone from a 16 year old who weighed 19 lbs to a beautiful daughter who loves life and never stops laughing and exploring all the world around her . She has my heart.”  ~~  Mom, Tina

“Ruby was adopted from Ukraine in December of 2015 and weighed 19 lbs at 16 years old. Today at age 18 she weighs 47 pounds.”

Jeremy, home just one and a half years.

Sweet Amelia. Home at the same time as her siblings.

And darling Sarah.  Also home for a year and a half.

In 2010 we met the most precious family while we were living in Virginia.  We had recently gotten home with Hailee and Harper. I will never, ever forget their words to us when they met our family and prayerfully considered special-needs adoption themselves.  “Why can’t we?”

And so they did!  Without any hesitation, they went.

Sweet Sonya, adopted in 2011.

Sonya today.  Blossoming in every way.

And her brother, Dusty.  I will never forget meeting this tiny, emaciated little boy who had to be hospitalized immediately after coming home.  Like many, due to his special needs, Dusty was left in a crib–day in and day out.

Until the Lord reached down from heaven, found a family who would be faithful, and said, “Not this one!”

Dusty today.

Redeemed, restored, and treasured for who he is.  Exactly the way he is!

Or meet Lily.  Adopted by one of my most treasured friends in the world.

“Adopting Lily has been one of the hardest and at the same time most amazing and joyous things we have ever experienced. Born with a congenital heart defect, she spent the first two years of her life fighting to survive, but daily growing closer to losing the battle. By the time she was placed in our arms at the age of 2 1/2 she was the size of a 3 month old, she was significantly developmentally delayed and extremely blue from the poor oxygenation of her blood. From that moment we knew it was now our turn to fight for her survival, she was now part of a family that would do everything they could to give her a chance at life. There is no doubt in anyone’s mind, including the caretakers at the orphanage that Lily would not have lived much longer if she was not adopted. She has received life-prolonging surgery, therapies, school, and most importantly, love.  It has and will continue to be a journey full of challenges and obstacles, but also a journey full of miracles, joy, and love. There are not words to describe how much this beautiful girl has changed our lives.”  ~~  Mom, Rachel

I received too many photos from families to be able to share them all.  Each picture a miracle. Each life bearing witness to the indisputable fact that for many, many children…adoption is life-saving.

Adoption is grace unending.

Adoption is mercy indescribable.

Adoption is hard, and it’s stretching and it’s sacrificial love that knows no bounds.

But the greatest gift of the them all?

That’s for us.  

The broken, yielded vessels whose sometimes feeble, sometimes whispered, sometimes tearful, sometimes so much smaller-than-a-mustard-seed quiet pledge of “Yes, send me” takes us on a journey where the ones who get changed the most are not them…

…but us. 

Adéye