Part 7: ONE OF H1S ABUNDANCE STORIES
ONE OF H1S ABUNDANCE STORIES
One of H1S is a 10-week series telling the Sage Harvest story of how two became ten ... and a jerky store.
Even though we were thriving by the grace of God under the circumstances of a cross-country move and a surprise deployment, we knew the pace our family was keeping was just not sustainable.
With all our medical needs and little kid germs, we were frequent flyers at the local Urgent Care (we even had friends returning family photo albums and personal items that they would find in the waiting rooms all over Southern Pines — rooms we had repurposed into our living room), and, when Zeph’s brain shunt threatened to fail, we traveled to the emergency room as a pack of six.
We knew D.C. Williams had another deployment scheduled immediately following his return from this surprise three-month deployment and several out-of-state training events on the calendar in between. We were burning it down both personally and professionally, and the five kiddos in our home were paying the price.
We found ourselves making decisions about whether it was better for him to just not come home at all if he had only one or two days between training events, because it toyed so much with the emotions of the kids. By this point, Avy was referring to the iPad as “Dada” because Facetime was nearly the only time we spent with D.C., “flat daddy” showed up for more holidays than 3D daddy and Salem once asked, “When Daddy comes to visit, where will he stay? In the guest room?”
These were all crushing blows to D.C., who had a warrior spirit, a call to serve but also a deep love for and sense of commitment to us.
At every opportunity, this family man did everything possible to prioritize us.
During one of these out-of-state training events, D.C.’s boss gave him the option of either completing the training event or flying home to soak in a few extra days with the family before he departed on the next deployment.
He, in a move that didn’t earn him any points at work, flew home.
As he walked in the door, he pulled me in for a hug and said, “I don’t often get the chance to choose between you and the Army, but, when given a choice, I will choose you every single time."
He worked hard to choose us. He wanted to choose us. But given the importance and nature of this military life, he was hardly ever given an option to choose us.
Serving his country when they called was non-negotiable.
So, during his time away, we held some hard conversations about what was next.
“Baby, the Army is like a large ship,” he told me. “In order for us to change our course a year out, we needed to make some big decisions now.”
We would still need to complete the scheduled deployments, and we would still need to honorably finish out our time in this job, but if we started pumping the breaks early, we could create space to focus on our family in the future.
Though I was exhausted and longing for this man I loved at home more than anything in the world, I never pushed him to make a decision about his career. I knew his talent and character and integrity and heart, and I knew that he was making a significant difference serving in the position he had worked so hard to obtain. It was his dream job, one that had taken years to work up to, and seeing my barrel-chested freedom fighter do what God had gifted him in so many ways to do made my own heart nearly burst.
But he also knew the cost to his dream was great, and with five kiddos at home, one who was turning 1 without a daddy in her life and more upcoming deployments on the calendar, he just couldn’t reconcile all this dream job asked of us.
At the end of the day, the view to this mountaintop was not going to be worth the climb.
He might be looking down on a broken family.
And so he made the gut-wrenchingly difficult decision to step away.
“The only thing harder than getting this job,” he told me on his last day, “was walking away from it.”
I just hated to see him lose something that was so important to him, something he’d worked for so many long years to obtain, but we both knew our family needed time to recover and reconnect.
So, when Avy was 1 ½, he moved to a non-deployable job that would keep him walking through our door in the evenings for the next two years.
It was there that we found ourselves in a new season we had never experienced — a season of total abundance.
It was the first time in a decade of marriage we were living under one roof with not one deployment looming. I had grown the richest and truest friendships, I had a husband who came home every night and we lived in and were embraced by the sweetest little storybook town.
Financially, we were recovering from three back-to-back adoptions. Geographically, we were medically rich with two children’s hospitals just a little more than an hour away from us. We were working through medical issues with children who were still healing and catching up, but everything seemed so accessible and easy compared to the years before.
We began asking ourselves what we were supposed to be doing in this rich and relatively easy season. We had been given so many resources — people to walk alongside and encourage us, access to incredible medical care and a thriving, now-in-person marriage.
And the knowledge of how resources changed lives.
After three adoptions, we had seen up close how the script flipped for children once they were placed in loving homes with access to the medical care and professionals they needed to thrive
We were so deep in the parenting and medical world (I mean, we were decades away from air), and in that arena, we had so much more to give.
So we began the adoption process for the fourth time.
This time, we felt even more convicted about running to the children who might have the least chance of ever making it out of an institution.
D.C. and I thought on it and separately came to the same conclusion.
We both felt like we were were capable of meeting the needs of a child who could not walk.
Though we felt confident that God was calling us to immobility, we didn’t feel confident about some of the other medical issues that might come in tangent with immobility.
We were still sorting out medical issues with the other kids. We were in IEP meetings for Zeph and working through behavior issues with others and our calendars were peppered with children’s hospital appointments and follow-ups and sporadic emergency room visits that now seemed so easy when one parent could stay home with the other kids.
Even so, we convinced ourselves that we had five children and a medical smorgasbord on our plate.
Paralysis, we said, we could handle.
Just not any of the other medical conditions that might come with paralysis.
It made sense.
Those were our limits.
That’s what WE felt we could do.
So we completed the paperwork, checked the paralysis box, purposely avoided some of the others and worked on our homestudy while God began working on our hearts.
A few months into the process, D.C. and I were enjoying a rare date night out.
“So where are you at with what you think our limitations should be for this adoption?” I asked him, knowing that God had already begun to change the parameters in my own heart.
“Baby, we can do this,” he said, referring to any other needs that might come with paralysis. “When I was praying about it, God slapped me and said, ‘You CAN do this, you little Sally, you don’t think you are capable but you are.’”
It was exactly what God had spoken to my heart, as well.
So we contacted our agency and opened our parameters a little wider, and rather than “choosing” a child, we asked the agency to simply refer a child with these needs to us.
We promised each other that we wouldn’t look at any waiting children listed with our agency but instead wait for the referral.
Not long later, I was out for a run and praying about this child God was already creating space for in our heart and home.
“Lord,” I prayed, “Please just make it clear which child you intend for us to have, and please don’t let fear get in our way. We want your plan, not our plan. Just open our eyes to YOUR will.”
And as I was praying about this child, the name “Fern” popped into my mind.
For the next two days, this name echoed in my mind and I just couldn’t shake it out.
Are we supposed to name her Fern? Is there a meaning associated with Fern? Why on earth do I keep hearing “Fern”? I thought.
I couldn’t sleep that night, so at 2 a.m., I did what I had promised I wouldn’t do.
I logged into our agency’s waiting child list.
There staring back at me at 2 in the morning were the black-brown eyes of a 4-year-old little girl.
Who couldn’t walk.
Who was diagnosed with spina bifida.
Whose advocacy name was FERN.
I got goosebumps all over, because I just knew.
This girl was our daughter.
D.C. woke up early the next morning and found me still downstairs at the computer.
“Baby, I know we weren’t supposed to look at waiting children … but I think this is our daughter,” I confessed as I turned the screen around.
“Great, just send me the information,” he said as he kissed me and rushed out the door.
I emailed the agency and the agency emailed me her file.
I emailed it to D.C.
Though it contained detailed information about her multiple medical conditions and complications because of her diagnosis, he didn’t even open it.
“I don’t need to know anything else about her,” he said. “She’s our daughter.”
So in July of 2015, our family left North Carolina for our annual summer visit to California with five kids … and found out we’d be returning with six.
That’s because when the kids and I arrived in California, we received Travel Approval to travel to China. D.C., who was still back in North Carolina working at this time, rapidly collected our paperwork and flew out to meet me.
Together, we flew to Beijing while our family kept the kids and we prepared to meet the little girl whose very name God had provided.
She was under the care of an organization called Little Flower. There, miniature foster families care for three to five medically needy children at a time as they stand in the gap for these little ones until they can find them permanent families.
The girl our agency had called “Fern” but whose Chinese name was Yezi was one month shy of 5 years old, and she was attending the daytime school that Little Flower had set up for its children.
As we walked into the school, Yezi’s teachers directed us to a small waiting area where we took one last breath before walking in to meet in person the little girl we’d been praying for for months.
There, sitting on the couch, nervous and fidgety, was the tiniest little thing with bracelets, bows and a little yellow and teal dress with black polka dots.
Though our hearts were near bursting in anticipation, the girl we would now call daughter was not quite as excited to see us.
We tried to break the ice by sitting next to her and showing her pictures of her family on our phone. We busted out games and tried to connect, but this girl who had only known orphanage and foster care life was beyond nervous, and soon, she was inconsolably crying.
She was so upset, in fact, that on the bus ride back to her apartment, we couldn’t even sit next to her. She instead sat with her classmates and Little Flower workers while we had the privilege of sitting beside a little boy who, as we sang and made hand motions with him, yelled out in uncontrollable enthusiasm, “Yezi’s American mama is so cool! She knows ‘The Wheels on the Bus’!”
When we got to her stop, Yezi’s foster father was waiting for her and, understandably not sure about these American parents who had come to meet their new girl, he whisked her away as quickly as he could.
It was a rough start.
The next day, we were supposed to meet the foster family at their house, but they called our guide and told her that Yezi was not feeling well. So, to fill time, our guide took us to the Little Flower baby home.
It was one of the most excruciating experiences of our lives.
Here in this home were the newest of abandoned babies, children fresh into orphandom, Ground Zero of the abandonment and orphan crisis.
We couldn’t even speak as we toured room after room of precious, perfect little loves. The freshness of their situations was just too much to bear.
The upper floor was babies, rooms of them with premature complications and congenital conditions, and the bottom floor was toddlers. As we entered the toddler room, one especially outgoing little greeter approached us, and the entire room sang a song.
We left that place filled with innocent eyes and innocent voices knowing that we could never unsee what we had seen.
The brokenness, both of the stories of the mamas who for reasons we could never fathom from our place of privilege had to lay down their babies and the stories of now parentless children, was almost overwhelming and reminded us how undeservedly blessed we really were, simply because of the side of the fence on which we were born.
Blessings, we were reminded, that were our privilege and responsibility to share.
After a painstakingly emotional afternoon, we traveled to the home of Yezi’s foster family that night.
A guide dropped us at the front door, and we entered a world we will never forget.
This family’s apartment was only a couple hundred square feet big. But in it, these angels were raising, providing for and completing daily medical care for five special needs children.
They had so little, and yet they had prepared for us the most beautiful meal.
Yezi still clung to the foster mama she knew and loved, and after dinner, this unsung hero who gave her heart and home and life to caring for medically fragile orphans began to show me how to complete all of her daily medical care.
She showed me the step by step instructions, and then she waited kindly and patiently on me as I clumsily fumbled my way through it.
We didn’t speak the same language, and yet we did.
And in that moment, there was this beautiful transaction where she saw my heart and I saw hers, and by the end, we knew that the transfer of this girl who had BEEN so loved would be DONE in love.
We both cried and she hugged me, something uncommon in her culture, as she handed over the reigns to the little girl we both now loved.
When our guide returned to pick us up, Yezi’s foster mother told her in Chinese, “I have no concerns. I know Yezi is in the best hands and will be loved and cared for.”
Getting to sit at Yezi’s table and meet Yezi’s foster family was such a priceless gift, because it allowed us to see the breadth and depth of all she was giving up.
If we had just met her in a Civil Affairs building, we wouldn’t have realized all our new little girl was losing.
Sitting at that dinner table and squeezing her foster mother’s hands, we could feel the love, and we could understand intimately why this girl would then grieve so deeply.
At age 4, she couldn’t possibly understand the reality of her situation.
Her kidneys were frail and riddled with infection. Without proper medical care, she would become seriously ill. The schools Little Flower had worked so hard to establish for their children were only back-ups to the “real” education that their children were being turned away from again and again because of their special needs. Her foster family would only be her family as long as the Chinese Government deemed them to be.
She had no longevity in this beautiful place that could only care for her for a season.
But that didn’t lessen her loss.
The next day, Yezi, a teacher from her school, D.C. and I took the bullet train to her original province. Yezi and her teacher stayed in one hotel room, D.C. and I in another until the next day when we walked into the Civil Affairs building and officially took over guardianship.
That’s where this girl who had known love and connection because she’d experienced it at Little Flower said goodbye to the last familiar face she knew.
And that’s where the screaming began.
From the moment we returned to the hotel room, this tiny girl screamed at a decibel that I was sure would get us kicked out of the hotel. Though we tried play dough and bubbles and games and cards, this little girl grieving like we had never seen a child grieve before was having none of it.
She screamed all day, she screamed all night, she screamed in tones I had never heard, and there was absolutely, positively no distracting her.
Because I was the physical representation of profound loss, she acted out in every way possible to make sure I was aware of her feelings for me.
And D.C. had to return to our other children in California.
“Baby, I can’t leave you like this,” he told me.
But he had to. And so he did.
After D.C. left, there was no sitting, no sleeping, no anything but fighting through medical care and trying to connect with this child who was in so much emotional pain that she couldn’t even function.
My heart broke for her loss, and as I prayed for her and over her, I tried to come up with distractions and opportunities for the two of us to connect. We did better outside the room, but her province was not handicapped accessible, which meant that, even though I was using a stroller and not a wheelchair, navigating everything was difficult.
And very few of the locals were willing to help.
Although in the United States, special needs are embraced, in Yezi’s province, they were often not. Instead of holding open doors for the woman carrying a 4-year-old girl who couldn’t walk, many would see me coming and close them on me instead. Instead of offering to help, they would rudely stare at our daughter and ask inappropriate questions.
Taxis wouldn’t stop for us, passer-bys were unkind to us and it was all I could do to try and emotionally shield my new daughter from this world where special needs were misunderstood, all while she cried in public at the top of her lungs.
It was hard beyond hard, and as I settled into our room for yet another scream-filled night, real doubt for the first time set in.
Are we doing the right thing? I began to ask myself.
And that’s when I received an email from a fellow adoptive mama back home.
“Don’t forget the God who called you to this child even by her very name,” it said.
It wasn’t by mistake.
It was hard, but it wasn’t a mistake.
This beautiful girl with the frail kidneys and the immobile body was precious and perfect and valuable and worthy. She was One of H1S, and was worthy of being TREATED and LOVED like One of H1S, even if she couldn’t understand that love in this season came with brokenness.
Soon after, we traveled from Yezi’s province to Guangzhou, where we stayed in the Garden Hotel and an abundance of other adopting American families greeted me.
In five seconds, I had five American husbands holding doors and carrying luggage and welcoming this child who couldn’t walk instead of sneering at her. I had resources I couldn’t imagine and encouragement like I couldn’t believe.
In my scarcity, God showed off His abundance. And He began equipping me with everything I needed to do this hard thing I had no idea how to do.
At the hotel, I ran out of medical supplies.
He supplied a concierge from San Francisco who spoke my language, tracked down what I needed and had all the supplies delivered directly to my hotel door.
At the airport, our flight in Beijing was delayed, which meant we would then miss our flight from Los Angeles back home. Which meant unnecessarily long extra hours for a flailing, grieving girl who had never once ridden on an airplane and a weary, sleep-deprived mama who was inch-worming her way through airports with luggage, strollers, medical devices and no husband.
He supplied a woman in the seat next to us, one who had “coincidentally” missed her flight the day before, who spoke English, loved Jesus and asked if she could pray for us the whole flight home. A woman who totally changed the entire tone of our travels and who Yezi took to so much that she didn’t scream once the whole flight to America.
When we missed our connecting flight at LAX, we crashed for the night on the floor of the USO where He supplied the sweetest little ladies who broke the rules by letting this weary mama and her grieving girl into the facility without a military ID.
At home, we looked in the face of frail kidneys and educational delays and accessibility issues we had never considered before.
And He supplied a person for every. Single. Need.
What wasn’t in our own wheelhouse, God supplied in copious amounts through the wheelhouses of the people He brought into our lives.
Mr. Rich, the man who facilitated Yezi’s first steps, would tell us that insurance covered things it clearly didn’t … and then order them without ever charging us.
The most beautiful surgeons helped us narrow in on health issues and made plans to correct them all while telling us what great parents we were, even when the wheels were clearly falling off our bus.
In His perfect timing, my mother-in-law had planned to move from California to North Carolina the same month we brought Yezi home. This kind and gracious woman ran errands, came up with diversions for the other children in our home and, at times, even took the wheel of the medical taxi that ran the road ragged between our home and UNC Children’s Hospital. But, most importantly, she filled our home on a regular basis with that very special healing and kid-spoiling kind of love that only comes from grandparents.
Miss Lamblin, a resource teacher who we came to know and love through Zeph, advocated for us as we brought a distressed, non-mobile, non-English speaking little girl into a school hoping that we would be able to enroll her.
Miss Holton and Miss Tipton, the teachers whose class Yezi would be in at the kids’ school, said “yes” to me, my little girl and a whole lot of unknowns.
For an entire year, I cleared my schedule to attend preschool with Yezi while we waited for her wheelchair and conducted medical care at school. Though Yezi still had well-controlled enthusiasm for me, she allowed these teachers to serve and love on her as they served and loved on me. These ladies became my Aaron and Hur as they held up my arms when I was too tired to do it myself. They stood in the gap when Yezi was too deep in grief to let me close. And they loved and healed us both without an ounce of judgment, even when I was the only mom who didn’t show up for the Pre-K Thanksgiving feast.
Out of nowhere, God supplied friends whose children had similar medical needs and adoptive mamas who shared in and validated our journey, and we just felt blessing after blessing rain down.
As well as laughter.
Although Yezi was slowly warming up to me, she made sure I knew that nothing I did could be as good as what she called “China mom.” Every time I prepared food, brought Yezi a gift or tended to her needs, she would make sure to tell me, “China Mom’s is better.”
It became a thing in our home.
No matter what I did or how hard I tried, she would respond with a “China mom” comment that would demote my efforts to nil. Avy, who was 2 at the time, caught on and decided that she, too, had a China mom, and I did not measure up. I would bring her a cup of water and she would tell me, “My China mom’s water was better, and she had pink sparkly cups.”
For months, China mom was the standard of perfection in our home.
That’s when D.C. remembered he also had a “China wife.” He would remind me that China wife would always rub his back and was never short with him. That her meals were always a little better than American wife’s. And of course, China wife was never too tired at the end of the day.
Even in hard, humor and joy were just in abundance in our home.
It took us a while but, with time, Yezi began to understand that we were her family and that we loved her.
Her first true bond was with Deacon, who carried her EVERY. WHERE. Within a month, she had warmed up to her sisters and took turns doing their hair and painting their nails.
She swam for the first time, began attending school, took her first steps and got the medical attention she was in great need of. Neighbors embraced her and family travelled from far away to meet and love on our girl.
She was healing. And we finally began to see her heart.
We quickly realized that she grieved big because she LOVES big. She feels everything, and she cares deeply. And she’s so incredibly brave.
Through new school after new doctor after new medical procedure after new surgery, this girl didn’t sulk or complain. Instead, she figured out ways to revise and adapt, and she didn’t let anything keep her from doing what her peers at school could do.
This sparkly bright girl learned English in five minutes, and she excelled in art, ukulele and school.
Failing kidneys were spared, “immobile” legs walked and infections didn’t run rampant in Yezi’s little body anymore. And for the first time I recognized in a profound way how the resources and provisions I have in abundance here in this country allowed me to walk into a hospital and give this girl what her birth mom could not.
Not because I was better than her or I worked harder than her.
Simply because of which side of the fence I was born on.
The one with access to first world medical care.
Shortly after we returned home from China, I found out I was pregnant and I miscarried the baby. Over the phone, I convinced D.C. I was fine. When he returned home from work, though, he saw my “Casper” face and rushed me to the emergency room. He dropped me off so he could complete medical care for the kids at home and then return. After he left, my blood pressure dropped, I passed out and the doctors prepared for a blood transfusion. By the time he returned, my blood pressure had stabilized and I was well.
When he returned to the emergency room, that precious man crawled into bed with me and, as I nuzzled my head into his chest, he read my book out loud to me.
And again, I felt overwhelmed by this abundance.
I had first world medicine, a husband in the country, a man that would crawl into a hospital bed with me, kiss my forehead and read to me, all while he figured out ways to provide medical care and babysitting for six other kids we had the privilege of calling ours back at home.
My God didn’t just supply minimally; He supplied lavishly. Everything. In every way.
The thing is, God didn’t supply these things before we knew we needed them. He didn’t supply them when we were staring at an adoption file, and He didn’t provide them when He made His call clear.
He supplied them AFTER the yes.
AFTER we knew that we just couldn’t do this by ourselves.
AFTER we committed to something only He could do.
He called us to something He knew we couldn’t do on our own so that we could experience the abundance that comes only from Him.
His abundance is the kind that calls us to act as and GIVE as one of H1S because we are just too darn fortunate not to.
What’s ironic is that we came to the table with a heart that we might give.
But what we discovered is that in God’s economy, in H1S abundance, we actually received far more than we could possibly ever give.
Because in H1S abundance, you just can’t out-give God.
Did you miss the beginning of the Sage Harvest Story? Not to worry, it's not too late to catch up! Follow the links below for the first six parts of the 10-part series.
Part 1: One of His Relentless Love Stories
Part 2: One of H1S Rescue Stories
Part 3: One of H1S Provision Stories
Part 4: One of H1S Verb-Love Stories
Part 5: One of H1S Resurrection Stories
Part 6: One of His Dependence Stories