Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Choosing a "Scary" Special Need

-Shannon Zaller

I can laugh now- looking at my kids playing in the water sprinkler, jumping on the playground, flying kites, digging in the sand, and getting ice cream all over their faces- about how very little having a child with a special need has affected our lives in the way we thought it would. It feels more like… just having another child.  

Like everyone in the early stages of planning a China adoption, I thought that we would be adopting a young healthy baby girl. No reason except that it was what I had seen in the media my whole life. When we started calling around to agencies, that’s the first time I had heard the term “special needs program”, which, quite frankly, scared the heck out of us. And not only were boys available for adoption, it was also considered a special need because less people were even open to a boy than a girl. 

So we did the obligatory “check list”, which nearly every parent will tell you is the worst part of the whole process. For us, it was a good time to do some research. I printed up a long list of special needs common to adoption, many of which I’d never heard of, and some which I had predisposed ideas about. Every day I would google search two or three of those needs, and at least learn about what they were- even the ones I thought I already understood. I didn’t discriminate on the list of needs, because I knew that there are new treatments available all the time. I learned loads about clefts, limb differences, HIV, deafness, albinism, and hemophilia, just to name a few. And I found out most of those aren’t really so scary at all. It took me about a month to skim over the wiki version of the major special needs.

I saw the face of our son on a waiting child site, but of course I didn’t know he would be ours. I just thought he was the cutest thing ever. He was four, which was older than I wanted. He was a boy, which surprised me. And he had a scary special need: he was blind. 

My first thought: NOPE. We couldn’t parent a blind kid. We didn’t know a thing about blindness. I’m messy. We live in a busy downtown with no blind school. I assumed a blind child would have to live with me forever. But my curiosity got the best of me, and I found myself asking parents of blind children, and chatting with blind adults online about how it affected their daily lives. 

I learned that all blind children can receive public education AND blind instruction in whatever school they attend. That they learn cane and mobility skills for free as well. They have refreshable tablets that let them scroll facebook and read the internet. They can use iPads and iPhones because there are built in applications that make them accessible. They are college grads and professionals that are only limited to not driving their own cars (which is changing with the invention of the Google car!).

We did pursue his adoption. The chances that a boy over the age of 1 that has a vision impairment will be adopted is among the lowest of all special needs. I admit, I had a panic attack every week leading up to China, thinking that we were taking on something too big. I still was a little nervous when we met him. But he is not scared of blindness. He has changed my (unintended) preconceived ideas of blind people. He joyfully greets everyone who walks into a room. He loves the doctors appointments and we are currently putting his education plan in place. And, much to my dismay, I have not become any tidier at my housekeeping skills, because my son very skillfully can step right over my horrible mess and piles of laundry, and his sibling’s toys everywhere. He has so easily blended into our family.

We learned when we came home that we cannot fix his eyes as we had hoped. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t a little bit sad that he won’t ever see my face or his first child. But my son’s biggest special need was for someone to SEE him. He has been the greatest joy for those that have met him, and he inspires smiles and laughter in almost everyone. He has learned all the Beatles number 1 songs by heart. He likes to “watch” Mickey Mouse Clubhouse. I have only had to change my life in that I have an extra plate at the table and an extra bed in my house. And we eat a little more rice now. 

That scary special need? Not so scary. Seeing my son crushing my ideas of “scary”? Well… he’s pretty much the coolest and bravest superhero I’ve met!

Friday, May 6, 2016


Sometimes when a family is considering adoption, they ask themselves, “How will it affect the children I currently have?”  Well, who better to answer that question than a child who has been affected by adoption themselves?  Brendan is the older brother to two beautiful sisters, one adopted from China.  We are honored to share his story below.

Brendan, thank you so much for sharing your experience with us.  You are a talented writer and a very wise young man with much insight to offer the world. 

By: Brendan C

“Nanchang, China,” I thought. “This is so cool. This is birthplace to my sister, Lila.” I sat in the back seat of the car and stared out the car window at the unfamiliar city. My family came halfway around the world to pick up my new sister and bring her home. We took two planes to get here. It was all worth it. More than worth it.

“I can’t believe this,” I thought. I then thought back to over a year ago when my parents told my other sister Bridget and I that our family was going to adopt. I remember thinking about having another sister. It was one of the most exciting times of my life, but not as exciting as right now.

It had be a year full of anticipation.  Within a few minutes we were at our hotel. We would be staying for a few nights, but more importantly, this was where we were going to meet Lila for the first time. I sat in the back seat of the car, twiddling my thumbs in excitement. I was last out of the car. I quickly unbuckled my seat-belt and chased after the rest of my family.  I had the video camera in my hand. As we were walking into the hotel, I remembered my dad telling me my job was to get the whole thing on video. It’s very important he told me. I took a deep breath then pushed the green button on the camera.  I had a big smile across my face. There she was. My sister. Lila. She had a bright green dress with a lot of sparkles and a pair of bright orange sandals that squeaked when she walked. My mom told me that it was a popular trend in China for little kids to wear those shoes. “This is a true miracle,” I thought. 

After my family greeted the woman who took care of Lila’s orphanage, my mom slowly approached Lila making sure not to scare her. My mom warned me before that she might get scared because she had not seen many Americans in the middle of China, much less had one approach her before.  Lila had a puzzled look on her little face. “It’s okay Lila,” Mom whispered in a comforting voice. Lila stared at Mom then back at the floor, her eyes starting to get a little watery. Luckily Mom was prepared and quickly pulled a lollipop out of her purse. She took the wrapper off then handed it to Lila. Lila studied the candy for a few seconds unsure of what it was. Mom stepped in again and helped Lila. After a few more seconds of confusion, Lila stuck the whole thing in her little mouth. She then smiled, and so did the rest of my family.

After my mom held Lila, my dad got his turn. When he was finished, he beckoned to Bridget and me that it was our turn. I handed him the camera, which was still running, and took a seat on the couch next to mom who was holding Lila in her lap.  Bridget sat on the other side of mom.

I looked at Lila who was engrossed in her lollipop. I then whispered to her, “Hi Lila, it is your big brother Brendan.”  She then looked up like she just noticed me. She giggled then looked over at Bridget. Bridget said, “Hi, Lila”. She laughed again. We all then laughed.

As we walked up to our hotel room with Lila I realized that change is important and is life. I thought back to when my parents asked what I thought if I had another sister. I could have said I did not want another sibling and avoid change. If I would have done that I would not have this amazing experience. Don’t run away from change, run at it.

Monday, January 26, 2015

The Drop Box film, a MUST SEE!

Hello Everyone! A phenomenal new film will soon be showing in select theaters nationwide. "The Drop Box" is a documentary depicting the plight of the orphan in South Korea and what one pastor and his wife have been doing to protect and care for the most vulnerable members of society. It's a must see, especially for those who have a heart for orphaned children. Check out the trailer here www.thedropboxfilm.com and find a showing near you!
Pastor Lee

Monday, December 1, 2014

Chenell Family Story

I remember it clearly.  My husband and I had just pulled up into the driveway when my phone rang; it was my stepmother.  Not expecting what I was about to hear, it was as if the world had gone into slow motion.  My father had only days to live.

How could this be?  I had just seen him days prior and even though he was battling cancer, he was on the list for experimental drugs and we all still had hope. 

And, we were just a few months shy of bringing home his first grandson.  I simply couldn’t believe it.


For years leading up to my dad’s death, my husband and I tried conceiving.  We went through testing, tried acupuncture, and I even had surgery.  Alas, we were told that the only way we could conceive a child would be through invitro fertilization.  Knowing that this was not an option that interested us, we chose to take the journey of adoption.  Selecting the country of South Korea was a fairly easy decision for us with our interest in Asian culture, our religious beliefs, their overall adoption process, and the welcoming and compassionate adoption agency that we found (AAC). 

After our paperwork was turned in, our wait started.  We were number 24 on “the list” to receive a “referral” – meaning we were to be matched with a child.  We were told this could take quite a while.  Then, once receiving our “referral”, we would need to wait for approval from the South Korean Ministry to bring our child home.  Again, this could take a good amount of time in which we were looking at possibly 2 years or more for the entire process. 

From that point on, I started praying our Buddhist chant, “Nam Myoho Renge Kyo” insistently for our child to come home soon.  Within days, our number on “the list” started moving down dramatically.  All of a sudden, our agency said they had an influx of little boys needing forever families!  Within four months, we received our referral.  A beautiful baby boy! We were over the moon!  Instead of waiting years for a referral it had only taken 4 months!  But now, we were on to the wait to bring him home.

During that time, my dad was becoming quite ill.  The cancer had spread to a variety of places in his body and we were all waiting patiently for him to be accepted into a drug trial.  This prompted me to chant even harder.

That is why when I received the call on that January evening in 2012 that my dad only had days left, my world seemed to fall apart.  We were just a few short months from bringing home our son and my dad would not make it to meet him.    

At first, I felt as though my prayers and chanting had failed me.  All of that prayer and they wouldn’t meet each other!  There would be no sitting on grandpa’s lap, no fishing in the lake together, no good night kisses for each other.  It was devastating.   I went through the next few months in a state of disbelief.  How could this happen?  I struggled with this fiercely at times.

Until, we got the call.

“You can bring home your son now.” our coordinator, Regina, said as soon as I answered the phone.  I couldn’t believe it.  Only a few months earlier a phone call had brought endless tears to my eyes, and here was another one of those calls, but for a very different reason. 

Within 24 hours we were on a plane headed to Seoul.  We were about to meet and bring home our son, River.  And even though my dad wasn’t here to meet him, we were bestowed a very special gift while we were there. 

Our trip only lasted 5 days in Korea and out of the entire year of all the days we could have been told to travel, we were fortunate enough to be there the one weekend a year that Korea celebrates their Lotus Lantern Festival, the birth of Siddhartha Buddha.  It was a beautiful, joyous time that helped us grow even further in our Buddhist practice.  We witnessed thousands of lanterns light the city in his honor, a stunning parade telling the story of Siddhartha, and a festival of Buddhist mountain food, lantern festival wishes, and conversing with fellow Buddhists of different sects.  It was absolutely a once-in-a-lifetime experience…or was it?

I could end the experience there and tell you how grateful we are for our son, River, which we are, or, I could go on to tell that when we adopted our second son this past year, we brought him home during the exact same festival time.  We received custody of each of our sons the Monday after this celebration in both 2012 and 2014. 

Without a doubt, I see the power of our chanting prayer in creating our family.  Although we experienced profound loss (we lost my mother 3 months before bringing our second son home as well), we have been fortunate enough to be blessed with two beautiful children that light up our lives.  They may not fill the void left from my parents’ passing, but they bring a new form of love to our hearts that we didn’t know possible. 

In honor of the love and appreciation we share for our family, we celebrate our own Lotus Lantern Festival each year at our home with friends and family in honor of Siddhartha Buddha, our practice, and our sons’ culture.  We are forever grateful and do our best for my parents’ legacies to live on through the love and experiences we provide our two sons. 

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Macri Family Story

Our Life a Year After Adoption

Looking at pictures of Korea together:

Me: Avi do you know who that is?

Avi: Umma. (foster mom’s name)

Me: Do you remember living with Umma?

Avi: Yes

Me: Did you like Umma?

Avi: Umma not home. Avi home now.

That little conversation took the wind out of me like a punch to the gut.  And it was just as surprising. But that conversation sums up where we are now.   I didn’t know she remembered anything from Korea, let alone had feelings like that about her life. Everyday she has more independent thought, creativity, and sensitivity to what's going on around her. That kiddo never ceases to amaze me.

Today is our family day, our 1 year anniversary of our daughter coming home from Korea. She had just turned 2 then.  I thought about this day a year ago. Life was so crazy back then, it’s hard to believe I had the wherewithal to think about something as minor as this one year anniversary. We were losing our independence and our sleep by gaining a beautiful daughter. Despite all our preparation, we had no idea what we were in for.    I wondered what our life would be like a year in. Were we going to be happy or regretful? Would Avi be progressing well or would we be one of the countless horror stories I’d read on the internet?  It was such a huge, tumultuous change, I really couldn’t have predicted what I’d be saying.  Honestly, I thought with as tough as things were going, could we possibly be in a good place? I wish I could have known then what I know now.  It would have eased my worried mind.

I’m so happy to say things are going great. Avi is nowhere near the scared upset little girl we brought home. She’s having fun and smiles and laughs all the time.  She’s growing not only physically, but mentally by leaps and bounds. She loves stories and swimming. She enjoys walking her bike around and tormenting the cat. We love the way she makes us laugh. She's shared life lessons such as “penguins are stinky, like my butt.” After a day at the zoo, I’m glad that was the take home.

She is so outgoing and friendly to everyone she meets. (with the exception of the kid she clubbed last week) She finds so much enjoyment in everything we do together no matter how simple. Happiness is effortless for her and that makes her a joy to be around. 

When Avi came home from Korea, all of our worlds were turned upside down. It wasn’t a bad thing, but it was difficult.  Avi’s best friend now is Lucy, our neighbor's daughter. She’s almost a year younger. Now, two year old Lucy is Avi’s age when she arrived. It amazes me the quality and quantity of thought coming out of her mouth.  Lucy comments on everything. I know all that was trapped inside Avi when she came home. I can’t imagine how frustrating it must have been for her to have all those thoughts and be unable to express them. It’s no wonder we had so many meltdowns.  But like all things, that passed with time.  All those thoughts have found their way out. Now the flood gates have opened, and it's non-stop. 

With as tough as this year was, all I can say is hopefully next year will be as good as this one has been. If I had to do it again, would I? Yes. Without a doubt, it’s been the most rewarding, life changing thing Ann and I have ever done. Would I have done anything different? I don’t think so. We’re where we are now because of every choice we’ve made, both good and bad. And that place has turned out to be pretty great.

That good life presented itself this morning as I was leaving for work. I told Avi goodbye as I do every day. She came up to me, put her arms up and said “hug please”.  I knelt down and got a big hug with her head squeezed into the crook of my neck. After a long hug, she whispered in my ear,  “I love you daddy”.

Wouldn’t change a thing that brought us here.
Not a single thing

Thursday, November 13, 2014

The Prichard Family Story

Continuing our celebration of National Adoption Month, here is another personal story from a family sewn together through adoption.  Thank you to the Prichard family for sharing their hearts with us.  

Adoption for us would start with a television show on girls in China.  A phone call to a very close friend would confirm that this would be a great adventure for my husband and I to take.  My heart and my mind were on a journey, one that would bring a daughter home to us after having two biological children. The country was China, but plans change and Korea was the country chosen.  We waited as patiently as we could, and the day would come that we would see her little face on our computer as quickly as the dial up internet would allow.  I remember the tears and the excitement we had that day.  She would come home in a very short while and was one of the three most beautiful babies my eyes had ever seen.  

As life has it the  journey would not be complete. It wasn't long before my heart once again felt that tugging feeling.  My heart may at the time been the only one feeling that but being married to a good man left me with hope that he would change his mind.  He put some rules down on this next adoption thinking it would take me awhile to find another baby that fit his ideas, but it was only a matter of days until I saw my little boy in China.  I knew in an instant that he would be ours and when my husband came home it only took him a moment to also realize this angel would be our son.  I didn't get to travel to China as our house was now full of little ones.  This always broke my heart but I knew my husband and parents would bring our little boy home to me.

Fast forward years and life is full of adventures with our four children. Adoption has not always been an easy path, it is  hard to grasp just how much our little ones have lost and how that affects daily life and family.  For this reason I have learned the true meaning of unconditional love and marveled time after time at how my heart can love so fully and completely beyond biology.  I would never trade being their mom for all that I know and feel.  Adoption has changed me for the better and become and huge part of who I am.

As life would have it once again there would be there little nudge in my heart.  I knew this time the wanting another child might not work as this would be a child number five.  I knew I had to be patient and wait until my husband either said yes or no. I knew he truly had to be ok to add another child and had to make up his own mind.  Three weeks later he said the answer was yes.  Yes to making our family big by today's standards, loud in so many ways, and full of love.  So we are waiting again for me to be called Mom by one more little one.  He will be our baby and waiting for him is so very hard.  Praying and trusting that they day will come that I can travel to Korea and hold him in my arms. Arms that will have to share because not only has my heart been tugged by adoption but each child we have has been changed by adoption.  

So the journey continues as we move from a family of six to seven! 

Teri Prichard

Thursday, November 6, 2014

The Cardwell Family Story

Below is the story of the Cardwell family who have two beautiful, amazing, talented daughters. It's an awesome story that I'm sure you all will enjoy.  

My husband and I have been married 21 years....high school sweethearts, married right out of high school, ready to take on the world together.  We feel extremely blessed to be called to adoption as the way by which our family would grow, and we have traveled this journey twice in our marriage.  We have two beautiful, extraordinary and wonderful young ladies who we adopted from China - one as a healthy infant referral and one as a waiting child/older child referral.  They are our whole world.  Madeline, now 8,  was our first child, adopted at 8 months old.  She changed our world, made us parents, is the greatest blessing we have ever known.  She is extremely talented in everything she sets her hand to (makes me jealous, in a good way...I wish I had one ounce of the talent she has), is a successful competitive figure skater, she is exceptionally bright and the absolute love of our lives.  She was the sole center of our world until one fateful day.......

Our second adoption story for our oldest daughter is, to me, one of the most beautiful stories of redemption I've ever known and would not have been possible without AAC!

That one fateful day in 2010, while taking a lunch break, I was looking on a website for a friend who was considering a child to adopt, and she had asked me to look at his profile and give my opinion. After I did that, I was looking around at all of the precious kids available for adoption. Not searching for anything in particular, then... WHAM!!!...there she was! 

This gorgeous young lady with an infectious smile who instantly stole my heart. She was 13 years old. What?? A teenager?? WHAT AM I THINKING?? How would my hubby react? How would my little 3 year old react? But there was something about her. I went back multiple times during that day just to see her face. Finally before heading home, I printed off her profile and picture to take it home. I knew we were NOT in a place financially to even remotely be thinking of pursuing another adoption. But, I couldn't get away from the feeling of "there is my daughter" each time I looked at her face.

So I took a chance during dinner and I told my husband and daughter that I had something to talk to them about. I didn't say anything at first but just showed them her picture. Immediately my husband knew. He just said, "You want to adopt her, don't you?" My (then 3 year old) daughter just said, "Oh, she's beautiful!" So hubby suggested loading up and going to the coffee shop so we could get wifi (yes, we lived in the boondocks and didn't have wifi at our house yet) and could request more information. AAC sent us her preliminary information. That was it. We. Just. Knew.  We submitted our intent to adopt and requested her file the very next day. After gaining approval, we found out that multiple families had inquired about her with intent to pursue but we were first. When I think of how close we were to not getting approval for her first, it makes me want to cry.

So, 362 days later, we were in China meeting our daughter for the first time. 

This scared, shy, quiet, but beautiful and sweet child became our daughter, sharing the same "Gotcha Day" as our youngest daughter, only 4 years apart. Both on May 9th...Madeline in 2007 and Piper in 2011. Instant sisters from the same province, originally from cities 3 hours apart...beautiful girls who completed our family. We couldn't have asked for more.

Today, our 8 year old and 16 year old are the best of friends in spite of their age difference, the sweetest of sisters, and the most precious girls any parents could ever ask for. 

Three years after bringing her home, despite having to learn a new culture, new language, and new family at an older age, Piper is so outgoing, loving, willing to try new things, has a heart of gold, is passionate about pursing her dreams in art & graphic design, is finding all her hidden talents, and is one of the most genuine people I've ever had the honor of knowing. 

Adoption has changed our lives just as much as it's changed their lives. We are all grateful for each other. I thank God that I "by chance" ran across her picture that fateful day. I'm so thankful that my husband didn't "shoot me down" when I showed him her picture, knowing that natural circumstances prevented us from another adoption journey, and that adopting a teen would be considered by everyone we know to be "risky".  I am so thankful that God used our family to bring redemption to this child who never knew the love of a family until three years ago. I am so thankful to God, friends, family, and strangers, who helped us along the journey and made an impossible situation, possible. I am so thankful that we took that step of faith, not knowing how we would do it, but trusting wholly that she was meant to be our daughter. 

And now, we have not just one, but two girls who are the center of our worlds.

They brighten each and every day.  No, it hasn't been all moonlight & roses...there have been challenges...but we are a family...and family never gives up on each other.  We feel privileged to be their parents, to walk this journey called life with them, and to show them that no matter what their past is or how their lives began, we will always be a family...we will always be here for them...we will always be their biggest cheerleaders...and we will love them completely...until the day after forever.

If there is one thing I could say to encourage someone thinking that they can't afford adoption, or are hesitant about older child adoption, it would be to not let circumstances or fear rob you of something that could change your life in ways you never thought possible. God will show up in the most unexpected and miraculous ways!!  

~Teri Cardwell
Dallas, TX

Remember this....not everyone may be called to adopt...but everyone can do something for orphans and orphan care!!