Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The orphans we don't want to think about

I just returned from a heart changing trip to Atlanta.  This was supposed to be a missions trip where I would use my gifts and abilities to impart my wisdom on several teenagers rehabilitating from sex trafficking who needed life skills training.  Missionaries are supposed to use the skills they have obtained and language they've learned to make a difference, right?  While I was there I was planning on going out in the community as well, maybe finding a Spanish speaker or someone in need of medical care, and help them.  Of course I don't go on trips just to do trainings and teachings.  They are my "platform".  My abilities give me an edge to give people what they need.  When using these abilities I can share Christ and demonstrate love through my time spent working with people.

THIS TIME I WAS SO WRONG

      The coordinators let me slip through the cracks.  They kept forgetting to call me back and set up my "trainings" I was supposed to do.  Week after week passed, and I never heard from them.  It took until Monday to get on the phone with someone who would schedule my class time for Wednesday to Friday, and by then, all but one two hour workshop was filled in for the girls' summer camp (this is misleading because they don't go anywhere).  I wanted to get angry.  I had no time to prepare.  I thought I'd teach a Bible Study on dignity and reflecting who we are in Christ in our modesty ( I was told this was a need), or teach on women's health but there was no time to fit it in the schedule.  Instead, I was asked to cook.

     COOK?  I'm going to drive 6 1/2 hours, book a hotel for three nights, leave my children with a babysitter, just to COOK?  Anyone can cook!  My self-righteous pride tried to take control.  The coordinator told me I could insert talks into down time and I could hang around the entire time apart from sleeping for the 3 days I was spending there.
     So I packed my bags and headed to Atlanta.  When I arrived and was let into the door, I was met with indifferent stares.  A houseparent (they are called coaches and take shifts with the girls) asked me "are you here to cook dinner tonight?".  I introduced myself and told them I'd be hanging out for the next couple days and yes, I would be cooking.  Another coach volunteered to give me a tour of the girls' home and told me briefly about some of the situations they had been experiencing with some of them.

I WASN'T READY FOR WHAT I HEARD

     The security in the building is very tight.  Every hallway, exit, classroom or bathroom door had a lock or required a card to swipe in order to pass through.  It functions like a prison with beautiful decorations and living spaces.  Everything sharp was behind locked doors, including scissors and kitchen utensils.  This was to protect the girls from themselves.  If you know anything about troubled teens, sharp objects can be used to help relieve the pain inside.  Most of the girls wore long sleeves to cover the scars of their pain.  I was told many of them did not want to be there.  Many were given a choice: either you go to prison or you go to the home for about a year until you are determined ready to live a normal life in a family again.  The most common way to be rescued when one is a minor is to be caught up in a police sting.  The girls are found to be minors when they are booked at the station and then get processed through several channels until they end up in the home.  The manipulation and degradation that they receive from their captors make them feel that this is the only life they are capable of living.  They are required to have three "tricks" per night, and sometimes it is as many as 10-20 tricks/night to be fed one meal that day.  If they try to escape or do any other unacceptable behavior, they are beaten.  Often, they are not only beaten by their captor but by the other girls in the "stable" (they are treated like animals, so have an animal-type name as well).  This is to put pressure on all the girls to be loyal only to their captor.
        So why do I call them orphans in this post?  The answer is simple.  These girls have no real family to begin with.  They are products of a system and society gone bad.  The majority of minors who find themselves in sex trafficking begin as children with either biological parents who abuse and/or neglect them or children with foster parents who don't love them.  They become resentful, angry, and empty.  Then they run away.  Desperate for someone to help them and love them, when approached by a friendly, sweet guy at the bus stop or somewhere similar which gives them away as a runaway, they agree to go with him.  He may take her shopping, treat her affectionately, and behave like he really does care about her.  Then the men start arriving.  He asks her to do "tricks" out of her loyalty to him.  She will not be fed or treated "well" if she doesn't do what he demands.  Most girls are so brainwashed and manipulated into thinking this is a worthwhile life to live that they don't even realize what is happening.  They become shells of a person, obeying their captors demands and becoming the equivalent of an animal, feeling they have no value or worth.  When they arrive at the rehabilitation home, they often rebel.  They don't understand why someone insists they have potential and value, or why the women there insist they are loved and cared about.  The center aims at getting the girls caught up in school through online courses and an onsite tutor; they go through counseling and therapy on a daily and weekly basis, get proper medical care, get their own private, comfortable room to restore their dignity, and they receive life-skills training to prepare to meet the world again when they are released back into a foster family or even their biological family (if they are wanted).  Since this organization is founded by Christians, there are several Christian staff and volunteers from local churches who try to instill Biblical principles into their process.
     Now for some statistics.  Just how big and serious of a problem is this in the United States?  We hear about sex-trafficking being a huge issue in places like India, Nepal, Thailand, Cambodia, China, and other third world countries, but the United States shouldn't have much of an issue with it, right?  Wrong.

     Fact: In the U.S., 1 in 3 runaway children are lured into prostitution within 48 hours.  450,000 children run away per year.  You do the math.
   Fact: In the U.S. the average age to be caught up in the sex trafficking industry is 11-14 years old.  Some children are as young as 9 years old.
   Fact: The life expectancy for a child, once they enter this life, is 7 years.
   Fact: Atlanta is known as the sex-trafficking capital of the United States.
  Positive Fact: Girls and women who are rehabilitated through the Christian programs offered to them have a 60% success rate of not returning to their old lives once they are released back into society. Similar secular programs produce a 40% success rate.

    I'd like to share some stories now.  As I cooked some of my favorite meals and desserts for the girls, some of them got involved and wanted to learn my recipes.  Some even volunteered to help me cook and were able to talk privately with me.  The two hour session I was given was used to teach them how to make fancy fruit skewers with cut out shapes and designs to make a beautiful display in a watermelon cut into a basket.  They worked on it for an hour without complaining.  We watched "Soul Surfer" and discussed how Bethany Hamilton's story is similar to theirs (and most other people who have had their lives given a curve ball) and how Christ can help us overcome our pasts and pursue our dreams and goals.  I sat on the couch and watched them play Mario Brothers on the Wii, we enjoyed painting each other's nails together and making bracelets, picked items for their boutique time to purchase with the bucks they earned through behavior and completed chores (it's some pretty nice donated girly stuff!), and witnessed outbursts of hurt and anger and was able to have some deep talks.  Here are some snippets of some of the best conversations that I'll treasure.  I was told that they usually don't want to talk about their pasts to most volunteers.  They must feel comfortable and safe to discuss their pasts and trust the person they are talking to.
 
     "I was sexually abused by four of my family members.  Has anything like this ever happened to you?".

    "When I get out of here I'll be in the foster system and eligible for adoption.  Will you adopt me?"

     "When I was __ yrs. old my mother was murdered.  She was pregnant" (I've hidden details to maintain her identity, but the story was very traumatic).

     "I had an abortion and a miscarriage.  My baby (I aborted) would be _ yrs. old in ___" (abortions are very common with trafficked girls).

     "What is REAL love like?  How can you tell?" (I had just told them Kris and my love story and how we saved ourselves for marriage).

      I witnessed a very emotional blow up by two girls as well.  There was lots of foul language coming out of their mouths for several minutes as they released frustration.  One girl became violent and injured herself.  She was brought to the hospital that afternoon and returned that night.  This is common.

The hardest thing to witness wasn't their words or actions, but their eyes.  While these two girls were yelling and throwing things, their eyes were full of pain.  The pain was coming out in an immature way, but it was the only way they could get it out at the time.  I hurt so badly for them.

Each of these quotes and snippets have deeper stories behind them.  Each time I was able to share with the individual some about either hope, restoration, or salvation in Christ.

     I came into this trip thinking I could "do" something to make a difference.  But Jesus doesn't call us to primarily be workers, He calls us to be lights in the darkness.


 If I speak in the tounges of men and of angels, but have not LOVE, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.  If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not LOVE, I am NOTHING."
1 Corinthians 13:1-2

   You know that quote "People don't care how much you know until they know how much you care"?  I witnessed that in a huge way this week.  I had to become NOTHING.  A menial cook and culinary art teacher, and opener of the lock to the bathroom, a clean up assistant after art and beauty sessions, a pusher in of the DVD for the night, a carrier and shopper of the groceries.  These actions meant more to these girls than any fancy study or class.  They didn't see education or wisdom, they saw love.  I received huge hugs and words of thanks as I left.  The coaches told me this doesn't normally happen with a typical volunteer who comes in to do classes or events.  It wasn't my flamboyant personality or charm, or even my witty sense of humor (I'm using sarcasm here, just to be clear), but LOVE for these girls.  That's what they need.  That's what they are worthy of.


I cry to you, O Lord; I say "You are my refuge, my portion in the land of the living." Listen to my cry, for I am in desperate need; rescue me from those who pursue me, for they are too strong for me.  Set me free from my prison, that I may praise your name.  Then the righteous will gather around me because of your goodness to me.
Psalm 142: 5-7


A pilar at the Atlanta Dream center filled with quotes of survivors

So how can you be involved with a ministry like this?  The ministry I was a part of is called Wellspring Living.  Another ministry I was able to work with on Friday night and Saturday morning was Out of Darkness.  They are a branch of The Atlanta Dream Center, a rather charismatic church planted in the heart of Atlanta (I got my first oil anointing while there, by the way!).  The staff and workers in that church are passionate about rescuing all prostitutes, whether trafficked or those who chose the life out of desperation.  They are offered a way out and hundreds have been taken off the streets and rehabilitated since the ministry has begun.  On Friday nights one can choose to stay for a worship and prayer time, go out prayer walking in the hub of where the dark practices of prostitution take place, such as strip clubs, brothels, adult shops, Asian massage parlors, and gay/lesbian bars, or be a part of Princess Night, where a small group goes out with roses to tell the prostitutes that they are loved and beautiful, offer prayer, and given a card with a way of escape and rescue out of the life. Some have been known to jump on the van with the women and be taken to a safe house.

One would think that these ministries are very dangerous.  To the rational human being, they are.  To we who have been there, we feel protected by the grace of God.  The ministry has established a presence of love and hope.  The most violent people who are present often are tolerant and sometimes even ask for prayer themselves!  This alone is evidence that God is at work in hearts.

On Saturdays the Out of Darkness ministry goes into communities.  I chose a group that went to the neighborhood where many of the women in the prostitution community live.  We passed out groceries, hygiene items, and cards with a number to call if they wish to get off the streets.  Within an hour a bus will pick them up and take them to a safe house.  They will be given a year to rehabilitate and find a job with skills they obtain while in a safe home.  While we were visiting in this neighborhood I got to pray with and read Scripture with a woman who was having a rough time.  We helped a woman who recently got out of jail to find a way to get her power turned on for her and her two toddlers.  We prayed with a man who just got out of prison and didn't want to get into trouble and go back again.  We prayed over a chronically sick woman in bed.  We loved on multiple children who are a part of a ministry of the Atlanta Dream Center as well.  They are picked up for church every Sunday.

Here are some links to get involved with these ministries: 
atldreamcenter.com/



Here are links to nation-wide ministries that work with international sex-trafficking.

www.polarisproject.org


If you want to know what ministry is located near to your city, try to google it.  If nothing turns up, contact the Atlanta Dream Center.  They have resources that may help you find a group local to you that you can be involved with.

Sex Trafficking is very real.  It happens under our noses every day.  Whenever you watch or look at something pornographic, whenever you sneak into a strip club,  you are contributing to this industry.  If there wasn't demand, there wouldn't be trafficking.  Just to give an indicator of how many people are trafficked in and out of Atlanta alone, I was shown that in the community where much prostitution occurs there is a small airport.  This airport is used to traffic the girls in and out of Atlanta.  There's no telling how many people there turn a blind eye to what is occurring.

These are the orphans we don't think about.  These are girls without families.  They want love, hope, and acceptance.  They are created in the image of God.  The next time you see a lady of the night walking down the sidewalk in your city, don't look at her with disgust.  See her through the eyes of Christ.  The next time you drive by a strip club, massage parlor, or adult store, don't cringe and judge the people inside.  Pray.  Pray for the darkness in that place to be swept away by light.  Pray that one day a church will meet there in that building instead.  Pray for hearts to be turned to truth and for opportunities for those individuals to come to Christ and be healed.

My heart is changed.  If you become involved in this unique ministry, I guarantee that yours will be too.

On the bus to go prayer walking






    


Friday, July 4, 2014

Surgery #4: Centennial Women's and Children's Hospital

We kissed them goodbye.  The remaining nevi on her cheek and neck were the last to go.  The last reminder of what God used to bring her to us were about to disappear forever.  It was a bittersweet moment, knowing our daughter would come out of surgery with only scars to tell her story.  

On July 2nd we woke up early, packed the car, dropped off the boys at Kris' parents' house, and headed to Nashville.  Anna Faith was perfectly behaved, despite the fact she couldn't eat anything, or drink shortly after leaving home.  When we got to the hospital she showed no signs of anxiety and just wanted to play.  We knew she remembered a lot from her past surgeries.  She knew the routine of getting on the scale and getting her ID band put on, getting her vital signs taken, etc.  She did it all with a smile and politely said "thank you" to the nurses.  This was the first time she kind of understood why we were at the hospital.  I asked her about her spots and she could answer "spots go bye bye".  She knew there would be more boo boo's which made her unhappy when I mentioned it.  She remembered the stitches and bandages that bothered her in the past.


With Nikki and Sam Carter who were waiting news on their daughter in surgery
After checking in, we discovered a fellow family on our nevus removal support group Facebook page was next door to us.  We knew ahead of time that their daughter would be getting surgery just before Anna Faith, and were thrilled we could pass the time getting to know each other better and sharing stories about our daughters.  The girls never got to meet since one girl was leaving surgery while the other was going in, but if they ever do meet, we determined they would make great friends!  It is wonderful having people in your life who understand your anxieties, experiences, frustrations and victories.

Anna Faith was taken back to surgery about 1:30, an hour after it was scheduled.  Shortly after they began, a code blue was called in the hospital.  I could barely hear the location, but when it was repeated, my heart returned to my chest as they announced it was in a diagnostic lab, not the Operating Room.  I prayed for the family affected that may have lost a loved one while Anna Faith was safe in surgery. We got an update after an hour telling us the back of her neck and cheek were finished and Dr. Chester was now working on the front of her neck. This turned out to be the shortest surgery she's had, lasting about 2 hours.  We were pleasantly surprised when Dr. Chester came into our holding room to tell us the news: 99% of her nevi were now removed!  She couldn't quite get a couple tiny spots on the front of her neck, but if the incision heals well and makes a pretty scar, she may be able to remove them in her office in several months.  This was wonderful news!
After another half an hour we were told we could come see her in the PACU.  The anesthesiologist gave her medication to help with her anxiety when waking up, since the first two surgeries were rough in recovery for her with anxiety and vomiting. They also gave something for nausea which was very helpful in past surgeries as well.  She was so tired when we found her on the bed we had to wait for her to open her eyes.  She was a little upset and didn't want to be held, but after she was awake enough to go back to her holding room, she drank a little apple juice, was given an iPad to play on, and became calm.  She was still loopy and grumpy for another hour, as you can see in this photo:


We were able to leave the hospital at 5:30 p.m. and had an uneventful ride home.  Anna Faith got hungry and ate a ton of crackers on the way, then drifted to sleep until we got home.  She slept through the night just on a dose of Tylenol and Motrin, and when I woke up, I discovered she had already been fed breakfast by her 4 year old brother, Nathanael.  He was snuggling with her in a chair watching her cartoons when I walked into the living room.  Her brothers are so compassionate to her when she's had surgery.  It won't take long before they start teasing her to make her fuss at them again!

Before surgery #2 to begin removal on anterior neck
Here are the before and after surgery #2 which removed the first part of the cheek and neck and 2 day after surgery #4 photos which finished removal in these areas:  Her neck is looking wonderful already.  Her cheek is covered with steri-strips so we won't be able to see the incision line well until after they wear off.   She had some bleeding through them the first day, but from what we can see, it is a very neatly done incision and should heal beautifully.  I will take her stitches out of her neck in a week after making sure her surgeon is OK with it when I send photos to her.  We don't have to go back to Nashville for a visit until this fall so she can assess what will become of the last couple tiny spots after everything has completely healed and we can see how the scars will look.

before surgery #4 to finish removal







one day post-op 07/03/14


before surgery #2 to begin removal on right cheek
before surgery #4 to complete removal
2 days post-op: no more cheek nevus!
It is hard to believe her journey of nevus removal is probably over!  Her first surgery was 11 months ago, and we were never sure how many surgeries she would need.  She has done amazingly well with pain control and anxiety, especially for a two year old!  We are blessed to have all of these events fall into place: a great surgeon, successful, uncomplicated surgeries, timing of surgeries around the farm's schedule so Kris could come to the hospital with us, good health of our family, good weather, available childcare for the boys, and no bad infections during healing.  We have felt the many prayers from Facebook friends and family who support us and love our Little Lady.  



To the nevus families who were given a child by birth who was created with nevi, you have my admiration and respect.  You are strong in going down a road that you did not know you would be taking until your child was born.  God doesn't have accidents when He weaves our children in our wombs.  He has a special plan, and sometimes it is so hard to trust Him when we can't see the end of the tunnel.  Keep trusting, keep fighting for your child, and keep your hope.

To the nevus families who chose their child with nevi:  You also have my admiration and respect.  You chose this road, because you chose your child(ten) who were rejected by their birth parents, whether out of fear or out of another unknown reason.  You grafted your beautiful child into your family and have loved and prayed them through the removal process.  I understand your hearts, and they are precious in the sight of the Lord for your courageous and loving choice to take this journey with your little one(s).   Our daughter only needed 4 surgeries, yet many others of you have dozens upon dozens of surgeries over the span of several years for your children.  You are so strong, so brave, and so admired.  Keep going and trust the Lord to carry you through.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Gearing up for the next (and last?) removal surgery


 I look at my sweet girl and wonder "what will she look like with no nevi?".  
Her nevi make her "special".  They are what brought her to us.  Without God creating her in this unique way, she would likely be growing up with her birth family in China right now, never known to any of us.  God has a special plan for her to be grafted into our family, and He used the nevi He created on her body as a way to do that.  Now the last of her "spots" will be removed, forever erased, just leaving some scars and memories.  I'm not saying that I'm regretting making this decision for removal.  We certainly don't want her to develop skin cancer in adulthood or subject her to discrimination and bullying for choosing for her to look different than her peers (she'll go through enough of that by being Chinese!). She will still be the same girl we fell in love with when we saw her photos for the first time September, 2012.  She will still leave her mark on this world whether she looks different or not, because we are convinced that God has great things in store for our amazing Little Lady!
swimming in our pool
  I look forward to telling her stories of how she played with her knobs on her head when she was tired, ritually scratched her neck nevus when she woke up every morning, and first enjoyed my picking dirt out of the wrinkles on her cheek nevus as if I was relieving an itch that had been there for months.  When she asks about what people thought of her I will tell her stories of how those who love her never noticed them (they would even mention that fact on occasion) but strangers would ask the most ignorant questions sometimes that made me laugh after they left.  It will give me opportunities to share with her about how beauty is skin deep.  You know if someone cares about you if they look past what the world defines as beautiful and still love you for who you are.  Whenever she brings it up, I will always assure her that we (her forever family and true friends) have loved her just as much with her nevi as without them.   I hope she may carry this as part of her testimony of the wonderful grace that Jesus extends to all of us.  It is greater than any blemish, scar, or burden we bear in this life.  All we have to do is lay it at His feet, trust in His saving power through the cross, and then live a life free of guilt, fear, or insecurity.

Blueberry picking
Here are our plans for surgery #4: We will travel early in the morning to Nashville on Wednesday, July 2nd with a goal of returning late in the evening.  Surgery is scheduled for 12:30, just like with surgery #3.  Hopefully there will be less of a delay than last time, and we won't be the last ones to leave the outpatient department when it's over.  Dr. Chester, her plastic surgeon, plans to removed the second half of the nevus on the front of her neck, the remaining nevus on her cheek, and scrape the last couple tiny spots on the back of her neck as well.  If she is successful, this will be her last removal surgery!  This doesn't mean we are without the possibility of needing scar revision in the future.  I have seen many stories of children who, as they grow, scars become more noticeable on their faces and need some tweaking.  This may be years down the road, so we aren't too concerned for now.
This summer our Little Lady will turn 3 years old.  At that point, half of her life will have been spent in the orphanage and half with us.  I love the thought that pretty soon we will get to say she's been with us longer!

Camping at Reelfoot Lake
Recently we have received information to work with medical missions trips to China to help compile and add important, updated information for adoptable children in the orphanages there.  It is though Lifeline Children's Services, the agency we used to get Anna Faith.  They only go every 2 or so months, so timing it around the farm's schedule is pretty tricky.  However, I would love to go at some point next year using my abilities as a RN to assist physicians and therapists in helping families get important medical and developmental information with photos and videos of their children who are waiting to be adopted.  If you are interested in going on one of these trips, you do not need to be a medical professional.  They need people to take photos and help play with the kids as well!  If interested, check it out on their website http://lifelinechild.org.  It looks like an amazing, rewarding opportunity.  When I was attending their informational webinar, Kris told me to ask them "What if a volunteer is in the process of adopting again?  Can they still go?" I LOVE thinking about that. My heart is once again feeling the pull more and more these days....but it's still just thoughts, dreams, and prayers at this point.   In the meantime, I'm trying to keep my sanity intact as a "no drama mama" and enjoy these four wildflowers God has already given us!  Yes, we are still open to adopt again, and until God permanently closes that door, our hearts will be ready for whoever He wants to graft into our family next!

Please be in prayer for Anna Faith and our family July 2nd.  Pray we won't be disappointed if all the nevi can't be removed as planned.  Pray Anna Faith will be free from nausea and pain when she wakes out of anesthesia (we would love a repeat of surgery #3's effects), and pray that we will have peace as we wait.  Waiting for hours in that tiny holding room by ourselves is so hard!  Thanks so much!



Thursday, March 6, 2014

Surgery #3: Centennial Women and Children's Hospital

The simple act of combing my daughter's hair without navigating around nevi....I've been waiting for this moment for over a year!  She has really rocked the "pebbles" hair style on top of her head, which covered her last large raised spot which is the width of a quarter, but we were restricted to that and wearing a hat thus far.
Waiting to go back for surgery
 This surgery day started differently than the first two.  We didn't have to drive in the night before and stay at a hotel, because she wasn't scheduled to begin until 1:30.  We decided to drive in early in the morning, but when another winter storm struck on Sunday, three days earlier, we became concerned when two days later the ice had still not been removed from the roads around us.  Fortunately, we still decided to go and leave an extra 1 1/2 hours to drive slowly.  Since it got so cold the night before, when we left at 7:45 a.m. everything was frozen on the roads.  It made it a bumpy, slow drive, but we never got stuck or slid around.  About an hour into our 4 hour drive the roads cleared and we arrived 45 minutes early!
Check-in went very smoothly this time, and before long we were just playing the waiting game to let Anna Faith go to surgery.  She never acted nervous or antsy once.  We felt for her not being able to eat since the night before and only getting apple juice early in the morning.  She cried quietly in the car for a while, and we wondered if she wasn't feeling good because of her empty stomach.  In the hospital she forgot about her hunger and just enjoyed playing on our laps and getting lots of attention from the medical staff who came and went.
Versed makes her so goofy!

Not a care in the world with this medicine in her system

At 1:45 it was time to get her.  The nurse had already brought her versed to make her relaxed and groggy, so she was laying in my lap with a glazed goofy look on her face when they asked us to put her on the bed to roll away.  She never protested or whimpered.  She just looked at us and we kissed her goodbye.  An hour later we were told her scalp nevi were removed and Dr. Chester was starting on the back of her neck.  This took another hour of waiting.  Finally Dr. Chester appeared in our room detailing us on the surgery.  Anna Faith did very well, and she was able to get almost all of the spots behind her neck!  She ended up excising the larger clumps and stitched it up, but scraped the smaller scattered spots around it.  This resulted in lots of open, shallow wounds.  We will need to keep them moist and put antibiotic ointment on them every day.  We then discussed her next surgery.  When I asked if it would be her last, Dr. Chester looked at me with a smile and showed me her crossed fingers :-).  She won't give me her word, but I want to be optimistic that we only have one to go!  In two weeks I will remove her stitches myself and email pictures to Dr. Chester so we don't have to travel to Nashville again.  The rest of her cheek and nevi under her chin may be completely removed this summer.  She can get surgery #4 as early as June, but Dr. Chester suggested we wait until the end of the summer so she can enjoy swimming and being outside.  After surgery she would have to be away from outdoor or pool activities for 3 weeks.  This is a tough decision since we want her surgeries to be completed soon, and Kris' work on the farm complicates things too (surgery in the fall isn't an option).   God's timing is best, so we trust that He knows what's best for her and will allow a date to open up that is perfect.  We will get it scheduled within the next couple weeks.
This time she took a while to wake up postoperatively, but when she did, she never cried.  She sat quietly in her bed and looked at the nurses until we came to see her in recovery.  It was so different from what she did the first two times that I wondered if she was OK.  She was so calm and peaceful, and didn't even reach for us until we offered to pick her up.  We went back to our room where she drank some gatorade and she rested in Kris' arms.  She never threw up!  Because her IV was in her foot this time, she didn't even notice it was there until it was taken out.  What a blessing since the other times she really got upset about the splint on her arm restricting her movement.  About an hour after we went to our holding room, our nurse came in to discharge us!  This was by far the fastest discharge we've had, but since she was doing so well, we didn't complain.  Because the surgery was so late in the day, we were the last ones to leave the outpatient surgery area by a couple hours.  It was 6:15 p.m. when we were wheeled out.  Soon after leaving, she asked to eat.  I cautiously gave her some animal crackers one by one, hoping she wouldn't throw them up.  She ate the whole snack bag, then wanted more food!  She ended up eating gummy treats, two pieces of bread, and after getting home, a thick slice of banana bread before going to bed.  That has never happened on a surgery day before either.  The anti-nausea medicine they gave her this time was definitely the way to go!  When we got home, the snow/ice in our driveway was a deep, mushy mess.  We got stuck, and Kris had to find a pick-up on the farm to get us the rest of the way to the house and pick up his mom who was waiting at our house while the boys were sleeping.  It was a reminder that God was protecting our travels right up to our return home.
Anna Faith slept well the first night and woke up with a smile.  She has only needed a dose of Motrin and she's as happy as can be playing with toys and chasing around her brothers.  I put her hair in a ponytail to keep hair out of her neck wounds which go to the hairline behind her head.  She loved looking at it in the mirror and giggled.  I can't wait to play with her hair after her stitches come out!  We're going to have so much fun!
Day after surgery, getting pampered by Nathanael
Posterior neck before
Posterior neck 2 days after.  There are a couple tiny spots left that will be scraped during the next surgery
Scalp before first excision, August 12th 2013
Scalp after 1st excision
Scalp 2 days after 2nd excision- all gone!

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Orphanage visits, Chinese New Year and Celebrating One Year!

Winter is always the most action-packed time of the year for our family.  We do almost all of our traveling away from home, fun family activities, and meals with friends in the winter when Kris' work hours usually end at dinner time.  This winter has been no exception!  Kris and Micah spent 9 days away in December on a missions trip to Taiwan, and I was away with Josiah to Honduras from February 10-21.  Anna Faith did really well being separated from us, although she did have a harder time sleeping through the night while I was away.  Both Kris and I were able to spend part of our time abroad with our two older boys loving on orphans in local orphanages.  Every baby and toddler we held and hugged on melted our hearts.  I couldn't help but think about how before getting our daughter I prayed every day for someone to show her love that day, and how I could have been the answer to a parent's prayer every minute I spent with those precious children.  They are the "least of these" that Jesus refers to in Matthew 25:40.  Let us never forget these children while the bureaucracy of governments too selfish to have compassion on the fatherless in their country restricts them from being adopted into loving families.  I only posted Taiwanese photos because of the privacy restrictions of the Honduran orphanage I visited.
Babies at a Taiwanese orphanage

The way the system works in Taiwan, all the kids in this orphanage will never be adopted

Precious Taiwanese babies

Anna Faith got to celebrate her first Chinese New Year as a part of our family this year, and we also had the added blessing of celebrating with our Chinese Adoptive Community in our region.  We are the newest family to join by about 4 years, so the families of older children were thrilled to meet a "little" Chinese girl again.  She felt so comfortable around everyone to the point that she ran off to play with the older girls and her brothers and wasn't seen for long periods of time during the evening. We are blessed to have a group to support us, share common stories of God's blessing with, and have living nearby for Anna Faith to grow up with.
Our Chinese New Year Celebration with our new Chinese family friends
Celebrating the New Year with our family


The adoptive kids who made it to this year's celebration

Anna Faith with new friends

A very special day was celebrated this week:  Anna Faith's "Gotcha" anniversary!  Since everyone is familiar with the term "Gotcha Day" we are using it, but we like "Family Day" as well.  Since she had a big celebration on her 2nd Birthday last August, we kept this year's anniversary low-key.  I made a red velvet cake and sketched a map of China, highlighting Nanping city, where she spent her first 18 months of life in an orphanage.  We are not sure she was born in Nanping, but it is very likely she was born in the city or in a rural surrounding area.  She loved her cake, but even more so, the attention and flashing camera!  I made four heart cakes, one for each child, for them to enjoy to also feel special.  We don't want to make our boys feel any less special because they only have one party a year for their birthdays, so will always try to incorporate our entire family every February 24th.
It's hard to believe a year has passed.  It often seems like she's been in our family all along, yet other times I still look at her and can't believe she's here.
Anna Faith's 1 year cake!

Proud as can be of her cake!   We sang to her too.

First time wearing this Chinese outfit we bought in China for her

yummy cake!

In five days we return to Centennial Women and Children's Hospital for her third surgery.  It never gets easier emotionally, but at least we know what to expect after two rounds of nevus removal.  This time she will have the remaining nevi on her scalp removed and Dr. Chester will begin work on the patches on the back of her neck.  She is unsure that she can remove everything behind the neck in one surgery, so we may be looking at a total of 5 surgeries after all.  We will know after this surgery is finished.  This will be the last time she will have to wear a turban on her head for a couple days, and the last time I have to deal with catching stitches in a comb!  I am the most excited about finally getting to run a brush though her hair without obstacles.  It is a simple act we all do with our children after they bathe and get ready each morning, but with Anna Faith the last year has been a small challenge every day.  To be able to finally put her hair in pigtails, a pony tail, and even easily comb up her trademark "Pebbles" tuft on top of her head has been something I've been patiently waiting on for over a year now.  She has also had a lot of dryness in those spots this winter and I know it will be more comfortable to no longer deal with cracking, itchy spots when they are removed.

Thanks again for your prayers.  I feel like a broken record every time I end posts with this statement, but you have no idea what a difference your prayers make.  The peace we feel each time we let go of her little hand and kiss her cheek for the last time before she is carried in to the Operating Room is a result of your intercession for our family.  She is entrusted to the human hands that cut and stitch her body, but even more so she is entrusted into the sovereign hands of her Creator who gave her to us.
Surgery will begin around 12:30 p.m. (or likely later than scheduled) so updates will come in the afternoon next Wednesday (March 5th).

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Catching up...Christmas Memories


First Thanksgiving- one week post-op from surgery #2
It has been two months since my last post!  We don't have any major news to share, but want to record some special memories and milestones made with our Little Lady.
Anna Faith had a wonderful first Christmas.  She was mesmerized by the lights and sparkle of decorations, and would delicately touch ornaments on the tree like they were each little treasures.  She helped us decorate and her favorite phrase while we were doing it was "Oooo, that pretty!"
We made so many special memories at Christmas time.  Here are a few of the highlights:
First Christmas program at church!
Their first night in matching Christmas pj's, but Anna Faith wanted to go to bed!

Much better photo on Christmas morning- man, were they excited!

Loving her presents, and the chocolate from her stocking was yummy!

Happy with her very own carry on bag
Our little eskimo :-)

First time in the snow, in Michigan

She loves going downhill on sleds and throwing snow!

Making Christmas cookies with friends at our house
Sharing in our church about what Christmas means to our family.  Such a special memory!

Ready for Basketball season, making Daddy proud
Christmas with family...Grandpa VanKampen was happy to get his hands on her again!

Sitting with her Great Grandma Breuker in Holland, Michigan

At the Ripley's Aquarium in Gatlinburg on the way to South Carolina- she loved the fish!

"I on a TRAIN!"...incline railroad to Lookout Mountain in Chattanooga, TN

At Ruby Falls- very amazing what God has made!

On top of Lookout Mountain- it was COLD!
With the VanKampens
Finally meeting Aunt Cathy!
With her new baby stroller from Grandma and Grandpa
In her Chinese Dress at the tree before it came down.
Anna Faith travelled like a pro.  After spending Christmas Day at home and with Kris' family, we drove about 35 hours in the car over a 9 day period, going north and then far south.  She talked to relatives she never met and played with lots of her second cousins in Michigan, and in South Carolina enjoyed the company of her Grandparents, aunt, uncles and cousins.  She was showered with lots of new girly toys, clothes, and accessories!

This Friday we have our 1 year post-adoptive social worker visit.  It is a month until we are at the one year gotcha anniversary, but this leaves our social worker a month to write up the report to send to China.  We are still about 7 weeks away from surgery #3.  I can't wait to be able to run a comb through her hair easily and give her pig tails!  The only way to fix her hair now is to put a stick-strait-up clump of hair with a bow on top of her hair, covering the remaining nevus.

Little Lady is talking much more clearly these last two months than before.  The jabber she used to use is finally making sense!  She uses short sentences to talk to us and can make her requests clearer than before.  The terrific two's are well underway as well: she is exercising her opinion quite often, and yells "no!" frequently.  When we gently scold her about her attitude, she cries huge tears as if we broke her heart.  Temper tantrums aren't an issue....at least not yet!  She quickly gets over her fits, which is a nice relief after raising her next older brother who had a very hard time with tantrums at two years old (can we say one hour of screaming?!).  

An update on her tummy troubles is that it is slowly resolving itself!  We are giving her probiotic yogurt every day and have increased her rice intake.  Her loose stools are getting more and more normal every month.  We even cancelled her follow up GI appointment to repeat tests, because we didn't see the point in it.  We are so glad she doesn't seem to have a bowel disease or allergy problem. Thanks so much for the prayers on her behalf.  It is great not having to change her clothes (and sometimes ours!) several days a week when she would have an explosive diaper.

She is in a big girl bed now, but still stays in bed until someone comes in her room to turn on the light.  Then she happily climbs out with a big smile.  She is still into drawing, wearing jewelry, getting her nails painted, playing with dolls, and dancing and singing to music.  She can sing Twinkle Twinkle Little Star in its entirety and Jesus Loves Me fairly well too.  It is so fun listening to her express herself in a very girly way and love life.

It is hard to believe she has been an official part of our family for 11 months now!  We are looking forward to celebrating Chinese New Year with her and other adoptive families soon, and having a special one year Gotcha celebration next month!

When I hear tragic stories about Russia (last year), then the Congo and now Ethiopia starting to close their doors to adoption, leaving many waiting families wondering what the outcome will be, I can't help but feel more blessed that our process to adopt Anna Faith was almost completely predictable and smooth.  My heart goes out to those families that spent Christmas without their children who still wait in orphanages around the world.  Orphans around the world need our help and support now more than ever in this corrupt and sin-saturated world.  Please find every opportunity to pray for, give to, and go to them to show them love that they rarely see in the four walls they are confined to.  And even better, if God is whispering to your heart to adopt, don't fear the unknown, but follow His leading.  You will never regret it!