Sunday, December 15, 2013

Two Months of Change

Two months ago we brought David and Daniel home from the orphanage. This was Daniel that first evening on October 14:
Two weeks later he had developed more spastic movements in addition to his athetoid movements:
Practicing walking on November 2:
Becoming more independent on November 9:
Having fun playing on the beds while we were in Guangzhou, Nov 25
Two months ago we didn't know if this little boy would walk or smile again. Look at him now!

And he just started talking, December 12, at my parents' home in Denver:

We are praising God for ALL that He has done!

Monday, November 18, 2013

Seeing What is Sacred

“Jesus discloses Himself to us in a variety of ways. Sometimes in gradual and unrecognizable ways that become increasingly clear, the way He did with the two disciples on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-32).  Sometimes in sudden and spectacular ways that are instantly clear, the way He did with Saul on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:1-9). And sometimes in ways that won’t be clear until the end of time, the way He does when He comes to us in the form of someone who in some way needs us (Matthew 25:31-46)…

We have been taught to wait for Christ when He comes again in that one spectacular moment when everyone everywhere will at last recognize Him for who He is. And so we should look for Him. But sometimes in looking ahead, we don’t look anywhere else, and we miss all the other times He comes." (from Ken Gire’s Seeing What is Sacred)

Christopher de Vinck writes in The Power of the Powerless that his handicapped brother Oliver “evoked the best love that was in us. He helped us grow in the virtues of devotion, wisdom, patience and fidelity. Without doing anything, Oliver made all of us better human beings…The meek and humble of heart do all of us a service when they call us to respond in love. For Jesus said, ‘What you did for the least of the brothers, you did for Me.’”

He also writes: “For me to have been brought up in a house where a tragedy was turned into a joy, explains to a great degree why I am the type of husband, father, writer and teacher I have become. I remember my mother saying when I was small, ‘Isn’t it wonderful that you can see?’ And once she said, ‘When you go to heaven, Oliver will run to you, embrace you, and the first thing he will say is ‘thank you.’’ That leaves an impression on a boy…

Oliver was physically and mentally retarded, but he was not spiritually retarded.  I was taught by my parents to look at Oliver and see…the mystery, things that linger, things which stay with us…We can stand before the Olivers of the world and see clearly who we are.”

Through the life of Daniel, these past five weeks, God has been helping me to see what is sacred and to better understand what God has chosen to hide from “the learned and the clever,” He has revealed to “mere children.” (Matthew 11:25) I can remember when we first brought David and Daniel home and we really weren’t sure that Daniel could see or hear. He was so unresponsive. It has been amazing for us to watch him grow in both awareness and responsiveness. And we are so thankful that he can hear and he can see.

I have wondered how often I am like Daniel’s initial unresponsiveness. Having ears to hear but not really hearing. Having eyes to see but not really seeing. Yesterday, Charly shared with our family the Parable of the Sower and the story's meaning: for those who have ears to hear and for those who have eyes to see.

And ultimately, for our hearts to be responsive to the seeds that He is planting.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

The Power of the Powerless

A friend loaned me Christopher De Vinck’s book The Power of the Powerless before we brought the boys home last month. I have read it through multiple times and the story continues to speak deeply to my heart. The author’s brother Oliver was severely handicapped from birth and remained bed-ridden for the entire 33 years of his life. The author poignantly recounts all the ways that his family was blessed by Oliver, who could “do absolutely nothing except breathe, sleep, eat, and yet he was responsible for action, love, courage, insight.”

When Oliver’s disabilities became apparent early in life, the doctor advised his parents to put him in an institution. Instead they replied, “But he is our son. We will take Oliver home, of course.”

So the doctor said, “Then take him home and love him.”

The doctor’s response makes me think of my mother-in-law, who encouraged us several times through skype around the time of our boys’ homecoming that love is the best medicine there is. She is so right.

We have seen both boys blossoming these four weeks in our home, and Daniel has made huge progress, especially this past week. He is waking independently all over our apartment now, holding things in his hands, and starting to feed himself finger foods!

So now, when I read back through The Power of the Powerless, I can only imagine what life might have been like if Daniel had remained bed-ridden and unresponsive. And I have such deep respect for Oliver’s mother Catherine, who wrote the following of her experience with Oliver, before his death in 1980:

“It’s hard to express what such a verdict means to a mother. It pierced me to my depth, ripped apart at the very fabric of life when we discovered how severely different Oliver was going to be all his life. It was not something one could put aside or escape. The world appeared darkened: It was as if the whole of reality had been covered with a gray film. I didn’t understand yet

By the grace of God (and I don’t use this as a figure of speech), I could accept it, in darkness and ignorance—yes, even manage a simple, immediate consent. I remember holding Oliver and saying the Lord’s Prayer, over and over: “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” I could not see the purpose of this trial, but I could say yes to God. I could begin to realize that God’s ways are not our ways.

For many, many years, I was confined to the house, alone and without the support of relatives or friends. Jose was at work all day and I was with Oliver and the other five children. This enforced seclusion was difficult for me; I had a restless, seeking spirit. Through Oliver, I was held still. I was forced to embrace a silence and a solitude where I could “prepare the way of the Lord.” Sorrow opened my heart, and I “died.” I underwent this “death” unaware that it was a trial by fire from which I would rise renewed—more powerfully, more consciously alive.

I looked into the abyss of human sorrow and saw how dangerous and how easy it is to slide into self-pity—to weep over one’s fate. I was given the grace to understand that one has to be on guard against such grieving, for it falsifies one’s grasp on life and erodes one’s inner strength. Sorrow can be worn as a badge of honor (“See how I suffer!”). It can also be a searing experience. It is not exalting to be alone all day in a house full of small children, to be faced with the same daily chores, with a routine of physical work which appears to narrow one’s life to trivial concerns. Many women who are “just housewives” experience this sense of futility, this feeling of being cut off from the mainstream of life.

But if there is a silence that is opaque and a solitude that is a prison, there is also a silence that is luminous and a solitude that is blessed terrain where the seeds of prayer can grow…

Oliver was always a “hopeless” case, yet he was such a precious gift for our whole family. “God has chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God has chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty.” (1 Corinthians 1:27) This child had no apparent usefulness or meaning, and the “world” would reject him as an unproductive burden. But he was a holy innocent, a child of light.

Looking at him, I saw the power of the powerlessness. His total helplessness speaks to our deepest hearts, calls us not merely to pious emotions but to service. Through this child, I felt bound to Christ crucified—yes, and also to all those who suffer in the world. While caring for Oliver, I also felt that I ministered, in some mysterious way, to all my unknown brothers and sisters who were, and are, grieving and in pain throughout the world. So, through Oliver, I learned the deepest meaning of compassion.

I have made my peace with the coming of Oliver’s death. I cannot see it as a tragedy. I know that the child who lived in apparent void and darkness sees God, lives forever in health, beauty and light. Here on earth, he was loved. His presence among us was a mysterious sign of that peace the world cannot give.”

Because of our situation with Daniel, I know what she means about a sense of solidarity with hurting brothers and sisters around the world. I also completely understand what she wrote about how easy it is to slide into self-pity. I know how she can say that she learned the deepest meaning of compassion through her care of Oliver for more than 30 years. As I have battled with my own selfishness this past month with the two new additions in our home, I know that I am just scratching the surface of compassion.

Henri Nouwen wrote in the Intro:

“When I finished reading The Power of the Powerless I had a strange vision. I saw our crazy world, full of wars and conflicts, full of competition and ambition, full of heroes and stars, full of success stories, horror stories, love stories and death stories, full of  newspapers, television, radios and computer screens, and millions of people believing that something was happening that they couldn’t miss without losing out on life. And then I saw a hand moving this heavy curtain of spectacles away and pointing to a handicapped child, a poor beggar, a chronically ill woman, an illiterate monk, a dying old man, a hungry child. I had not noticed them before. They seemed hidden so far away from where ‘it’ seemed to be happening. But the hand pointed gently to these poor, humble, weak people and a voice said, ‘Because of them I won’t let the world be destroyed. They are my favored ones and with them I made my covenant and I will be faithful to it.’”

How true it is that “God has chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God has chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty.” (1 Corinthians 1:27)

I am thankful for the ways that God has been enabling our family to see, through our adoption, the value He places on life and the power He gives to the powerless

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

When It Doesn’t Feel Exciting

I want to be transparent and honest here. I haven’t been able to process this until now. Because it’s been too close to home. With not enough distance in my struggling heart.

But after having posted our boys’ homecoming and official adoption pictures, I feel the need to confess my deep heart struggle (behind the smiling face) before I record anything else about our adoption.

I wrote a family update earlier this week in an overall thankful tone for all the blessings God has provided for us this month of our adoption, through His abundant care. We are thankful. Because God is good. But I wondered from some people’s responses if maybe I had been too positive in that update. Did I make it sound too much like everything was positive and progress and praise?

Because honestly it really hasn’t felt exciting to me.

When people have communicated how excited they are for us that our adoption is finally happening, what an exciting day it must have been when our boys came home, and how exciting it is that Daniel is making progress, all those exciting words have rung hollow in my heart. I told Charly that I felt like our adoption stopped being exciting to me when we heard that Daniel had been in a coma 6 days with a serious brain infection. And when the reality of the severity of his brain damage settled in, as we were able to visit him over four successive days in the hospital. His recovery was definitely slow—no miraculous healing before our eyes—and we knew that we might not see much more progress.

When Charly and I visited Daniel in the orphanage the week before we brought the boys home, we first witnessed his athetosis, one of the results of his brain infection that hadn’t manifested itself right away. And unfortunately, our doctor friend in Lanzhou told us, these constant uncontrollable snake-like movements are not curable; we could expect him to have this movement disorder for his whole life. “God, can I really love this boy?” I questioned as we stood by his orphanage bed, and he didn’t seem to know we were there..

One week later, as I stood by his bed in our home, in the middle of the night, after his first full day with us, I helplessly watched his flailing body and had no idea if he was in distress or if this activity was normal for him. I tried giving him some water, which he didn’t take. I worried about his only having had one wet diaper the day before.

We’re not getting enough liquid into him. What if something is wrong with his kidneys too?We don’t know how to care for him. He can’t communicate with us. What if he never can? What if I am standing here looking at every night for the next 5, 10, 20 years? This is too hard. This doesn’t feel like a good plan. I really don’t think I can do this.

And I whispered in the darkness, “God, I don’t understand what you’re doing.”

So, when people have written about being so excited for us, my heart response has been, “This doesn’t feel exciting. It just feels hard.” Yes, I want to be excited with those who are excited for us. I want to remember the mountains God moved for us in our adoption journey. That He worked against all odds and brought these two boys into our home, when we had been told that it wasn’t possible.

I have appreciated people reminding me of these truths, as I have appreciated all of our adoption encouragement along the way. Reminding me that God is good, His plans are good, and He has higher purposes that we don’t always (don’t often) understand. The truth is that He ordained every single day of Daniel’s life. He allowed him to get sick when he did, and He has been completely sovereign over the type of recovery he has had and will continue to have.

In addition to these reminders of God’s goodness and sovereignty, I have also appreciated the grace and space people have given me to grieve the “loss” of the little boy we met at the orphanage in July, and to cry over what it would have been like to bring him home as he was then. People who have prayed with me and for me when I have doubted whether I can truly handle this, especially when I’m having a bad stretch of migraines. I texted some friends an hour before we went to pick the boys up from the orphanage and asked for prayer that my headache would go away, as I was in a “migraine survival mode” and wanted my heart to be in it. I so appreciate having friends who faithfully lift up my need for God’s grace and strength in my life.

Because it is so clear that I can’t handle this without Him. And I know that He knows that this doesn’t feel exciting to me right now. It’s okay to Him. We’re doing this together. One day at a time. We can take on the “hard” together.

I typed most of this one-handed this afternoon, with my other arm around my sweet little guy, cuddled and flailing next to me on the couch. We shared a couple of smiles together. And I felt grateful for the way that God has been growing my Mother’s love for him these two plus weeks. Grateful as well that God gave him his precious smile back.

The first time he laughed out loud while sitting in my lap, I cried. One of my concerns had been that if he didn’t smile, how would we know what he liked? We could meet his needs (hopefully) but could we have a relationship with him if he wasn’t responsive? Not only did God bring his smile back, He also brought his laugh. One of the sweetest sounds in the world.

Thanks be to God who made us Mother and Son. His good plan before time began. It doesn’t have to feel exciting to be good.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Now the Pine Seven

David Jonathan Pine

Daniel Joseph Pine

cleaning little brother's hand

signing papers

With another adoptive family: a 4 year old from the same orphanage

after all the paperwork

walking to the bus stop

Joshua got back from Tianjin and joined us for a noodle lunch
flying with big brother's cape

first attempt at a family photo

family photo (with CJ's picture)

Tuesday, October 15, 2013


Here are some pictures of our boys' homecoming yesterday:


Could we ever be really ready for what lies before us? As our family has spent time discussing, planning, and praying together, we know that there is no way to fully grasp how our lives are about to completely change. What daily life will actually look like for the soon to be 6 of us in the Pine home. Or what it will be like for CJ to get two new brothers while he is adjusting to college on the other side of the ocean from us.

Today we are plunging into a “new normal,” as a few hours from now we will be bringing our two boys home from the orphanage. And it feels strange to think that soon the life we’ve been living will be our “old lives,” as God begins to write a new and very different chapter on the blank pages we see in front of us.

Last week we worked on preparing our home as well as preparing our hearts, to “make room” for Ding Yi Fan and Hua Ming An.

Jordan finished her latch hook teddy bear for her new brothers
Some of our "old" kids' books got returned and friends gave us new ones
hand-me-down clothes from friends in Tianjin
games cupboard
Jordan set up a crafts table in the living room
On Tuesday afternoon, Charly and I had the opportunity to visit Hua Ming An at the orphanage and to observe his 1 1/2 hour physical therapy session. We got home 30 minutes after our guests that evening had arrived. The J and J Cooking Team had worked together to prepare dinner and to entertain our guests, and it gave me such peace to walk into our apartment knowing that Joshua and Jordan had everything under control.

On Thursday, Charly and I spent most of the day shopping for bunk beds, and arrived home an hour before our dinner guest. The four of us got as much done as we could putting the beds together before he arrived, and then the J and J Cooking Team again made dinner while Charly and I visited with our doctor friend, talking through practical issues of caring for Hua Ming An and his post-encephalitis brain damage.

new bunk beds
Teamwork is so important. And especially for our family right now as we make this huge transition. I marveled on Thursday as the four of us moved pieces of CJ’s old bed out of the boys’ room and brought the bunk bed pieces in. We were stepping over obstacles on the floor, handing bed pieces to each other, passing the pliers and nuts and bolts, taking turns supporting the frame…

It wasn’t perfect. There were brief moments of frustration with each other. But it was a dance, and there was an unspoken rhythm. There were times when someone intuitively knew what another one needed and silent help was given at just the right time. And I prayed, “God, help our transition to these two new boys in our family be like this. Let us continue to work as a strong team together. Give us unbroken unity and an ongoing awareness of each other’s needs.” I remembered the way a friend had recently prayed for our family when we were in Tianjin during China’s October First National Holiday, “God, protect their oneness.” Yes. We so need that.

juggling in the living room
We set up CJ's bed (in the background) for Hua Ming An
On Saturday morning, as I watched Charly, Joshua, and Jordan juggle with each other in the living room, I thought about the juggling act of our lives. How we will continue to try to keep all of our family’s balls in the air. But there will inevitably be times when we drop the balls and will need to pick them up again. We aren’t striving for, or evaluating ourselves by “just how well can we do this.” We are hoping for laughter, joy, and peace to fill our home, but we know there will also be times of tears and frustration and moments of feeling overwhelmed.

But above all, I believe, that with broad brushstrokes over the canvas of our lives, there will be Grace. From God. For each of us, which we can extend to each other. Grace. Which we so desperately need. For us to fall back on and rest in. His mercies— new every morning. Immanuel. God is with us.

As we live one day at a time, we can trust that He will prepare us for each step that we take, together with Him. In faith.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Encouragement from Isaiah

These passages from the Book of Isaiah in the New Living Translation greatly encouraged my heart this morning.

“Fill the valleys and level the hills. Straighten out the curves and smooth out the rough spots. Then the glory of the Lord will be revealed, and all people will see it together. The Lord has spoken!” (40:4-5)

“Don’t you know that the Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of all the earth? He never grows faint or weary. No one can measure the depth of his understanding. He gives power to those who are tired and worn out; he offers strength to the weak.” (40:28b-29)

“Don’t be afraid, for I am with you. Do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you. I will help you. I will uphold you with my victorious right hand.” (41:10)

“You will open the eyes of the blind and free the captives from prison. You will release those who sit in dark dungeons.” (42:7)

“I will lead blind Israel down a new path, guiding them along an unfamiliar way. I will make the darkness bright before them and smooth out the road ahead of them.” (42:16)

“When you go through deep waters and great trouble I will be with you. When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown! When you walk through the fire of oppression, you will not be burned up; the flames will not consume you. For I am the Lord, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior. (43:2-3a)

“From eternity to eternity I am God. No one can oppose what I do. No one can reverse my actions.” (43:13)

“Truly, O God of Israel, our Savior, you work in strange and mysterious ways.” (45:15)

“I created you and have cared for you since before you were born. I will be your God throughout your lifetime—until your hair is white with age. I made you, and I will care for you. I will carry you along and save you.” (46:3b-4)

 “Our Redeemer, whose name is the Lord Almighty, is the Holy One of Israel.” (47:4)

“Through you I am saying to the prisoners of darkness, ‘Come out! I am giving you your freedom!’ They will be my sheep, grazing in green pastures and on hills that were previously bare. They will neither hunger nor thirst. The searing sun and scorching desert winds will not reach them anymore. For the Lord in his mercy will lead them beside cool waters. And I will make my mountains into level paths for them. The highways will be raised above the valleys.” (49:9-11, 4/2/08 adoption)

“All the world will know that I, the Lord, am your Savior and Redeemer, the Mighty One of Israel.” (49:26b)

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

How Beautiful the Feet

On Monday Charly and I visited Hua Ming An in the hospital. It had been a week since we had last seen him, since the doctor had told us we couldn’t visit every day. Several of the staff from the orphanage were in his room to help him check out of the hospital that day. He would be returning to the orphanage for rehab, after 19 days in the hospital, because the doctors had done all they could for him.

We were encouraged to see him able to eat some rice porridge and to use a straw to drink. They had raised the head of his bed so that he was in more of a sitting position. He wasn’t able to talk or smile. We don’t know if he could hear us. But we held his hands, and we hoped that he knew that we were there. We helped to put his pants and his jacket on. And I noticed a pair of red shoes someone had placed under his bed.

Seeing his shoes reminded me of this verse: “How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news of peace and salvation, the news that the God of Israel reigns!” (Isaiah 52:7. NLT)

Over the weekend I was blessed to spend extended time in a nearby city with two special friends on a mini-retreat. We shared our hearts and tears, prayed for one another, and encouraged each other through the Word. We focused on the book of Isaiah and this verse in particular stood out to us:

Have I not proclaimed from ages past what my purposes are for you? You are my witnesses…” (Isaiah 44:8b, NLT)

A timely reminder that God has unique purposes for us. From ages past. To be His witnesses.

Seeing those red shoes on Monday brought a silent prayer in my heart for the fulfillment of God’s purposes for Hua Ming An: “How beautiful are his feet (even though we don’t know if he will walk again) to bring Your good news of peace and salvation. I believe you have a special purpose for Hua Ming An’s life. And You will use this illness for Your glory.”

God’s plan will deeply prosper through him.” (Isaiah 53:10b, MSG)

We don’t know how God’s plans and purposes will unfold in the days and years to come. Only that He has proclaimed them from ages past. And that He has already grafted Ding Yi Fan and Hua Ming An into our family. When Charly and I got home from the hospital on Monday, we had time to talk and pray with Joshua and Jordan. We all felt (including CJ who had communicated his agreement through skype) that there was no way we could possibly say “no” to adopting Hua Ming An, even with the understanding that we might have already seen the extent of his recovery and that he might be dependent on us for the rest of his life. And we made a family decision to send in the acceptance letters, that we had gotten in the mail on Friday, for both Hua Ming An and Ding Yi Fan.

 “See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands.” (Isaiah 49:16a, NIV)


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