Our Journey to Willow
It's been said that all adoption journeys begin out of loss, but this verse brings me great Hope.
"...he will give you a crown of beauty for ashes, a joyous blessing instead of mourning, festive praise instead of despair. " -Isaiah 61:3
Our story brings me so much JOY and we are just in the beginning. I could probably write a novel and I'm typically not one to go into lengthy detail but for the sake of remembering all the details and highlighting parts of this journey, it's important to me. Maybe God has already opened the door of adoption for your family or maybe your just curious how we got here. Either way, I'm humbled you want to listen to our story. Here it is.
In September of 2015, Tyler and I started discussing adoption on a more serious level. Prior to that it would come up in very casual conversation. We were not on the same page at first. It took time, prayer and a series of events where God just kept opening the door wider and wider. There is no other explanation than God's divine intervention in all of this because Tyler was a firm no when I initially went to him about adopting a child. Not to mention some of the other decisions we made later in the process that I'll discuss more in a bit. Tyler knew it was possible that he could love another child that wasn't biologically his own but he had other concerns. Libby was not even ONE yet and we had finally got our girl after 2 boys. We were still very much enjoying keeping Libby as the baby. Everything was smooth sailing, why rock the boat?? It was more of, lets stay where we are comfortable, our hands are very full as it is. Of course I couldn't disagree with all of those thoughts he had but I felt something so deep within me that adoption was right for our family. That we had a daughter waiting on us and I also felt it was from another country. However, Tyler and I had to be on the same page and we definitely were not at that point. Even though that was the case at that time, I couldn't conceal how I was feeling about adoption and I had to express those feelings with him.
I probably over did it (actually I know I did) and I talked about it non-stop. I quickly figured out and after much advice from others too that I had to just be patient and wait. And most importantly, I had to pray. I had to pray that God would open Tyler's heart to adoption or pray that God would shut the door. So we agreed to talk about it a lot less and pray more. As time went on God proved to be showing us both (Tyler especially) that adoption might just be what we are called to do. Seriously we would laugh at times or just be in total awe how God was working in both of us. He placed people in our paths at just the right time, sermons, songs, information and countless events that kept making this decision more and more clear. We both knew that if it was God's will, it would happen in God's timing not ours. As hard as that is to except...especially since my Yes was on the table before Tyler's was, I had to just have FAITH. Plain and Simple.
In January of 2016, God gave me the name Willow. I was literally just home one day and that name came to me out of nowhere. I instantly looked up a Willow tree and the meaning (because I look everything up) haha...and it gave me chills. I knew what a Willow tree looked like. Something like you see in this image, is what came to mind.
It was the description of the Willow tree, that really got me. First off, its native to China but they are found in many other regions of the world today (including the United States). They are very feminine, pretty and most of all they are extremely strong as they can withstand harsh weather conditions. The branches can bend a great deal and not break. After reading this, I knew our daughters name would be Willow. It was perfect. A beautiful little girl, from China coming to her forever home in the States but leaving everything she has ever known and going through major changes and seasons of life. It would most likely be hard on her but she would be strong as she has already been so brave in the life she has lived so far. I can't imagine what it would be like not having a forever family, especially in those very early years when human touch, love, and nurturing is so crucial in every way.
Once I knew her name, I thought about our daughter, Willow all the time. I wondered if she was born yet and so many other curious thoughts about her ran through my head. I truly longed for her in the same way I longed for each of my biological kids. Even though Tyler had still not committed, I just knew in my heart that eventually this would happen. I also tried to prepare myself in case I was wrong about what God was was trying to tell me. Maybe our support of Adoption was suppose to be through another way versus our family actually adopting. I hoped I wasn't wrong because I felt it so deep inside my bones that our family would adopt, so I just kept praying.
I started really doing my research on all aspects of of the adoption process, talking to several adoptive mamas, joining several boards on facebook. I completely immersed myself in every way that I could to learn more, ask questions, get real perspectives from other families and the list goes on. I would share most of what I learned or read with Tyler. It was no secret at all what I was doing and he listened and asked more questions but he still wasn't ready to say yes. I felt like we were trying to control too much of the process instead of just letting God work and then being obedient to whatever God told us to do. God would work out all the details that we discussed so many times over and over again such as what age, what special needs are we open to, what country, and so on.
In February I was talking to a particular adoption agency and felt the urge to ask them specifically about children with Down Syndrome. I had always been drawn to that special need but didn't know exactly what that meant for me or what it meant specifically for our family. I do know I had a very profound moment in 2010 when I felt God speak to me about down syndrome and how it would be part of my life at some point. It was such special moment that I shared it with several family members after it happened. So when I asked the agency about it back in February of this year, she gave me the name of a mom I should contact whom could shed more light on that what its like raising a child with down syndrome. At the time, I felt it might be too soon to reach out to her but I continued to explore that special need even more on my own. I then found Reece's Rainbow and Oh My Word! All those precious faces of children needing a forever family to say Yes to them. Reece's Rainbow is incredible because they serve as a voice of hope for these children around the world. Down syndrome is not a disease. It's an extra chromosome of love placed Perfectly by our heavenly Father with intention and purpose. If you have ever met someone with down syndrome or have a personal experience or relationship with someone who has ds, you know this to be true already. I also found a website called No Hands But Ours and it has been invaluable to me as well. At the top of their website it says,
Replacing Fear with Knowledge
Replacing Isolation with Community
Replacing Defeat with Hope
It's important I mention some of these key resources, as it might help you as well. If it could possibly help just 1 person, then thats awesome.
I also learned that in China specifically, over 25% of orphans have down syndrome. They were considered the "least of these" and it actually wasn't until a few years ago that they even started preparing files for children with down syndrome (ds)s. They were deemed "un-adoptable" and sent to an institution for the rest of their life. Isn't that awful?
I had not shared with Tyler yet that my heart was being pulled towards down syndrome because I was afraid to I guess. I didn't share it with anyone. All along, we had talked about getting a child younger than Libby that had a more minor need. So I kind of suppressed that desire and didn't want to freak Tyler out and him think I had gone crazy. And I'm saying that because I'm sure several readers might think the same exact thing. Why would we choose that? But in my heart, I didn't feel like we were choosing. God was choosing us to be Willow's parents.
In June of 2016, I shared a link about a father's perspective on raising a child with down syndrome and I emailed it to Tyler while he was at work. I didn't even know if he would read it. Here is the link. It's definitely worth reading.
Tyler came home from work that day and was like, Don't ever send me something like that while I'm at work. I thought, OH NO....I took it to far. He then went on to say he had to shut his office door, because he was crying and just couldn't keep it together. Well anyone that knows Tyler, knows he has a very sensitive and loving heart so that didn't surprise me. I'm not sure why I was so hesitant to share this desire I had specifically about down syndrome. Tyler has been working with kids and adults with special needs since he was a kid himself. His passion and love for them runs deep. It's like we were both on the same page but scared to tell the other person and commit to something that is so unknown to us. Even with Tyler's experience, it is still way out of our comfort zone. At least in this part of the process, it still sounded a bit scary to actually take on.
We went out to dinner that same day he read the article. He told me in the car, that he always felt like he would have a child with special needs and he felt like that article was written for him. That it opened his eyes to the beauty of not only adoption but adopting a child with down syndrome. We both cried. We talked about what a huge blessing it would be but also what all the struggles might be like as well. There's such a huge spectrum with down syndrome, so there isn't a guide with all the answers. Just like with any of our biological kids now, they are very different. Each special and unique with their own strengths and things that are more challenging for them.
I was already apart of a down syndrome adoption group on facebook and the families on there are just so incredible. I asked every question you could think of. I starting sharing with Tyler more information on it. I reached out to parents nearby in our area and the community as a whole was just so supportive. Everyone I talked to. It wasn't all butterflies and rainbows either, there would for sure be some challenges in our future. What exactly would those be? There is no way to know. At this point, we were just praying our hearts out and trying to decide whether or not adopting a child with down syndrome was what God was calling us to do. We wanted to be 100% clear. So we prayed and prayed and prayed some more.
We took a short trip to Galveston in July and God was totally in the details of all that as well. On a sunday morning, we were the first ones out to the pool. Soon after, another family had joined us. Their son had down syndrome and he was 19 years old. He went down the slide over and over with our boys and smiled so big each time. You just couldn't help but smile watching him. Tyler took that opportunity to introduce himself to the dad. They discussed many things but started talking about down syndrome and Tyler told him that we were seriously discussing adopting a child with ds. My heart was just beaming because I knew God was at work in those very moments. We had the entire pool all to ourselves except with one other family who could give us such invaluable insight. God was opening this door for us even more and showing us that it's okay to walk through. A door that at first sounded really scary but God kept giving us more assurance and peace that we were on the right path. We so desperately wanted to follow God's will and not our own. I knew in my heart that whatever that specific plan was, we could handle it. Day by day, he would get us through the ups and downs of the biggest journey we were about to embark on.
With down syndrome now being on the forefront of our adoption discussions, there were more options to consider. There were other countries we could adopt from that didn't normally let you adopt younger children unless they had a more serious special need and down syndrome fell into that category. I even looked into domestically adopting a child with down syndrome and believe or not, there is a wait list here in the states. All of this to say, we felt called to go where there was a great need and that took us back to China.
On July 19th, I was scrolling through facebook. I was really just scanning through, not looking for anything specific and I saw this sweet girl. I stopped quickly and read about her. The only reason I had even seen her picture was because another mom who had adopted from the same orphanage that she is in, shared this little girl to the down syndrome adoption facebook group that I had been apart of for awhile. All I could think as I starred at her picture was, That's Willow! Tears were streaming down my face. I really can't explain what I felt inside. On the description of her, it read this.
On the bus rides and at the indoor amusement park. She is the sweetest little girl with the cutest smile, and is so easy to take care of since she's so easygoing. She sometimes likes to carry, or more like hug, a ball in her arms. She also loves to be carried and hugged. On the bus she loved to stand up on my lap while I held her, look out the window, and look at all the kids playing around her too. She is very observant. On the bus rides, when I put in my earbuds in to listen to music while she sat on my lap, she would look back at me and we'd play a little game. She would pull one of the earbuds out of my ears and then reach up to put it back in my ear. She's such a sweet baby and it was great to spend time with her.
I instantly tried to find out more about her. I messaged and emailed several different people that day hoping for a quick reply but I didn't get one. (Sigh)
I wondered...maybe someone has already spoke up for her? I wondered what other special needs did she have because about 50% of children with down syndrome also have a heart condition. Not to mention, Tyler was about to leave for Africa on a mission trip in 2 days. Would I tell him before he leaves, or wait? I really didn't know what to do and part of me was like, there's no way this will work out. We haven't even started our homestudy yet (which is the first step of the adoption process) and Tyler and I hadn't discussed with 100% certainty that down syndrome was the plan for us even though we were becoming more and more comfortable with it by each day.
On July 21st, that morning, I finally got a response from the agency with her medical file and a short video of her. Everything appeared good and that she had no other special needs that they were aware of. Her birthday was January 2nd, 2014. Actually that's when they estimate her birthday to be. Her file stated that she was left outside of a police station in a box on March 3rd, 2014 and they thought she was about 2 months old. So she was actually older than Libby by about 9 months. We had initially only said we would stay in birth order but again God was showing us that this isn't all going to work out how we plan it. Its his plan not ours.
I couldn't contain my excitement about her. I told Tyler that morning I received her information. I felt so strongly about her and that I believed she was Willow. Tyler didn't jump on board or immediately feel what I felt. He looked at her pictures and video and agreed to pray about her while he was in Africa.
This was a huge test of patience and faith for me because I had just shared something so huge with him and now we weren't even going to see each other for the next 10 days. I kept thinking, we would miss out on this opportunity and someone would speak up for this sweet girl before us. But I also didn't want to rush the decision and put that pressure on Tyler.
It took him a couple days to arrive to Zambia and after the first evening there, he called me. He told me that the weather is was beautiful and they just ate dinner outside. Also that they had the most beautiful trees there with these huge canopies. So naturally, after our phone call, I googled (remember I research everything :) to see what kind of trees he might be describing.
I was totally surprised to see that Willow trees grow in Africa, they are actually extremely popular there which I had no idea. I screenshot the picture I found and sent it over to Tyler. I said, is this the tree you are speaking of? His response...YES!!!!
I said, That's a Willow tree babe.
By no means was that when Tyler realized that this little girl was ours, but it certainly got our attention. God loves to work in the details. We often notice him in all the BIG blessings around us but he is everywhere in the tiniest of details too. Sometimes we overlook them or take them for granted but this one we didn't.
While Tyler was gone, I was so thankful to receive more pictures, videos and information on her. She is in an orphanage but more like foster care called Alenah's home. It's a very nice place and she appears to be very loved and doing well. Alenah’s Home provides temporary foster care for orphans from different welfare homes and institutions throughout China. As of March 2015, 26 children are living in the home, each receiving individualized medical care, rehabilitation, and special education.
The more I learned about Alenah's home from other families whom had adopted from there, I was so incredibly thankful this precious girl we were so drawn to was there. Each day, I was falling harder and harder for her. I prayed that if she was ours for God to make it so incredibly clear to BOTH of us. I knew if she was, she would be waiting when Tyler returned from Africa. And then once Tyler returned, we would still have a lot to discuss. So I prayed my heart out and I started telling close friends and family about her that I knew would step along side us and pray as well. The power of prayer is just incredible.
Tyler returned home and the very next day on August 1st, we had a conference call with an international adoption specialist to discuss her medical file. I was excited that Tyler wanted to be on the call with us and I'm so glad he did. The adoption specialist's exact words was, This is the best file for a child with down syndrome that I've ever seen! There was a lot more that we discussed on the phone call, but over all the news was glowing and both Tyler and I were moving a step closer to saying Yes. Even though her medical report looks good and her heart appears to be healthy based on a recent echo she had, there still could be medical findings when we bring her home. You have to prepare for the worst and hope for the best.
On August 8th, exactly one week later, Tyler and I went on a last minute date with each other. He admitted that as much as he tried to convince himself that this wasn't the right time, God made it extremely clear that it was. He said at church that morning, he had this overwhelming peace with the decision to say yes. He hadn't told me yet that, he was waiting to tell me at our dinner date. He bought the sweetest card and actually gave it to me in the car after dinner. My hands were trembling as I read it. On the card it read,
First she was a dream in your hearts, put there by GOD.
Now she's the miracle you will hold in your arms.
Forever she'll be the love of your lives and change our lives forever.
There were so many more heart felt words inside the card and my heart was just swelling with Joy as I was reading every word. Trying to just wrap my head around the journey we were about to take. In that moment, we had decided that our actions would soon change the make up of our family.
At the end of the card, it read,
Now let's go get our daughter Willow!
Since that evening on August 8th, its been an absolute whirlwind. The next day we started paperwork for the homestudy. We sent in our Letter of Intent for her so that we could quickly get her file locked for our family. I can't even tell you how many forms, questions and documents there are. We are moving full speed ahead and bound and determined to bring her home in record time. The excitement in Tyler and how each day he is doing everything he can to help get this process one step further has been so heartwarming. It's also been stressful and there have already been bumps but it's SO worth it. We know it will all work out. We have complete Faith in this process and in our Almighty GOD. Our faith brought us to Willow and it why Willow's middle name is Faith. It seemed like the best word to describe this journey. We know she will bring so much JOY to our lives as we get the opportunity to love her each day. To be by her side through it all and give her the forever family she deserves. She may live with us forever and that's okay. We will encourage her to reach her dreams and will not put any limitations on her. We know without any shadow of a doubt that the blessings will far outweigh the struggles. That has been a consistent truth that every family who has already walked before us has shared.
The kids are SUPER Excited!!!! We have been discussing adoption with them for awhile. God has been preparing their hearts too and they have already turned into such compassionate kiddos. I can only imagine how much that will grow once they have a sister at home with special needs. We have explained it to them as well as you can to children their age. They talk about her all the time and are just counting down the days till she is home. Libby obviously can't comprehend what adoption is at her age but she knows who Willow is. Anytime she sees a picture or video of Willow, she says her name. She kisses my phone and says, Hold You. Its the sweetest thing ever.
We will continue to talk about Willow each day. In everything we do, we wish she was with us. We long for her, to hold her, to love on her and for her to be apart of our family. She has been growing in our hearts all along and God has been working in all of us to prepare for this. We absolutely cannot wait!
The love and support we have experienced through this process so far is incredible. From the church, to our kids school, from family and our friends, we are very blessed. You know who you are, Thank you from the bottom of our hearts for listening, praying, and loving us through this journey. This journey is not about us, its only about HIM. God called us to adoption, therefore Im humbled to share what his love for us is doing through our family. It changes you from the inside out and things you thought you were not capable of, are all possible through Christ our Savior. I hope this encourages you to say Yes to God. Whatever it might be that he has laid upon your heart. Don't let Fear (because we easily could have) allow you to miss out on one of the biggest blessings of your life.
Goodness, we love her so much already! We are coming for you baby girl!
"By this all men will know if you are my disciples if you love one another. " John 13:35