For those of you not familiar with my story, here is just a glimpse into the journey that has brought me to become the mother of eight.......
I had the privelege of being raised in a Christian home and honestly cannot remember a time when I did not love the Lord Jesus Christ and desire a relationship with Him. I made my faith public when I was eight years old: I knew my need for a Saviour, and I was thankful that Jesus took my place on the cross so many years before. More than anything in the world, I prayed (then and now) that my life will be "used up" for the glory of God and God alone.
I married young (19) to my darling husband and started hoping for those babies to start coming. Instead, God took us down the path of infertility, specialists, and years of heartache. I remember crying out to God, begging Him to give us just one child to raise for Him. Even though I knew in my heart that He was going to use this time for His GOOD, I couldn't see much past the dark tunnel I found myself in.
It was those early years of our marriage, though, that began to prepare Brent and I for what God had planned for us. Years later, I can so clearly see the work HE was doing in our lives! We began to seek, research, pray, and think daily about the awesome task of parenting. I read every pregnancy, adoption, and parenting book and resource I could get my hands on! We even took our state's foster/adoption classes and were almost certified foster parents when......of course! :)......we found out we were expecting our Eliana.
God had given us our hearts' desire, and we gave her back to Him. Our joy was unspeakable and we knew we would NEVER take children---or the ability to have them!---for granted. The seed of adoption, even though pushed to the back of our minds for a time, continued to grow....
Eliana was followed by three precious boys. Every couple of years, Brent and I would discuss adoption again. I don't remember when or how it actually happened, but I do remember that we both clearly felt that there was a little Asian girl missing from our kitchen table. It sounded strange to even say it, but somehow we both just "knew" that she was someday going to join us.
The timing never seemed "right" for us to adopt......whether it was because I was pregnant or had a young baby, or Brent's job situation, or our finances, etc, etc, etc.
I remember so vividly the day Brent came home and said, "I've been researching adoption again, and I think it's time to stop saying 'We're going to adopt someday' and just DO it! The timing might never be perfect, but we have a loving home and there are 147 million children out there who DON'T. Let's DO something about it!"
I had a 7, 4, and 2 year old AND a nursing 9 month old. And yet, God and my husband were askind me to do what I had always hoped and prayed that I could do....
I took some time to pray and research and God so clearly said "GO". We were treading into uncharted waters and the unknown was overwhelming at times, but God was with us each step of the way. We asked for a baby younger than our youngest with very minor special needs. And that's how we found ourselves adding our teeny-tiny Gabriella Mei to the family less than a year later.
I don't have time to share all of Gabriella's story here and now, but I will say this: We were changed by her adoption. Permanently. Forever. We just don't look at life through the same eyes anymore. Once you've looked into the hauntingly empty eyes of hundreds of orphans---and held the one that is now yours!---nothing in life just is the same after that.
We KNEW, before we even brought Gabbey home, that we would go back. It wasn't a matter of IF, just WHEN.
8 weeks after landing in America with our new Chinese daughter, Brent approached me about adopting again. You can probably guess my first thought! I now had a 9, 6, and 4 year old, and TWO one year olds! He just told me to pray about it and see how God was leading me.....
Well, I'm sure you can guess what happened next :) God was asking me to trust Him, to allow myself to be stretched further for Him and one of His orphaned children. I wholeheartedly said, "yes".
Being in China, meeting so many orphaned children, reading and hearing their stories.....all of it broadened our parameters of what we felt we could "handle" regarding special needs. So this time, we asked for a boy or girl, between the ages of 2 and 4 with mild to moderate needs. We looked at several files, but didn't feel it was "our" child.
Then we saw Alyssia. Of course, she was much younger than we were asking for, and her special need wasn't even anything we had ever heard of. But OH how we knew she was the "one". When we checked her birthdate, we realized that she was only 15 days younger than Gabbey, essentially giving us virtual triplets since Ethan is only 5 months older than the girls! We knew what people would say, and we knew how our family would change yet again, but we also knew clearly that God had hand-picked this angel to be our daughter.
During our wait to travel for Alyssia, I received an email one day regarding an aging-out girl who desparately needed a paper-ready family who could expedite the process and finalize her adoption before her 14th birthday. Chinese law prohibits adoptions of children once they turn 14.
I can't tell you how many faces of children aging-out that I had looked at over the previous year.....but it was ALOT. I frequent adoption circles where people are constantly advocating for these precious older children. It honestly had NEVER EVEN CROSSED MY MIND that we could or even should take one of them.
But when I pulled up the email and saw Johanna's face for the first time, my heart stopped. She was my daughter and I loved her instantly. I know that sounds crazy---how can you love someone from just a picture???---but I felt the Holy Spirit pulling at my heartstrings like never before and I couldn't get her out of my mind!
This time it was me who approached Brent. :) I showed him her picture and mentioned how sad her situation was. That was all. I walked away.
The next morning, I stood in the shower with tears streaming down my face. Threre was just NO way on earth I could bring this girl home, and yet I felt like God was telling me to GO......I called Brent, told him how crazy I was being and waited for him to bring me back into reality----of course we couldn't adopt not only a teenager, but the THIRD girl this year!
Instead, Brent paused for a moment and then said, "Why don't you make some phone calls and see what we can do?"
It wasn't a definitive YES yet, but it was the beginning of one of the hardest weeks of my life. We cried, we prayed, we begged God for clear direction, we sought counsel, we cried and prayed some more. We knew this was probably the biggest decision we had made together and we desparately needed God's peace before we moved forward.
HIS answer came and it was a resounding YES. Go get her. Bring her home. Give her a family, a mommy and daddy, brothers and sisters.....I landed in China just 4 weeks after committing to Johanna, and finalized her adoption two days before she had her 14th birthday. God is still in the miracle business!
Just six weeks after I landed in the USA with Johanna, Brent traveled back to China for our darling Alyssia. Her adoption fell just 9 months after Gabriella came home.
The first two years after bringing home our three Chinese girls was quite an adjustment! Three 2 year olds was a daily adventure----it stretched and formed new parenting strategies for this mama. Parenting a teen-ager that lacked ALL self-care and life skills was overwhelming for both us AND Johanna at times.
In the fall of 2012, the Lord starting working in our hearts about full-time orphan ministry. We had surrendered to missions work a couple of years before but had never had clear direction, so it was exciting when God started to open doors for our family! After praying about and considering MANY countries, we were thrilled when all the pieces "fell into place" for us be missionaries to South Africa's orphans!
We were accepted as missionaries with Macedonia World Baptist Missions in March of 2013, and began the process of deputation (raising our monthly support) in June of that year. Knowing the importance of staying together as a family during this time, we purchased a travel trailer, sold almost all of our possessions, and moved into our trailer full-time.
At the time of this writing (early 2015), we are over 40% funded and have been on the road for over a year! We are thrilled at the opportunities that God has brought our way, as we have learned to truly live by FAITH and as we have had the blessing of being in over 100 churches!
In August of 2014, God gave us one more "little" blessing in the form of our youngest son---Titus Alexander. He has brought our family so much closer and has just been plain FUN. :)