“Did you feel like he was your son?” my friend asked after our first trip to visit Daniel in the Lanzhou Army Hospital. I wished I could have said yes, but my honest answer was “No.” The orphanage staff, who were rotating 2 at a time/24 hour care for him, referred to us as his parents. But the doctor in charge clearly got annoyed with all of our questions and after giving us a brief but grim prognosis of Daniel's viral encephalitis, denied our request for his medical reports. Finally he informed us, after we had visited the hospital 4 days in a row, that we couldn't keep coming every day. Daniel wasn't our son yet. Legally he still belonged to the orphanage.
I was acutely aware of my lack of motherly connection to Daniel, as I watched him lying there with vacant eyes on the hospital bed. “God, is it even possible for me to love this boy?” He was like a newborn in a 7 year old body, weak and helpless, and completely unaware of the monstrous mountain of recovery that faced him. The doctor told us that the day before he came out of the 6 day coma, accompanied by high fever and seizures, he thought that Daniel had no hope. Now he was awake, but it was impossible to say what kind of recovery he would make. His MRI showed scattered patches of damage throughout his brain, which had affected pretty much all of his abilities.
The shocking news of Daniel's sudden and severe brain infection came just two days after our file was “locked” with his and David's. Our family, and all those joining us in prayer, were rejoicing that the battle to adopt our two boys together was finally over. And then we were blindsided with news that we were not at all prepared for. I thought about the description in 2 Samuel 6 of King David bringing the Ark into Jerusalem, when God brought an abrupt end to the Israelites' victorious celebration with the completely unexpected death of Uzzah. And I could relate to how they must have felt, to be on the receiving end of such a harsh blow from out of the blue. Stunned. Confused. Devastated. Why God?
We had not yet signed on the dotted line, so we still had the option to back out of the adoption. Or we could have decided to wait awhile to see what Daniel's recovery might look like. Our family of five prayerfully considered these options, including CJ who had already left for the US to start college. But just like our decision to pursue the adoption of two from Gansu had been unanimous back in 2008 (when CJ, Joshua, and Jordan were 12, 11, and 9) so was this decision. How could we say no?
A friend in Australia (who I've never actually met) with two adopted daughters from China committed herself to prayer for our adoption and wrote timely messages of encouragement when we were in the thick of the paperwork battle to adopt our boys. This is part of a note she wrote with reference to the challenge of one of her adoption journeys:
“I believe that I needed to know that it was God who enabled her adoption and so it is His will and He is able to provide all that we need in wisdom and emotional strength to deal with the various challenges. So I believe that in the years ahead as you face the challenges of adoption, you too will be encouraged by the fact that God enabled this adoption - it is His miracle and He will provide...”
It is His miracle and He will provide.
When she wrote that to us, Daniel had not yet gotten sick. We would have faced adoption challenges, regardless of his encephalitis. But Daniel's illness brought a unique set of challenges that we weren't sure we could handle. Because it had been such a battle to get our boys, it was clear—beyond a doubt—that God had enabled our adoption of them. In His sovereignty, He had made a way where there was no way. And in His sovereignty, He had allowed Daniel to experience a life-changing illness just before we adopted him. God would provide the wisdom and emotional strength for us to deal with all of the challenges ahead. We could trust Him, even when (especially when), we had no idea what kind of recovery Daniel would make.
When we visited Daniel in the Army Hospital, he was just a shell of the bright, slightly chubby, cute little 7 year old we had met 6 weeks earlier in the orphanage director's office. On that day, he had shyly entered the room along with David, a serious, handsome 8 year old, who had appointed himself spokesperson for both of them when we asked questions about their interests and daily lives. The director instructed them to walk across his spacious office so that we could observe David's club feet and Daniel's limp from his mild case of spina bifida. Their special needs were relatively minor, and did not appear to slow them down at all. But the provincial director had insisted on this meeting to be sure that we wanted them. Charly assured him on the phone as we rode the hour-long bus back to our apartment. “Yes, we want them.”
A few weeks earlier, Charly had shared about our adoption journey with a PSB office worker, who happened to be friends with the Gansu provincial director for international adoptions. So we “used the back door” and contacted him directly. Charly asked if he could help us check on the availability of two children we could adopt together, since we had renewed our adoption paperwork as many times as possible and our time was running out. On July 15, 2013 God answered our prayers with news of Ding Yi Fan and Hua Ming An, who had grown up “like brothers” in the Lanzhou orphanage from the time they had been abandoned in two different hospitals as babies. Then later that same day we were told regretfully that it was actually impossible for us to adopt them together and we should consider another match. We refused to take a no. And God came through with a victorious yes. Then He gave us a sharp turn in the path with Daniel's illness on September 4.
On October 14, our first night with Daniel and David in our Lanzhou home, I wrestled with God as I stood beside Daniel's bed and watched his flailing body, due to the athetoid movement disorder he had developed. I 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.”
God gently reminded me not to allow worry to choke out my trust in His good plan, and not to project current problems into the future. Take life and it's challenges one day at a time. And rejoice in every step of progress. Which would come to include Daniel's smile and laugh coming back. His learning to walk and talk again. His learning to feed himself. And dress himself, and use the bathroom on his own.
I've needed to be reminded of the lesson to take life one day at a time over and over again on this journey. When we were living in China, trying to home school Daniel was really challenging, so we wanted to see if a Chinese kindergarten would work for him. He was 9, in a class with 4/5 year olds which seemed to be the best fit for him developmentally. But after his third day at school, his teacher expressed frustration with his frequent trips to the bathroom, his nonsense noises, his random laughing, and his other disruptions to the rest of the class.
“I'm not sure that kindergarten is going to work for him,” I told Charly. And my heart felt incredibly heavy. In my discouragement, I projected into the future that maybe he will never be able to make it in a classroom. Never be able to follow along with what other children are doing. Always in his own little world. Disruptive. Not able to make progress. What would this mean for him? For our family?
I shared at our Thanksgiving meal that year that I believed God didn't want me to project into the future like that, but to take one day at a time. One of our friends shared how he remembered the miracle after miracle that we saw God do in Daniel's life in his first months with us. “Yes,” I said. “This time last year, he was in diapers and couldn't talk. He had just learned how to feed himself and to walk again. He had a major movement disorder that God miraculously healed him of. I need to keep remembering how far God has brought him.” How easy it is for me to forget all the great things that God has done in the past. And to focus instead on the present problems. God is not done yet.
At that time I wrote, “God created him just the way he is. He has been and will continue to watch over him all the days of his life. I realized that my discouragement and my being quick to jump to the conclusion that school was not going to work for him was like I was looking into his future and writing in a big black marker over the unwritten pages of his life: HOPELESS and BURDEN. That is so not God's perspective. His plans for Daniel are full of hope and promise. I want to have eyes of faith to see what God sees and to trust Him in the dark.”
After 20 years of living in China, our family moved back to the US last summer and enrolled David and Daniel in 4th and 2nd grades. I can't even express how much of a difference it has made to be in a place with resources for them. Daniel has been getting paraprofessional assistance all day long which enables him to be in the classroom almost 80% of the time. His teacher told me last year that when she set the bar high for him, she saw him reaching for it every day. It has been amazing to see how much he has grown this past year in so many areas.
Even with their feet issues, both David and Daniel ran on their school's cross country team last fall, and are participating in cross country again this year. It has been such an encouragement to me to see Daniel's friends come back on the course to cheer him on to the finish. Such a blessing to observe the precious friendships he's developed as he is growing in his English abilities and in his social skills. The little boy who we once thought might stay in a vegetative state for the rest of his life is active, learning, and very social.
Pictures from the fun celebration of Daniel's 10th birthday last year with my parents and several of his closest friends from school:
It is God's miracle and He will provide.
We can trust Him when the path looks dark and the mountain ahead seems impossibly high. He will provide the wisdom and strength we need for each and every step.
We can believe that our strong and loving God never writes the words “Hopeless” and “Burden” on the unwritten pages of life. They are always “Hope” and “Blessing.”
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” (Jeremiah 29:11)