In 2010 I travelled alone to Ukraine to adopt two little angels whom the Lord was about to add to our growing family. It had been quite a journey to get to that point.
A journey of learning what it means to truly trust.
Anthony and I had lived a blessed, quite comfortable, rather predictable life until we began the journey to add not one, but two daughters who had Down syndrome to our family. We knew absolutely nothing about special needs and felt like the least equipped people on planet earth who the Father could have chosen. I often think of the part in the movie, Shrek, where Donkey—in a crowd of people–jumps up and down trying to be noticed shouting, “Pick me! Pick me!” After no response from anyone else in the crowd, Shrek finally gives in and with an exasperated, “Okay, FINE!” picks Donkey.
That was us. “Pick us, pick us, Lord!”
And for some crazy reason, He did! He chose us. And that, to this day, still leaves me humbled and amazed.
It feels like yesterday when I sat on the train heading to the city that our girls lived in. I had traveled the world as a young woman in my 20’s and being in a foreign land alone wasn’t frightening at all. But the magnitude of what we were about to embark on as a family settled into my heart that day as I pondered how radically life would change in just a few short hours.
Nothing could ever have prepared me for the day I met Hailee. Nothing! The moment they placed that frail, malnourished, terrified, drugged little girl in my arms is by far one of the most defining moments I have ever had in my walk with God.
The tiny child in my arms was nothing like the referral paperwork we had received.
Hailee was nearly five years old and only weighed about 13 pounds. She had spent her entire life in a crib–doing anything she could for stimulation and to self-soothe. The only life Hailee knew was banging her head in a crib, causing large, bloody bumps and bruises on her forehead and on the back of her head. The back of her ears was raw and infected from constant pulling and scratching. And she had been drugged with an adult tranquilizing drug to ensure that she slept most of her life away–for “best sleep” they told me.
She struggled with terrible agitation when being held (she didn’t know human touch in a good way), the terror of being removed from her crib (the only “safe place” she knew), being drugged to the point of hardly being able to sit unassisted, and being dreadfully sick from the medication and clinically autistic…it was the hardest thing I had ever been through in my life.
I returned to my apartment that day and Skyped my husband. He was so anxious to hear all about my first meeting with the girls.
For days I had had these beautiful visions of being able to finally share all the amazing details of my first meeting with the girls. I pictured being able to tell him every rosy detail about how incredible they were and how wonderful things were going to be when we brought them home. The perfect adoption story, you know.
Instead, I saw his face and bawled like a baby.
It was a combination of just not understanding how it was even possible for a human being to treat a child that way, grieving the years that the locusts stole from Hailee, having emotional turmoil in my heart, and struggling to understand how we could possibly be bringing home a child with so many needs when we had five other children at home.
“What about the kids?” I asked my love through my tears?
“How will this affect them and how can I possibly be a good mother to them when I will have a child who is so very needy?”
Anthony, in all of his sweet tenderness and love that he has for our children, assured me that it would be okay. God had called us. And the rest we would leave in His hands.
We hung up that day and I cried out to the Father, “How, Lord?! How is this possibly going to work?”
My organized, structured, neat little life flashed before my eyes and I wondered if we were about to ruin our kids forever. I wondered if our “typical” kids would dislike us and have resentment in their hearts because of what we were about to do. The enemy was relentless in his torment.
And in the stillness of that apartment on a dreary, cold, gloomy day in Ukraine, the Father reached down from heaven and through my tears and my anguish and my fear, His quiet assurance rested in my heart. His promises were true.
“I don’t make mistakes! Do you not know that I hold your children’s hearts in my hands? When I set your family on this path, it was for their good!”
It was for their good.
Did I not know that adopting this child who would surely be dependent on us for the rest of our lives would be for our children’s good? We were a family, after all. Did I not already have the assurance that God worked out all things for the good of those who loved Him and were called according to His purpose? Was I not fully convinced that when God called His people to walk on water, that He would somehow take care every detail—even in the hard times?
For the first time in all the years that I had been a Christian, my faith was tested. Really, really tested.
During the six weeks that I spent in country—visiting my daughters every day—my heart truly struggled to comprehend what God was doing. I fell head over heals in love with the tiny little girl for whom God had called us to lay down our lives. But still, I worried about our other children at home.
Exactly six years have passed since that day.
Six beautiful and amazing years.
The addition of Hailee and Harper totally rocked our world. Their arrival turned us upside down and inside out.
For the better.
True to His word and in His absolute faithfulness and love for my family, we have seen His glory shine brightly.
Our children are learning how to love when love is not returned with words or deeds.
Our children are learning that sometimes (or most times!) life is not about them alone. The needs of others matter so much to God and to us too.
Our children are learning that disability is something to be embraced, celebrated and advocated for. Every human life has worth and value and is to be treasured as a gift from heaven.
Our children are learning to pour themselves out for the sake of another—even when they don’t feel like it. Even when they get absolutely nothing (except hugs and sweetness) in return.
Our children are learning that people matter so, so much. ALL people!
Yes, our children have, at times, had to give up having material things. They’ve missed out on the fancy vacations and sometimes the latest and greatest gadgets on the market for which they have to save up for a long time. But the life lessons and the care and the learning to store their treasures in heaven, well, that’s the Kingdom of God. That’s eternal.
Does that mean that it’s always been easy? Of course not! Life was never meant to be easy. But for these blessings of ours, the lessons learned and the life experience and the love and the seed planted in their hearts…no money or material things could ever replace that.
I look back on the six years that God has blessed our family with raising children who have Down syndrome and honestly, it just makes me all tearful. When I felt overwhelmed and concerned about what the future would hold for us, He knew.
When I questioned and doubted and felt like what we were doing would be too hard for our children, He knew.
These three treasures have been some of our greatest teachers in this life.
They have taught us to see beauty in the smallest of victories.
They have taught us to find joy indescribable in the hard times.
They have taught us to celebrate what world so often sees as imperfections. Our God does all things well.
They have taught our whole family that sacrificial love always comes at a cost, but it is so absolutely worth it. Every. Single. Time.
This week we CELEBRATED World Down Syndrome Day.
How exceedingly blessed and thankful we are!