Autism Advocacy: Fight the Good Fight for Them!

 

In March 2017 my husband, daughter and I welcomed our son/brother into our family through international adoption. Anthony and I were beyond grateful for Nightlight Christian Adoptions, our home study agency and our adoption agency, MLJ Adoptions International Inc. requiring so much education prior to traveling that gave us the tools to begin the attachment process and to help Jonathan journey down the path of healing and connection. As we settled in at home, we knew to best help Jonathan we needed further education and took a TBRI Caregiver course that gave us invaluable information and went in depth on explaining trauma and how it affects connection. We did several in home sessions with Amie Cooper, the Flourishing Families TBRI Practitioner, which took all that we had learned and really tailored it to Jonathan and our family. We saw improvements with each session.

After a year of sifting through behaviors and recognizing some that were outside of the trauma realms, we decided to have Jonathan evaluated by a psychologist. His behaviors did in fact fall on the autism spectrum. For us nothing changed by having this diagnosis but for Jonathan this meant that the world would have a better understanding on how to help him. Doors opened for Jonathan for therapies that he so desperately needed. The public school system was able to meet Jonathan where he was and give him assistance he needed.

God has truly put a dream team together that supports him in every aspect, they genuinely care for him as a whole person and us. Now don’t get me wrong, it did take some time to find the right people but you are your child’s greatest advocate in every area! Fight the good fight for them. The best advice I could give a parent would be, don’t settle and trust your instincts because this can be portrayed as an invisible disability.

Because Jonathan sees the world differently, he has taught me to slow down, to look at the details. And I have learned more about dinosaurs and the human body than I ever knew! He really likes dinosaurs and learning how things work. When I look in his eyes, I see a child that is smart, brave and strong. I am so proud of Jonathan and all that he has accomplished. With his schedule full of therapies, he works harder than most kids his age. The first time I saw him draw a flower it brought tears to my eyes, to me it wasn’t just a flower, I saw all the hours his resource teacher, OT and so many more has poured onto him helping him. How do you say thank you to those people? The people that are helping our son manage his world around him, to learn skills that for most take for granted.

We truly believe being able to have the strong foundation established at the beginning through TBRI practices along with the help of Flourishing Families, we were able to enter into the second year advocating for Jonathan successfully as we continued to connect and grow as a family. Jonathan has already touched so many people in his life I know God has big plans for him and am humbled to be able to be his mom and to see God work in his life.

If you are a foster or adoptive family in the State of South Carolina, be sure to check out Flourishing Families and the services they provide at https://www.flourishingfamiliessc.org/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

~Anthony and Jennifer G.

Always Hope

 

In our years of waiting to build our family, we would often lose hope that it would ever happen. We would question if the word hope even existed. And when we started seeing others build their family, we would often feel defeated and hopeless in our journey.

While we were waiting, I went on a missions trip with our church. At the end of each day, we were asked where we saw God working in our daily task. We knew the question was coming so we began to look for God working throughout the day. Our answers varied—sometimes we saw God working in a conversation with a person, sometimes it was through a kind act, or sometimes it was God creating something sacred in us individually. It became the start of something new for me–to look for God in the daily. He’s already there….but when you look for God..you see God clearer and you don’t miss a moment. You have a perspective change.

I began to write down where I saw God in the daily moments and interactions. He was in the little notes left by my husband, He was in the conversations I had with friends, and He was often found in my workplace…a homeless shelter. He was reaching me in ways I never noticed before. He was in moving in my daily and creating beauty all around me….and I finally began to see it.

As I began to see Him more clearly, I quickly saw where He was leading me. He was leading me back to hope. Step by step..….He knitted our story together. He knew our future child and her birthparents…..He already knew how our story would unfold. Seeing God and being thankful in God for what he has done, grew my confidence of what he’ll continue to do, both in the daily and in the bigger moments. This ultimately rekindled my hope. We seek Him. We thank Him. We build our hope in Him.

You have to create your own hope…and hope for me came from creating a thanksgiving spirit. When you become thankful…you become hopeful. Always. And being hopeful will completely change your perspective of the adoption process. We have to protect our view of the process, because adoption is the most beautiful adventure this mama has ever experienced. Always Hope.

World Down Syndrome Day: “Leave No One Behind”

This year on World Down Syndrome Day 2019, the charge and call of action for every person with Down Syndrome and the advocates who support them is to tell the world to “leave no one behind.” Every person with Down Syndrome is capable, deserving, and worthy to live a full life with equal opportunities. In a world where many are self-focused and driven in their own paths for life, our brothers and sisters with Down Syndrome often face exclusion and discrimination and are often “left behind.” This is especially true for our waiting children.

I had the chance to sit down with an adoptive family, Ross & Tamara, currently in the process of bringing home their two-year-old daughter from South East Asia for an interview. Here is a snippet of what we discussed.

  • What should other families considering adoption know about Down Syndrome?

Down Syndrome is often looked at in a negative light, but there is life and life abundant in parenting a child with Down Syndrome. Above all, she will be our daughter first, our daughter who also happens to have Down Syndrome. Down Syndrome will be a small part of her journey here on this earth, but it will not define her journey. There are opportunities to live a full life and many children are capable of holding jobs, driving cars, and going to college. Yes, parenting a child with Down Syndrome might add more to your life with things like speech therapies, visits to the doctor, and advocating for schooling, however, parenting a child with Down Syndrome will add more to your life in other ways; filling your heart with joy, having a love for others, and caring for the least of these. A verse that we have been praying over our family has been Psalm 68: 5-6; “A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in His holy dwelling, God sets the lonely in families.”

  • When was your heart first stirred towards parenting a child with Down Syndrome?

My heart was first stirred towards parenting a child with Down Syndrome when I read the article, Where Have All the Kids with Down Syndrome Gone?. The article focuses on the increased rate of abortion when a diagnosis of Down Syndrome is given. As a pro-life family, we want to walk in truth and walk in action. If we are fighting for pro-life, we should also fight for the children that are waiting and take action to support them. For us, that means adoption, for others, that might mean advocating.   

 

  • What does your community and support system look like?

Our community does not have many families that are parenting children with Down Syndrome, however, we have found several online communities and forums that are so supportive and available to answer all of our questions. Our church community has also been very supportive! They have come alongside of us and are praying and patiently waiting for the arrival of our daughter into our community. Our local Regional Center and school district offer plenty of early intervention and educational resources that we are so excited about accessing once our daughter comes home!

 

Let’s stand beside our friends with Down Syndrome and be a part of leaving no one behind! Here are a few links to increase your knowledge of Down Syndrome and to advocate for our friends. Let us know some of your favorites!

Resources about Down Syndrome and Parenting children with Down Syndrome:

https://www.heatheravis.com/the-lucky-few-the-book

https://reecesrainbow.org/

https://www.ndsan.org/

The Reason I Became a Social Worker

When I was 11 years old, I was watching a television program about a child who had been abused.  That child was talking with an adult, likely a social worker, though I was not familiar with the term at the time.  I knew right then that I wanted to do what that woman was doing.  I wanted to help children, but I had no idea what that would look like.  When I went to college, I started as a psychology major.  Psychology was the only field I was aware of that would get me to my goal.  At my university the psychology degree was very research based.  As I began studying in that field, it just didn’t fit.  I went to see my college advisor and she said, “Describe to me what you want to do.”  After I told her, she said, “It sounds to me like you want to do social work.”  To which I answered, “What’s that?”

She sent me to the social work department at the university to meet with the dean.  After talking with the dean, I knew that this was the right fit.  As I continued in my studies, often when I would tell others what I was studying, they would make a face or comment on how little money I would make in that field.  Those things didn’t matter to me.  I just knew that God had called me to help people and social work was the best way for me to do that.

Over the years, I have worked for child protective services, community development, therapeutic foster care, adoption, and I even did a short stint in hospice.  I have gained a lot of experience and dealt with some extremely difficult situations, but I have never regretted my decision to pursue social work. Social work is not easy.  It is often a thankless job with low pay, high caseloads, and high stress.  If you know a social worker, take the time to thank her or honor her this month (Social Work Month).  Let her know that she is appreciated.

In my very first social work job after college, I attended a training where the person instructed all of the attendees to begin a “warm fuzzy file”.  She said that we would have discouraging days and we would need to keep reminders of all of our good days.  I took her advice, and I have traveled from job to job with that file.  I now have a Masters in Social Work and have been working in the field for 21 years.  My “warm fuzzy file” is stuffed to overflowing, and I am so grateful for that trainer’s advice.  Whenever I am feeling discouraged, I pull it out and read notes and look at photos.  It helps me to continue and not give up.

 

 

 

 

 

Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Galatians 6:9

God’s Call to Single Parenting

 

I have always known that I wanted to adopt. Like many women, I assumed that it would be after I was married. However, God had a different plan for me, and I continue to be blessed beyond anything I could have imagined. I am a single mama of two precious boys, both adopted from China. We are now in the process of adding a little princess to our family. Trusting God to build my family has been one of the most faith-building and awe-inspiring things in my life.

I work in a neonatal intensive care unit. When I was still in training, I came across a picture of my first son. God made it quite clear that he was my son. I am so thankful that God was faithful to speak loudly and clearly enough that even my feeble faith at the time could follow Him. It seemed illogical. I was in training. I was single. I was very stretched financially. And the child he showed me was a 5 year old boy. Weren’t single women supposed to adopt little girls? To top it off, this child was deaf, a special need that I wasn’t prepared for. No one in my family knew sign language and I knew that he NEEDED extended family if I was to adopt him as a single mama. Time after time, God moved mountains. Family members were learning sign language, finances came through at the last minute, and my precious son Samuel has now been home for 4.5 years. Beyond all explanation, this child who had no language for almost 6 years is now a fluent English language speaker.

Within the first year of coming home, Samuel began to pray for a brother. I should have known then what was coming! I wasn’t ready AT ALL. We had just moved to a new state where I knew no one so that Samuel could attend a school for the deaf. But God was moving. One year later, I began the process to adopt again, I thought this time for a little girl. Once again, I had no idea how God was going to do this, financially or otherwise. Three days later, a friend texted me the picture of a little boy, asking if I had seen him on the advocacy websites. On that same day, my agency called with a referral for a little girl, exactly the age and a manageable special need that was on my heart. A few minutes later, I stood at my computer and I saw the most beautiful, perfect little face pop up on my screen. She was a vision and I knew instantly that she wasn’t mine. I sobbed and sobbed. What was wrong with me? My heart kept pulling to the little boy in my text message. Seriously God? TWO BOYS? As a single mama? I thought for sure I was not hearing correctly. I called my agency back and asked for time to pray. Three days later, I called to decline the little girl’s file and accept the little boy’s but my faith-walk wasn’t over yet. This time God didn’t “write on the wall”. This time, it was a still small voice that I really wanted to drowned out. But HE gave me courage to walk forward. That most precious little boy was in my arms in FIVE AND A HALF MONTHS! Start to finish, this was the fastest journey I had ever heard about. God provided social supports and the necessary finances in the way only God can do. Once again, He provided where I saw no way. And my Averey? He is the cuddliest, most affectionate child I have ever met. He is the perfect, funny, light-hearted balance to my serious, determined first son. They are the family only God could build.

Then in September of 2017, Averey started praying for a little sister. It took awhile for his brother to come around, but then they ganged up on me. And here we are, at another cross-roads. I have no more idea what God has in store this time than I did the other times. Samuel has graduated from the school for the deaf and both boys are attending a public school for the first time this year. We were able to move to a smaller community closer to friends and family and things have settled into a nice even pace again.

Like with Samuel and Averey, God led to my daughter. Our precious little girl (“little sister” as we refer to her at home) is waiting for us in China and we are well on our way to bringing her home. God has shown Himself already in a million ways like only He can. It gets harder each time to figure out the finances of adoption. I have expired my retirement, I just bought my first house ever with zero down and am still paying on my college loans. It seems risky at worst, unwise at best, but I have seen HIM through this process more clearly than I ever have before. He has changed me, shaped me, and molded me through the stretching of my faith. He has built a village around us and continues to do so. I continue to pray for His guidance and His provision. It is a scary thing, walking into adoption as a single parent. I watch my boys sleeping at night and am in awe that I get to co-parent them. They love to tell people who ask, “My daddy is God.” I guess that pretty well sums it up.

 

— Amber (Adoptive Mom)

Black History Month is for Everyone

 

As a 46-year-old white woman you may not think I pay much attention to Black History Month. Thankfully adoption has made it an integral part of my life and I’m honored to share what it means to my family. My Afro-Colombian daughter will tell you her race is black but her heritage is Hispanic. This puzzles many African Americans, particularly when she starts speaking Spanish to them. My husband, a white man, is South African and grew up under apartheid rule and was living in Africa when Nelson Mandela, who he calls a hero, became president. We consider our biological children African American even though their race is white. We also have a Hispanic daughter from Mexico. We talk about race in our home. A lot.

The truth is, adoptive parents’ love is not colorblind. When our family walks into a new environment we realize everyone sees a story of family building through adoption. So Black History Month in our family means embracing our daughter’s heritage and her race as she adds her story to the millions of black people in our country. Her story is both dark and brilliant with a future full of hope. And that is what we wish for all black Americans living in this country – hope.

Black History Month is so much more than learning about the history of African diaspora. It is about survival, hardship, victory, stereotypes, truths, music, language, food, fashion, cinema, minority, majority, hair, skincare, shades of brown to black, and all the differences in each and every one of those words across the different black cultures in our country. For instance, when my daughter talks about food from her afro-Colombian community it is quite different than the food I so love from growing up in the deep south. The race is the same but the culture is remarkably distinct.

As a family with four children, our favorite quote is from Martin Luther King Jr, “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” We add to that sentence “equally” since our children are of different races. God created all of our skin tones which gives us enough reason to celebrate our uniqueness every day.

Feel Good Friday: Gunter Family

 

We are Joe and Kaley Gunter. We are coming up on 11 years of marriage. Adoption has always been something we wanted to pursue but just never knew when we would pursue it. After three years of trying unsuccessfully to get pregnant we knew the Lord was calling us to begin pursuing adoption.

We began our adoption journey with Love Basket, a smaller Christian adoption agency who later merged with Nightlight Christian Adoption Services in March 2015. This agency stood out to us at an adoption fair because of the high value and love they placed on the birthparents. We knew we would love to be able to have a relationship with the birthparents of our child if they were open to that, so the fact this agency counseled birthparents along the journey to make sure this was the right fit for them confirmed this was the agency the Lord was calling us to use. We started our paperwork and training in March 2015 and due to several reasons, some including the merge of agencies, knowing the Lord was calling us out of our ministry position in Louisville but not sure where He was leading, and then our move from Louisville KY to Magnolia MM (which required us finding an assisting agency to complete our home study in Mississippi) all of our paperwork was finally finished in February 2017 and we were ready to be matched.

On March 2nd we received a call from our caseworker stating that she wanted to show our profile to a birth mom but the expenses would be more than expected due to birth mom being privately insured. We told her to show our profile because if the Lord saw fit for this to be our child then He would work the financial aspect out. Then we prayed, trusted, and waited. The following day we headed to Hattiesburg for a date day and got a phone call from our caseworker. We knew she would let us know either way the decision the birth mom made regarding us parenting her child. So when we saw our caseworke’s name on our phone so many emotions were flooding us. She informed us we had been chosen to parent a two day old baby girl and of all the states she could have been born in she was born in Kentucky, Louisville Kentucky at that.

We will never forget the moment we first laid our eyes on our daughter. To experience a moment you have prayed so many years for was overwhelming. She was and is the most beautiful little girl we have ever seen. We immediately fell in love with her and felt a closeness to her.

For four months our journey was fairly smoothly waiting to finalize, but then in July 2017 our story took a turn. Keeping details private, we spent 13 months waiting to finalize our daughter. This by far is the hardest journey we have ever endured, but I can say wholeheartedly I would not change our situation. Through this we learned in a way we never have to truly rely on Christ and lean on Him, even in the times we were in despair and shattered. We clung to the truth that her birth mom chose us to raise her daughter and that before the Lord created her, we were chosen to parent her.

There are so many little details the Lord has orchestrated in our story. If I could sit down with you face-to-face, I would tell you all the ways God worked behind the scenes in the little details and how truly great His faithfulness and kindness is.

All of the waiting was ordained, and we may never know the reasons our daughter’s story started the way it did. But we know the truth of this quote “Waiting time is not wasted time” The wait was long at times and there was questioning on how the Lord would provide financially for our unexpected journey to finalization and how long it would be until she was legally ours. But God truly showed up in all the hard. We learned the meaning of “all we have is Christ” when life makes no sense. A vital truth that will carry us on through this earthly life. God being who He is, showed up financially and the month after we finalized our daughter our adoption process was paid in full!!! We are so grateful for the generosity of others on our journey and the village of people God has surrounded us with. Adoption can be messy and hard at times, but it is also beautiful and worth it all.

 

New Year Resolutions

 

As we approach a New Year, thoughts and conversations around resolutions are inevitable. Whether we resolve to go to the gym more, worry less or finally plant that garden, most of us face January 1st with motivation and resolve to conquer the impossible. And most of us know that by March (if we’re lucky) that motivation has been drained and life has somehow gotten in the way of bringing the full resolution into reality. So why does that happen year after year?

 

I would argue we each get in the way of ourselves.  Never did I involve God in my resolution until a few years ago. I decided my resolution would simply be: Less of me, more of Him. It was the hardest resolution I have ever made, but certainly the most effective, educational and life changing. First I had to figure out where, when, and how this resolution would take place. Every day, all day? What would that look like? Did I need to become Mother Theresa? Then I remembered 1 Thessalonians 5:17: Pray without ceasing. To me that verse means including Him in all things, big or small, all day long. So I did my best to start with that.

 

With that in mind and habit, I allowed God to form HIS resolutions in me. It became less about what I wanted to change, but more about discovering what He wanted to change within me, around me and for me. The burden of a new resolution became less about goals and more about BEING who my Father wanted me to be.

 

In this New Year, we challenge you to simply press in to the relationship you have with your heavenly Father. We know from 2 Corinthians 5:17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come; The old has gone, the new is here!  It is truly a miracle that we have opportunity to renew ourselves by simply stepping into a relationship with Christ – either for the first time or deeper into the on we have. No membership fees, no diets, no degrees required.

 

Happy New Year to all of our Nightlight families and extended community! May 2019 bring you abundant blessings and joy to all.

God’s Greatest Gift

 

 

As we enter the Christmas season, there are so many things to be thankful for: the health of living in a bountiful nation, the happiness of having choices, and the hope of what tomorrow will bring. Yet as we ponder these things amongst our daily to do lists, nothing would seem quite as important, if we did not have loved ones with whom we could share this season of joy and celebration with. Hearing family and friends laugh, and experiencing their embrace as they express their gratitude for having received what their hearts desired, reminds me of the blessings I have received from my heavenly Father.

He answered my prayer to become a parent. I longed to hold a little one in my arms and know I had been used by God to bring he, or she, into the world. What a wonderful blessing that would be…my little one is 25 years old now. I am forever grateful and amazingly blessed to be a part of such a miracle.  

During this season, perhaps you, too, have similar thoughts or feelings, desiring to become a parent, and welcome a baby into your loving arms and become part of your family.

Whether you have remaining embryos that you desire to place with another couple for the purpose of adoption, or whether you desire to adopt embryos so that you can know the joys, and challenges, of parenthood, we encourage you to reach out to us. The Snowflakes Embryo Adoption Team are waiting to answer your questions.

 

We wish you and your loved ones a Merry Christmas.

Surviving the Holidays While Waiting for Adoption

 

 

We lost our daughter inside the womb the day after Thanksgiving, conceived through in vitro fertilization. Less than 24 hours earlier we were rejoicing that among our many blessings, was the pending arrival of our little girl, and we were looking forward to celebrating the upcoming holidays with our little one. Suddenly the holidays took on a whole new meaning and the commercialism of our culture magnified our loss. Our first Christmas card of the season arrived a few days later. It happened to be a sonogram photograph, our friends’ creative way to announce their pregnancy on their holiday greeting. The barrage of Christmas cards that arrived in our mailbox over the next few weeks competed with the influx of toy advertisements, commercials, and holiday activities for children offered at our church and in the community. When my best friend called me before 7:15 am on Christmas morning to tell me that her at home pregnancy test had just revealed her own little bundle of joy, I held it together until I hung up the phone. That Christmas was the first of many holidays spent waiting for God’s plan for our family to unfold, first through IVF and then through adoption. Each holiday became a painful reminder of our loss and our unfulfilled longing to be parents. Easter, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, an endless cycle of celebrations that center on children and family.
There is no magic formula to “survive the holidays” while you wait to bring a child into your home. However, you can be better prepared by recognizing that the holidays may be difficult, accept the emotions when they come, plan ahead, and pray for God to help you through. Here are some suggestions that helped me discover some ways to not only survive the holidays while we waited, but celebrate, as well.

• Remember what the holiday is all about. As I sobbed that first Christmas morning after losing my daughter and cried out to God in prayer, I recognized that the holidays point to “holy days.” Christmas is about God in the flesh who loved us so much that he came as a baby to earth to address the needs of those suffering, not just here but for eternity. I recognized that Easter was about Him conquering death and bridging the gap between man and God. Because he came and because he died, I now have a relationship with a personal God who hears my innermost cries and is sovereign over my circumstances. That alone is a reason to celebrate!

• Turn to God. “For the Word of God is living and active” (Hebrews 4:12) and “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” (Psalm 46:1). His word says, “Lord you are always with me; you hold me by my right hand…My flesh and my heart may fail, but you are the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” (Psalm 73:23,26) Allow God to speak and comfort you through his holy word.

• Send a letter to close friends and family. One of the very best ideas I had while I was waiting was writing a letter before the holidays to very close friends and family members. I preemptively answered questions and addressed issues that I thought they would ask so that they would know I loved them and wanted to involve them in our journey to parenthood, but wouldn’t be ambushed during our time together over the holidays. I told them some facts, described my feelings, and lovingly informed them that if I wanted them to know more or wanted to talk about it over the holidays, I would initiate it. This boundary helped me walk into a room knowing that I wasn’t going to be ambushed, they didn’t have to feel awkward wondering what to say or if they should ask, and we could just enjoy our time together. It empowered me to talk about it when I was comfortable.

• Create new traditions. Talk with your spouse about traditions that you want to implement when your child comes home and come up with new ones. If you are adopting internationally, learn about foods and traditions from their birth culture that you can incorporate when your child arrives. If attending a Mother’s Day service at church each year is too painful, create the tradition of going out of town for the weekend or having your own devotional at home followed by a big brunch.

• Be selective about the invitations you accept. Sometimes attending a holiday gathering may prove difficult for you and exposes you to the painful reminder that you are still waiting to hold your child in your arms. Decide with your spouse which invitations you want to accept and reserve the right to change your plans if you or your spouse are having an especially difficult time.

• Script your response. Most people asking questions or making comments about your parental status or adoption plan are honestly wanting to say and do the “right” thing. Well-meaning friends and family members need a lot of grace. Prayerfully consider what you’d like others to know about how you are dealing with your adoption journey and the waiting period, and plan how you will respond to certain questions ahead of time. It not only helps your anxiety in the moment, but is an opportunity to educate others.

• Focus on Others. Shifting your focus towards others is a great way to minister to others, serve God, and take your mind off of your own pain. Jesus said, “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve.” (Mark 10:45) Volunteer serving food to the homeless on Thanksgiving, pack boxes for the children around the world with Operation Christmas Child, spend time at a nursing home, or write cards to grieving people in your church. There are people in need all around you.