life into likeness



If I could watch the world from the sidelines, I would.

I don’t like being the center of attention, at least not for long periods of time.  It’s taken a decent number of years to be able to say “thank you” when complimented… hidden, unseen, invisible is what I have preferred to be.

And then suddenly, in the time it took to hastily scribble my name on a piece of paper, I was visible, because Julianne is visible.

Having a daughter born in China with a visible medical need has wrenched me from my comfortable perch looking in, and has plopped me into a fish bowl.  People SEE us.  They look at us.  They are curious about us.   She is an extension of me, and when she is seen, I am too.  Even when I’m not physically with her, I sense people seeing her, questioning her appearance, wondering “what happened”.  It can be (has been) a panic inducing thought process.


Julianne has Epidermolysis bullosa.  The last week of October heralds in the week in which we work even more feverishly toward public awareness.

“I DON’T WANT TO BE SEEN!” is the cry of my heart, and yet because she has no choice in the matter of her own visibility, I stand with her.

*Deep breath*

I remember that we are brave, we are strong, and we can do hard things.

That short phrase is what I remind her of  when she struggles with having EB.  There are days where tears fall like a flood and the cry of her heart is to not have this struggle any more.  I can’t blame her; the pain I feel watching her is nothing compared to the pain she feels.  And so I look right into her dark eyes and make her repeat it after me…

“I am brave.  I am strong.  I can do hard things.”

It’s easy to assume that because she has a condition that makes her fragile that she would want to be treated as fragile, and that’s a tricky thing to deal with because it’s absolutely not true.  Yes, there are days when she needs extra hugs and kisses; days when sitting on the couch and reading her favorite books while she runs her fingers up and down my scar-free arm are necessary.

She also revels in doing the impossible.  She jumps on the trampoline while I hold my breath, knowing that perhaps we will have to take care of more wounds afterwards, but that it’s worth it.

She screams with joy as she pedals her bicycle around the cul-de-sac while I hold my breath, knowing that one slight bump will send her falling off and the results will be far more than a skinned knee, but that it will have been worth it.

She swings higher than she should on the swings all the while yelling at me to “WATCH THIS!!!”.  And yes, I hold my breath and hope that her fantastic dismount is graceful knowing that even if she falls, it will have been worth it.

She doesn’t hold back.  And so we don’t hold her back.

There are times when we speak words of caution to her, times when we make an executive decision to keep her safe in a situation we know will hurt her.  For the most part, though, she soaks in the life experiences with a smile the size of China on her face.

She is visible.  So very visible.  The joy she exudes would be enough to make her the focus of attention, but the attention lingers like a butterfly on a flower because of the appearance of her skin.


There are times when interactions with others is so positive and leaves my spirits buoyed.  I know that the person we talk to really gets it:  they see her on the outside, but they also see her on the inside.

There are times when my heart races because though I know the responses aren’t meant to make her an object of pity, that is exactly what they do.  Though I know the words that are often spoken are not meant to make my chest tighten in defense of my daughter, they do. Feeling sorry for her is not an option for us, and so it’s cannot be an option for you.  She may have to deal with much more difficult things in life compared to many, but we want you to know that

she is fragile on the outside, but on the inside?  She is stronger than most.

The message I would send about how to interact with her is this:

It’s okay to notice her differences.

Please don’t ignore your children if they are asking questions about her.  Little ones often have the most open-hearted inquiries, and it’s honestly a pleasure to talk to them on their level about what’s going on with her.  We see the hushed whispers, the “look” given by mothers desperately seeking to stop their child from asking what’s wrong with her. It’s a far better thing to let her talk about it out loud versus knowing people are talking about her.

Please don’t dwell on the differences.

I know it’s a fine line to walk.  There are, after all, so many factors that make her not the same as a typical child her age.  When it comes to how EB affects her, we opt to treat her much the same as a typical child her age.  Yes, she is bandaged up and protected, but that’s it.  Physically, she can do almost anything any other child can do.


Why do I even mention this?  Because, for us, it’s a slippery slope.  One person treating her like she is less than capable is just one person.  When it happens repeatedly, she begins to think she really can’t do certain things.  Having spent her youngest years in an institution, she is quick to read people and see what they want from her.  She can change her personality to suit the person she is interacting with; she knows if what they want is a victim persona, or a warrior persona… so tell her how strong she is!  Tell her how brave she is.  Tell her she can do hard things.


She is so very visible, and though it goes against everything in my introverted personality, I choose to be visible with her.  To let her walk this alone is not even a question.  Not even on the most difficult of days when I wonder how on earth this Big Picture we are living will ever come together properly does my heart of hearts want her to be alone in this.

I’d be lying, though, if I told you I relish these days; they are some of the hardest I’ve lived.  For some reason, the longer we are home, the harder it is to come to grips with the fact that it will always be a battle to communicate in which ways she is the same, and which ways she is not the same.  Trust me.  My brain is just as overloaded as yours is when trying to sort all of this out.  Maybe even more so.

For those who have lived this… I need not say more.

For those who haven’t… you are the reason I speak.

I know so many of you want to know the right thing to say; you want to teach your children the way to love people with visible differences in a way that shows them respect and honor.  My daughter needs the people in her world to tell her that visible is good.  She needs them to gently hold her hand and walk with her when she feels compressed by the whispers of voices not brave enough to speak to her face to face.  

Be those people.

I want her to be proud of being so visible, and even though I am dragged kicking and screaming along for the ride some days, I am thankful she has made me more visible, too.


EB Awareness Week falls on the last week of October every year.  To learn more about EB, visit

two years is nothing



Grief hits in the unexpected.

We got an email from our adoption agency yesterday letting us know we are getting close to the time when we need to complete our two year post-placement report.

My brain just stared at the words on the screen.

How could this be true?

How on EARTH are we at this point?

It doesn’t feel like we should be here…


Two years!  I’m thankful that a little over two years ago I was blissfully unaware of how challenging life would be as we neared the two year mark.

I sighed.  I moved on. Because that’s what life does.  There’s no pause button.

Last night, the kids were all tucked into bed asleep and I was reading before bedtime.  I reached into my bedside table drawer to find something to use as a bookmark.  I happened to grab a picture of our oldest daughter sitting with Cinderella at Disney World.  She was five and a half at the time… the exact same age Julianne is now.  I completely lost it.  The grief of all of the lost time, lost attachment, lost everything just crashed on me.  The realization that two years is NOTHING when it comes to healing her hurts made me feel like I was gasping for air. I know that we haven’t even scratched the surface on all of the pain associated with abandonment and loss and that knowledge is suffocating. The magnitude of the differences between a five-and-a-half year old who was brought up in a stable, safe home versus a five-and-a-half year old who was not is breathtaking.

Many days we just plug along, doing what we do every day, and the past seems to fade a little.  And then there are days like yesterday when grief whips itself up into a tsunami and seems bent on destruction.

I’ve grown accustomed to walking with Julianne through her grieving processes, but I realized yesterday I rarely allow myself the necessary time to grieve for myself.  It’s important.  I cannot hide or change the fact that adoption has rocked my world, nor the fact that I don’t always appreciate the rocking.

I mourned. I am mourning.

There are days when it’s just too much.

Sometimes, the post ends well.  There’s encouragement.  There’s a silver lining.

It’s okay to be surrounded by the flames. It’s okay for the waves to crash.  I know this. Something good is happening, I just can’t see that right now.

And so… the post just ends.



a filling worth fighting for


I’m sitting on my closet floor typing this.

Because sometimes a mama just needs to do that, you know?

The door needs to shut.  The voices need to fade so that all I can hear is myself think for a moment.  And when the silence continues to press down on my eardrums, the voice of the One who sees all of this insanity swirling around me and somehow calls it “good” can be heard a little louder.

Gosh.  I wish I had a candy bar right about now. 

The door isn’t thick enough… the walls continue to seep as if they too have reached their saturation point of noise.  Even in silence, noise echoes.

Someone shared a thought about adoption recently that has been rattling around in my head and like the crashing of cymbals, the sound of this thought has left my head ringing.  It was in relation to our cups not being automatically filled with love when we meet our newly adopted child.  If you read that and you’re horrified, I’d encourage you to read no further.

Yes.  It’s true.  Though we know this child is ours when we meet them, they don’t necessarily feel like ours automatically.  That’s not the case with the birth of the children from our bodies.  As women, we are flooded with hormones created by the One who calls all of this good so that we can automatically and completely love this squalling, red-faced, wrinkled tiny human we hold.  And it’s bliss.  Nobody’s baby is cuter that a freshly minted mama’s baby.  Truth.

Those hormones aren’t there when we meet our new children via adoption.  There are emotions, sure, but the hormone rush is conspicuously absent.  We love our child, but it feels like more work than it should at times.

We press on.

The cup of love that is filled to the brim and overflowing when we first lay eyes on our children-by-birth is handed to us empty when we meet our children-by-adoption.  We hold the cup, feeling a little silly to be holding an empty cup.  There’s a deep part of us that knows this cup isn’t made to be empty.  It’s made for a holding of something holy and precious and yet it’s utterly failing to meet its purpose.

Drip. Drip. Drop.

Slowly.  EVER so slowly, the drops start to plink into the cup.

Our child looks at us and makes eye contact.


Our child lets us hold them without stiffening their back and arching away.

Drip, drop.

Our child lets us snuggle them, fix their hair, feed them food.

Drop after drop after drop.

The drops require real work from us.  We have to fight for those smiles.  Fight for the safety our child feels.  We fight for their hearts and their hugs.  And it takes so much out of us. The cup that is slowly being filled is constantly requiring to be emptied into the lives of our child, and there are times when it feels like it will never be enough.

On my own?  It’s not enough. It will NEVER be enough for me to fight for the filling on my own.  I AM NOT ENOUGH.  But Him?  The One who breathes stars into existence?

He is always more than enough.

The One who sees this crazy mama sitting on the floor of her closet about to completely lose her ever-loving mind whispers, and the whisper darts quick and sure straight to my heart…

I got this. 

Let me…

And, He does.

He fills.

To overflowing.

And the cup is able to be poured out. It’s purpose, MY purpose is found not just in the filling but in the pouring.

From the floor of my closet, I’m hear to tell you this…

I may not know much and I may mess up mightily on a daily basis, but it doesn’t matter.  According to the One who knows exactly how badly I’d like to curl up under the covers and hide from the world sometimes… I’m worth fighting for, too.  He walked me into this crazy and has never left my side.

So for tonight, I let him do the filling.  He’ll have to use me when it comes time to pour out, and I’m okay with that.  Humbled, even.  I’m far from worth the goodness being spilled over into my heart right now.

And when it comes time to whisper the words of truth my mouth is weary of repeating, I find new strength; a strength not my own.

“Mom?  Why you love me?”

“Because God put enough love in my heart to love all of my babies, including you.  Forever.”

Drip. Drip. Drop.

The cup begins refilling all over again.

It’s tedious to watch the drops slowly fill the cup anew, but it is a filling worth fighting for.



the dance continues



Twenty months ago the dance began.  We saw things happening that no child should have experienced.  Even with all of the training we did, we saw behaviors we were surprised by. We felt fear.  We felt panic.

When will this end?

Will it ever end?

Forever is a long time, you know…

We slowly learned to dance with her, learning her quirks and habits and allowing her the space and time to draw closer to us as she slowly felt safer.

Time.  So much time, and often, too little patience.

I want results, people!  I want to see fruits of our efforts!  


And while there have been tremendous changes in both us and her… the dance continues.

Hidden trauma resurfaces.  New stories are shared.  Buried pain is unearthed…

prompted by change, new events, new schedules.

The desperation to belong is strong,  old behaviors suddenly seem to be what feel safe again… trust has to be relearned.

Frustration bubbles and rises inside me.

When will this end?

Will it ever end?

The dance continues.

Turns out, the dance never ended.  It’s continuous, this one-two-three step with her… learning to lean in when we want to back away, learning to open up when we want to shut down, learning to recognize and call out the fears that threaten to swamp us again.

Not just her.

Me, too.

And so we start again.  A new round to a dance we already know, but this time twirling is accented by hope bubbling up over the frustration.

Lean in.  Breath deeply.

We can do this.







Many people who haven’t adopted and admire those who have think that we have rescued our child.

Truth is, we’re the rescued ones.

Rescued from selfishness.

Rescued from anger.

Rescued from a worldview that says doing “fun things” is more important than adding more kids to the family.

Rescued from believing it’s all about us.

Rescued from blindness as it concerned the orphan crisis worldwide.

Rescued from the easy life.

Rescued from fear as we completely let go of everything that seems “practical” to answer a call we know is purely divine.

Rescued from thinking we have to do it all, or have it all, or be it all.

Us?  The rescuers?


Not even close.

We are the least worthy, the least able, the least capable.

We lack patience many days, we lack freedom to drop everything and travel, we lack personal space pretty much all the time.

We are tired, unqualified, and overwhelmed.

According to society, we’re a tiny bit crazy; there is no good, practical, reasonable way to explain why WE should be walking this path… it’s not easy.  It never will be.  And yet…

When she looks at us and joyfully recounts how God told us to go to China to get her… when she repeats the well-worn tale of the day we got her… when she giggles as we tell stories about our time in her birth country…

When she sits through agonizing medical procedures and sings a song… when she pats my hand and tells me I can do hard things… when she wraps her arms as tightly as she can around my neck when I kiss her goodnight…

Knowing that a simple three letter word resulted in this daughter being placed in our family…

We are the rescued ones.






messy joy

Sometimes the mess of life makes my order-loving heart beat an uneven rhythm as I dwell on the clean-up to come. 
Not today. Messy is good. Messy is what every day is. Family is messy. Loving each other well when we’re tired is messy. Being kind to each other when our instinct is self-preservation is messy. 

But there is great joy to be found if we choose to look for it. 

There is dying to self in the mess. There’s awareness of who we were, who we are, and who God is calling us to be. 

There is awareness that complacency is death, and desperation can be life-giving if we allow the questions we ask to be answered by our perfect Father.

So… bring on the messy things. The end result is always worth it. 

lavender jade

lavender jade 3 blog copy

“The lavender is more rare,” he told me in the crowded marketplace teeming with voices and noises completely different from those I was accustomed to at home.  I glanced down at the little face, the rare butterfly who flitted into my life and knew the circle of lavender is what I needed. One day, I would be able to tell her the story about why I chose the palest purple rather than the tradition green.  She will know why I hold the cold circle to my mouth to feel it gradually warm against my lips.  It’s a reminder to love the rare things in life; a reminder of those days when our family was first being forged into something new and beautiful.  A lavender jade kind of beauty.

lavender jade 3 blog copy

Earlier in the summer, we had a precious vial of Julianne’s blood drawn in order to undergo genetic testing.  Specifically, we wanted to learn more about the type and sub-type of EB she has.  Epidermolysis Bullosa is rare.  Lavender jade rare.  There are several types and a plethora of sub-types within each type.  Because the physical symptoms vary so much between people even within the same type or sub-type, we felt that knowing more information might help us take a glance into her future; we knew it was information she would one day want to know.

After eight weeks of waiting, we got her results back, and though I had secretly hoped for clear-cut “this is what she has” print on our paper copy, it wasn’t quite conclusive.  The type is conclusive, and exactly what I’ve thought she had since Day One.  The sub-type is the mystery.  A lavender jade mystery.

There are cases where what’s on the inside (genotype) doesn’t match what’s on the outside (phenotype).  These cases are unique, and no one really knows why it happens.  There are guesses, assumptions, and suppositions, but no concrete knowledge.  It looks like she’s one of these unique cases; surprisingly, she’s more unique than even I imagined. Lavender jade unique.

lavender jade 4 blog copy

Why do I mention any of this at all?

Because knowing these details about the way her DNA is bound together has changed me.

I realized a few days after perusing through some medical journals that with the slightest twist, her life, our lives… they would have been vastly different.  With the slightest twist, she may not have exhibited physical signs of EB at all, and chances are strong that she would still be living half a world away from us.  With the slightest twist, she may have exhibited more severe physical signs of EB, and, not knowing anything about it at the start of our adoption process, we may have felt we could not care for her the way she would have needed to be cared for.

My stomach clenched tight at these realizations.  I was not okay with it.  Not okay with her not being here for any reason.  Not okay with remaining unaware of the beauty of the butterfly we call our daughter.

She has caused me to grow and stretch in ways I could have never imagined.  She has taught me what strength in the face of sheer terror looks like.  She has demonstrated bravery in situations that would have caused me to crumble had I not had her steady brown eyes to look into.  Having her has taught me that what’s on the outside 110% doesn’t matter even an inch compared to what’s on the inside.  Her outside screams pain and suffering.  Her inside shines with joy forged in the fire.  It’s a lavender jade kind of joy.

lavender jade 2

The lavender circle is heavy around my neck.  Rare things are to be protected, and our daughter is one of them.  The weight of protecting her hums through my brain, through my blood. Protection as a mandate, as a gift to another mama halfway around the world who wore the same weight years ago.

She is a gift.  I know that now more than ever before.  A lavender jade kind of gift.

Rare.  Precious.  Beautiful.



new perspective

A photo by Jason Ortego.

You look at me and tell me I’m awesome.

I look at you and tell you “awesome” means nothing in the face of the kind of tired I feel many days.


You see me dealing with medical care, appointments, and therapies and wonder how I maintain composure in the face of a life-long diagnosis.

I see me barely holding it all together some days.


You see our large family craziness and say, “That kind of ‘normal’ is not for me!”

I know “normal” is a myth and we all just have to take each day as it comes.


You see my child doing well in her new environment.

I see the battles she had to fight to make it to this place.


You see us and tell us how well adjusted we all are.

I see us and know this current dynamic has been hard won.


You see the dimple creasing her cheek as she giggles and twirls in her favorite dress.

I see her grieving losses she doesn’t completely understand.


You wonder how we manage to do the activities we do.

I often see the things we can’t do.


You applaud my parenting.

I feel despair in the face of my failures.


You say I’m strong.

I know I’m weak.


You say we’ve come so far.

I see how far we have left to go.


But you know what?

I also see the things you see.

Her beauty, resilience, bravery.  My growing patience, wisdom, compassion.

A year ago, I could only see my side of the story, the things you saw were shrouded in gray.   I could only see how far we had to go.  I could only focus on the ways in which life was upside down.  I could only talk about the fears I had for the future.

I’m glad God calls us to do hard things, because that’s when we see a little more of His heart.

I’m thankful for today and the slow shifting of my eyes; more upward.  Less inward.

I’m thankful that HE sees her.  Broken.

I’m thankful that HE sees me.  Broken.

And he heals.

The journey continues.


first day of school

Oh Happy Day 2

It’s official.

Summer of 2016 is in the books, and School Year 2016-1017 is off to a great start!

Oh Happy Day


Were you expecting super cute pictures of my kids?


Okay, okay. I did take some pics of them, and, as per the norm, they are adorable.  And one day, I might post a few. But today is a big day not just because it’s their first day of school… it’s MY first day of school, too!   For the past ten years, we have had a child at home in some form or fashion.  Babies, toddlers, homeschoolers, a newly adopted dumpling, and I’ve loved it.  I never ever take for granted that I am able to stay home with my children. Even on the rough days, I know it’s a gift.

I also know I’m going to enjoy this next phase of life.  All four in school right now.  All at the SAME location (!!!), and all excited about their new year.  I can’t wait to be the one who can say “yes” to things I’ve never been able to say yes to before, like helping out with our school’s new dyslexia program.   I am pumped to know that I can make it to every field trip without having to find childcare for the kids still at home.  I can run lunches to them just for fun some days, and *gasp* perhaps even have a lunch or two with the Hubs sans children.  I will be able to hang out and reconnect with friends I haven’t been able to see much of over the past two years, and stroll leisurely-like through a grocery store while pushing a cart.

It’s gonna be good.  A different kind of good.

Oh happy day!

PS – If you love this Oh Happy Day shirt as much as I do (it’s super comfy!) click here to get yourself one!  The proceeds will be used by The Sparrow Fund to help fund orphan care initiatives, among other cool projects.  Check them out!

eighteen months

blog 18 months 1

I remember distinctly when my first three babies hit the eighteen-month mark in age.  The one-year mark was huge, but for whatever reason, making it to the halfway point on Year Two was just significant for me.

Maybe I realized that I was, indeed, actually DOING THIS THING.

By the time my firstborn reached 18 months old, I already had another baby, aged 3 months.  By the time my second born was 18 months old, we were close to discovering there would be baby #3 headed our way in the next year.  When my third born was 18 months old, I felt settled.


At peace with the number our family had (quickly) grown to.

*God chuckled*

Now, Julianne is past the 18 months mark being home.  A year and a half.  Though the one-year mark felt huge, this milestone feels big, too.

Maybe I’m realizing that I am, indeed, actually DOING THIS THING.

blog 18 months 1

Eighteen months comes right at the start of a new stage in life; going to the same school with big brothers and big sister.

Eighteen months comes with some uncertainty.  What will this new school be like?

Eighteen months is full of knowing that the norms are about to change, and needing to draw closer to family things to cope.

Eighteen months looks real.  It’s continually processing fears and grief and anxiety.

Eighteen months is fun.

It’s learning-how-to-swim,


and wearing-favorite-costumes-to-the-grocery-store.

Eighteen months is loving speech therapy and growing in leaps and bounds.

Eighteen months is singing favorite songs, asking to be called “Princess”, and having a definite preference for Chinese-style noodles.

Eighteen months isn’t by any stretch of the imagination perfect.  

But it’s more familiar.  It’s safer feeling.  It’s more connected. 

blog 18 months 2

A year and a half.

My, oh my.  Time flies.

**photography by Laura James photography**