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Wednesday, September 21, 2016

What My Eyes Have Seen...Part 5

Over the past three weeks I have been in three cities in China and one in the Philippines.  The combined population of these 4 cities is well over 50 million people and all are rapidly growing. Interesting to note, Japan is the only country on the planet that has a declining population and the facts surrounding that discovery are somewhat fascinating and alarming.  Check it out.  Of course you know any given population is constantly changing with births and deaths every day.  How does anyone actually know how many people there are at any given moment in time?

Beijing - 21.7 million

Zhengzhou - 9.3 million

Guangzhou - 13+ million

Manila - 13+ million

To give a more clear perspective of these numbers in relation to the United States, the current US population is approaching 325 million people, total. Our largest city is New York which has 8.55 million people and Los Angeles our 2nd largest city, just over 4 million. 

Over the past 3 weeks I have been transported in a rickshaw, ski-lift, toboggan, cars, vans, taxis, buses, bullet and regular trains, trams, subways and planes, no scooters, motorbikes or boats this trip.  I have looked into the faces and eyes of countless people and precious children. Since I have light skin and blue eyes (on some days) I draw attention in these masses. Thankfully no children screamed in terror when they saw me on this trip.  I have had that reaction by some when visiting African countries; it breaks my heart every time.  I have been very well treated and called ma'am or madam, by all ages, more in the past three weeks than in three years here in the states.  Yes, some cultures still respect their elders and train the next generation to do so.

Let me give us even greater perspective.  These numbers simply represent the current population of the globe.  They do not represent all those who have already lived and died.  They also do not represent those who are yet to be born.  

Debriefing after a trip like this takes time...deliberate and intentional time.  One of the things I do for SFH team members following trips, especially to Liberia, is help them process through what they have experienced. 
"The counsel of the LORD stands forever, the plans of His heart from generation to generation."~Psalm 33:11

My experiences over the past three weeks are too numerous to recount. I do not have any one to debrief with, except my LORD.  He was the only one traveling with me, as a team member, this trip.  
He will provide others to help with this process in a variety of ways though and I am anticipating those opportunities. I trust my LORD to lead me through this time of debriefing over the next days and weeks, making sure I retain and glean all He desires.  The gospel of John is our focus for Bible Study Fellowship this year and I have no doubt He will speak through this study in numerous ways.  I constantly tell my Brothers and Sisters, "Our God wastes nothing!" This is true for all my experiences these past three weeks, as well. 

I have to wonder how many of those, I have seen with my own eyes, do not know Him or do not even know of Him.  I also have to wonder how many of those DO know Him and embrace His love and plan even more so than you and I do.

Note: I realized I was thirsty, just now, so I went into the kitchen to get a drink of water...FROM THE FAUCET!   Not something I could do over the past three weeks. The things I take for granted...

One step deeper!

Maybe you are thinking how insignificant you really are in relation to the masses?  Maybe you think God is too busy with everyone else, He does not have time for you?
Maybe you think there is nothing you could do to make a difference in this world? 

Think again!  And take those thoughts captive to the obedience of Christ, as I must do. 

This is what the Bible teaches about you and me and every other human being of this world and how personally engaged our God truly is with each of us!
"And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered."~Matthew 10:30
"The sheep hear His voice, and He calls His own sheep by name and leads them out."
~John 10:3

"You have searched me, Lord,
    and You know me. 

 You know when I sit and when I rise;
    You perceive my thoughts from afar. 

 You discern my going out and my lying down;
    You are familiar with all my ways.

Before a word is on my tongue
    You, Lord, know it completely.

 You hem me in behind and before,
    and You lay your hand upon me.

Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
    too lofty for me to attain."

~Psalm 139:1-6

"For You created my inmost being;
    You knit me together in my mother’s womb. 

 I praise You because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
    Your works are wonderful,
    I know that full well. 

 My frame was not hidden from You
    when I was made in the secret place,
    when I was woven together in the depths of the earth. 

 Your eyes saw my unformed body;
    all the days ordained for me were written in Your book
    before one of them came to be."

~Psalm 139:13-16

"You keep track of all my sorrows.
    You have collected all my tears in Your bottle.
    You have recorded each one in Your book."
~Psalm 56:8

But you, LORD, are a shield around me, my glory, the One who lifts my head high."
~Psalm 3:3

Because He bends down to listen,
I will pray as long as I have breath!"
~Psalm 116:2
"Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father's care."
~Matthew 10:29

Be assured our Creator God knows the intimate details of every one of us at any given moment in time, even when the census folks do not.  Do not allow the enemy a foothold and cause you to think mistakenly you and your life do not matter among the masses.  It is the one-to-one that our God delights in and was the reason He sent His one and only Son to every one of us.

Monday, August 22, 2016

When God Honors Our "Yes": Our Sign Language Journey, Part 2

Guest post by Vicki Raleigh.  When God Honors Our "Yes": Our Sign Language Journey, Part 2.

In Part one I described how the adoption of our daughter, Ava, born with cleft lip and palate and deafness, set us on a journey to become skilled in sign language. Our desire to support her ability to communicate with others led us on a roller-coaster of experiences and emotions, which culminated in our decision to learn and implement American Sign Language in our daily lives. 

In case you’re not already familiar, please note that the phrase “sign language” is a general term which can refer to any number of various forms of manual communication. American Sign Language (ASL) is a true language, complete with it’s own set of rules and guidelines. ASL is a conceptual language and does not parallel, or correlate to, spoken or written English. While ASL is the goal in our home, for the benefit of the reader, I will typically use the more general term, “sign language”.
People who watch us sign with one another will typically ask, “How did you learn to sign?” My usual answer is that we are still learning. I often say that the more I learn, the more I realize I still have left to learn. We strive to use ASL; sometimes we rock at doing so and other times, well, not so much. It’s a process that, for us, has evolved over several years.

So…. how did we get from Point A (a family who knew some basic signs) to Point B (a family for whom signing has become second nature)? Let me begin by saying that there is a vast array of options for families desiring to become fluent in signing and numerous scenarios for educating those who are deaf, as well. Our story is just that…. ours. It’s what has worked for us. We are sharing our experience, knowing that no two families have quite the same needs, and with the knowledge that this journey will look different for everyone.

When Ava was adopted at age 4, she had no formal language system and rarely engaged with others in her environment. Her only forms of communication were pointing or leading us to a desired object. She had no way of expressing her wants, needs, or emotions. Imagine having no way of giving meaning to the objects in your environment, your thoughts, feelings, or experiences. Imagine not even knowing you had a name! That was our starting point. 

Introducing sign language changed all of that – and more – for Ava. For the first time, her world had meaning. Objects and people had names and she could use those names to draw attention, express her needs and desires, and form novel ideas. Ava was no longer living with an apathetic mindset; she now realized she had a purpose and power to control her environment. She began to come into her own.

When cochlear implantation was no longer a possibility, we realized that Ava’s best option for language and communication would be American Sign Language. As part of my education, I’d been required to take two courses in Manual Communication, so I already had some basic knowledge of ASL; however, we needed to find a way to educate ourselves and others who would interact with Ava on a regular basis. We were fortunate to be able to hire an instructor to teach a small group in our home. For a year, our extended family, sitter, and church staff/volunteers, met in our home on Saturday afternoons for ASL lessons. That experience was invaluable as it allowed us the opportunity acquire vocabulary and practice our developing skills with one another.

In the midst of this new endeavor, we adopted two more children, both age 4 at the time. Our son’s hearing is within normal limits, our daughter has unilateral microtia/atresia, resulting in a moderate-severe conductive hearing loss. With the use of a bone-conduction hearing aid, she hears within normal limits. I mention this, specifically, because I want to share how using sign language with them, as hearing individuals, impacted their transition into a family, as well as their development.

First and foremost, we were able to bypass most of the frustration that occurs when parents and children don’t speak the same language. Will and Sophie caught on quickly as we signed to support our spoken English. If they didn’t understand what was said, they certainly understood what was signed to them.
They began to sign their own wants and needs almost simultaneously. We were able to meet those needs much more consistently than I’d anticipated and, as a result, they felt secure and cared for. Sign language helped foster trust, thus aiding the attachment process. 

Additionally, signing facilitated their acquisition of spoken English. It helped to cement vocabulary in their minds and was available to them when they had difficulty remembering an English word. Truly, they attained English speaking skills so rapidly that many adults assumed they’d learned a fair amount of English while living in China. In a short time, the two modes of communication seemed to merge and today, at age 8, both are fluent in English and sign language. 

As they have matured, we’ve focused on teaching them to “turn off their voices” so that they can better communicate in American Sign Language. Sophie, especially, can hold her own in a signed conversation and has recently begun discussing what types of careers would allow her to use her knowledge of sign language.
With the addition of siblings, Ava began to blossom. For the first time, she had peers who could communicate with her. As a result, Ava began to look to them as models of appropriate social and developmental skills. She demonstrated an attitude of “if they can do it, so can I!” 

Having said that, the real tipping point occurred when, a year and a half after adopting Will and Sophie, we welcomed Claire into the family. Adopted at age 7 1/2, profoundly deaf and, like Ava, having no formal language system, Claire was a force to be reckoned with. Although she has more hearing ability than Ava, Claire is also not verbal. She arrived, a master of gestures and facial expressions, and brought with her an insatiable desire to learn. The rate at which she acquired both receptive and expressive signing skills was mind-boggling! 

Claire is 6 months younger than Ava; however, she put on the mantle of “First Born” almost immediately. From day 1, she demanded that Ava communicate with her. Although Ava interacted with Will and Sophie, she continued to prefer solitary activities. Claire would have none of that! 

For Ava, having a sibling “like her” was an impetus to – finally – truly engage in the world around her. The parts of her heart that she’d kept so closed off began to open. She gained a confidence in herself that we’d never seen before. Claire’s desire to communicate, along with her natural leadership skills, somehow bridged the gap between older and younger siblings – between deaf and hearing children.
Another unforeseen result of adopting Claire is that, as parents, our signing skills have improved. She’s eager to learn, meaning we must be equipped to teach – which brings me to the topic of education.

For many reasons, when we began to consider educational options for Ava, homeschooling was an obvious choice. Since then, we have continued to homeschool all four children. While I have a background in education, I knew homeschooling a deaf child would mean we’d need to call in additional resources. I met with educators who taught ASL, educators who were certified to teach deaf learners, and persons who were certified ASL interpreters. I sought their guidance as I formulated an educational plan for our daughter. Each of these people offered a unique perspective and supplied us with a wealth of knowledge. Several persons have continued to provide us with much support over the years; for that, I am truly grateful.

If I’ve learned anything as a result of educating our deaf daughters, it’s that flexibility is key. Just as with homeschooling hearing children yet, perhaps more so, there is a lot of trial and error. 

I’ve also realized that part of my role, as teacher, is to allow each child to set her own pace for learning. Sometimes I school the girls together; sometimes one-on-one teaching is a better option so that each child can demonstrate her knowledge and receive support where it’s needed. I’ve learned not to negate the seemingly small victories; such accomplishments are stepping stones for greater achievements.  


Finally, I’ve learned to trust my instincts and know my limits. When I find I can’t do it on my own, I reach out for assistance. Social media groups have been an unexpected avenue through which I’ve gleaned wisdom, insight, and innovative ideas.
Currently, homeschooling remains a good learning environment for our daughters; however, we are considering a move so that our daughters can perhaps take advantage of what a school for the deaf could provide them.

In the meantime, we continue to access other resources to meet the educational needs of our children. Over the past several years, we’ve employed the services of tutors to support Ava and Claire’s learning. Our girls have received one-on-one instruction from a certified ASL interpreter and from a teacher for the deaf to help them acquire knowledge in American Sign Language and written English. They have also been a great support for myself as I navigate acquiring for knowledge and schooling the girls in various subjects. 

Additionally, we’ve been fortunate to have my mother step in as the primary educator of our hearing children. Prior to her doing so, I was essentially teaching school in two languages and in trying to meet the needs of everyone, was coming up short. Now we’re able to better address the learning styles of each child as we school separately and when able, in conjunction with one another.

Almost 7 years after beginning our adoption journey, we continue to reap the benefits of using sign language. As we have endeavored to learn and teach a language so very different from our first language, we have learned to persevere. We’ve encountered setbacks and obstacles along this course, but have refused to give up. Through signing, we’ve gained a perspective of acceptance and compassion for others. 

Communicating via sign language is something that many consider so very “different”; however, that difference is our norm. I believe that has gone a long way in enabling us to see beyond others’ differences and to see people for who they are.
Finally, sign language has played a role in unifying us as a family and is an integral component of our lives. Signing has become more than just something we do; it’s part of who we are.

Whether your hope is to teach your child a few basic signs to foster better communication and facilitate spoken English or if, like us, you are diving into learning American Sign Language so that you and your child can communicate with each other, I hope our story can encourage you. 

The road isn’t always easy but with faith and determination, along with a willingness to learn from others, it can be done. 

Step forward, give Him your “yes”… and trust that His plan is good.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

What My Eyes Have Seen, Part 4...

This was originally a Facebook post I shared May 29, 2016.  While looking for another article I thought I had shared, I re-read this one and thought I should share it here, too.  There were several who thanked me for sharing this initially and I pray God will use it for whatever He desires.

When God called me to "coordinate the adoption of deaf orphans in the world" He knew what I thought about adoption. He knew the stories I knew of the deep sadness and severed hearts in families of those far and those so close to me. Of families destroyed and torn apart while doing what they thought God had called them to do.
Yes, I questioned, "WHY?" "WHY would you call ME to do this? You KNOW what I have seen with my own eyes?" I have cried with those I loved when they loved seemingly in vain. This was before His call ever came.
I believe that is one reason why His call was so clear, so unmistakable. He knew without it I could never be convinced to do such a thing. He knew my past, what He had allowed and planned for me to experience of adoption. He knew it would impact His calling for me. This journey He has called me to, to walk with those who have been called to adopt is not something I would ever have chosen by choice, but He is the One who does the choosing.
Before, I walked it WITH those He had knitted my life to, because He calls us to "do this life together". Now, He wants me to take part in this process of willfully bringing the great possibility of pain and suffering into the lives of those families He calls to adopt and the children He places in them.
He knew I would search and search for some way to give hope in the midst of the pain of adoption. And that is the parallel journey He has me on, searching for not only resources for families to embrace to help ease the pain of adoption but for the true purpose of pain and suffering...His purpose!
This is not my own. It is His. He bought it with the precious blood of Jesus Christ His only Son.
Why? Why would I think that earthly adoption would be any less painful than yours and my heavenly adoption? The pain our Savior endured on the cross to approve our adoption into God's family was beyond anything you and I can truly comprehend. Yes, it was physically one of the most, if not the most, excruciating and horrific ways to die, nailed to a cross and for all the world to see. But what of the pain, the suffering it caused the Trinity? What was it like for the One who knew no sin to become sin for us? We have no idea!
Why would I assume adoption meant 'happily ever after' when yours and mine does not? Why do I expect these precious ones who know nothing of love before would willingly embrace love without a time of testing?
How much testing, and for how many years, do you and I force our God through to prove His love for us before we are fully convinced and deeply embrace Him no matter what He allows to touch us and those we love? He died on that that not enough? Obviously not!
There are those who avoid me because they are afraid I will try to convince them to adopt. The opposite it far more true. I spend much time trying to convince folks not to adopt, UNLESS of course God has "called" them unmistakenly to do so. Once He has convinced them of His plan and families are sure of it, I then tell them the truth about adoption. It is painful. It causes trauma. Many will suffer because of it. It will, however, be the greatest faith-building experience of their lives. They will be forced to depend solely on God to be able to persevere on His lifelong journey called adoption.
The refiner's fire becomes the hottest just before the dross, the impurities, the sin is set free from the pure and floats to the top to be skimmed off leaving nothing but the purest gold. How we have come to believe this life, this life of following Christ, should be free of pain and suffering I do not know. But unless we can gain a better understanding of His perspective, which is clearly seen in His Word, we will continue to doubt His love when things we call "unloving" happen.
Do I understand fully God's purpose's for pain and suffering? Or why He has planned that pain and suffering are what can cause you and I to be what conforms us to the image of His Son? NO! This is a part of that great mystery that you and I must accept by faith. UNLESS He reveals this to us as we are depending on Him as we go through those flames of purifying. That revelation, of the intimacy those who feel with their God "in the midst" of the fire is like nothing else. It cannot be compared to anything of this world, thankfully.
I had not planned to share all of this, but it seems He wanted me to write it down, if just for my benefit.
The earthly adoption of precious children is not the end of the story, but just the beginning. But I believe without His adoption of these precious ones their earthly adoption is in vain. It is His adoption of them that will truly give them life, life abundant and life eternal. Apart from His adoption His will for adoption goes unfulfilled.

Friday, August 12, 2016

When God Honors Our “Yes”: Our Sign Language Journey, Part One

With permission, I am sharing the first of a multi-part blog post series by Vicki Raleigh.  She does not know this, but I began following the Raleigh family's adoption journey as soon as I found them on the Internet, in 2009.  Their family was one of the first God connected me to through my constant search to learn more about deaf adoption. 

This article beautifully describes what happens "When God Honors Our "Yes":  Our Sign Language Journey, Part One"

Thank you, Vicki!
In May 2009, I first saw her face. She couldn’t possibly be our daughter; she didn’t “fit” any of the criteria we’d committed to on our Medical Needs Checklist and there was no way my husband would agree to adopting her. True, we’d agreed that caring for a child with cleft lip/palate was something we were capable of, but he’d been clear the added diagnosis of deafness was something too far out of his comfort zone.
Still, her image stayed with me and, on what seemed to be a whim, I found myself inquiring about the little girl with eyes that told a thousand stories.

Fast forward to October of that same year and there we were, meeting our profoundly deaf daughter in Zhengzhou, China. I was in love with her instantly; she was funny, inquisitive, obviously bright, and above all, she gave me the gift of motherhood.
On the flip side, we saw signs of much greater deficits than we’d expected. Our daughter, while quick to explore her surroundings, was far removed from any sort of real engagement with others. She was withdrawn, detached, and made no eye contact.

Acronyms and words such as ADHD and institutional autism were discussed. We felt in over our heads; we were terrified. Nevertheless, she was our daughter and we were committed to do everything in our power to enable her to form relationships, to learn, and to thrive.

Prior to meeting Ava, we’d made plans to communicate with her via sign language. We were unsure of the degree of hearing loss but knew that she had no formal language system in place. From day one, we signed to her and began teaching her signs as well.

She was a quick study and would humor us by signing a request, when prompted, but in those first days it was obvious she had no understanding that sign language was a tool that would allow her wants and needs to be met.

I’ve heard it said that you have to find a child’s “currency”; we discovered Ava’s on October 31, 2009. In a hallway of the The White Swan, trick-or-treating with other adoptive families, Ava discovered that if she signed “candy”, a little candy-coated bit of chocolate would be dropped into her hand. It was her “light bulb” moment; over and over, as fast as her little hands could move, she requested candies and popped them into her mouth! For the first time, I had real hope that we could reach this little girl who seemed so removed from the world.

Once home, as we continued to foster communication with sign language, we began the process of cochlear implantation (CI). At 5 years old, and with absolutely no hearing, CI would likely not enable Ava to acquire verbal language as her only mode of communication. Our hope was that it would give her more environmental awareness and perhaps afford her some speech capabilities that would be further supported by sign language.

It was not to be. Ava was implanted in February 2011 and subsequent to a cerebrospinal fluid leak and bacterial meningitis, the implant was removed in April of that same year. A second implant was deemed too great a risk; CI was no longer an option.

So there we were, grieving the loss of all we’d hoped for, uncertain of what the future would hold for our daughter, and wondering if we’d totally “missed God” in this endeavor. Everything we’d done had been done in obedience to Him and out of love for our daughter; now it seemed He was telling us “No, this is not for her, not for your family.” We were disoriented, angry, and wounded. We were battle-weary warriors, ready to surrender.

Then one morning, while still in the hospital recovering from the latest surgery, God spoke to me. He reminded me that while these were troubling days, we would, in the future, recount how He brought forth beauty from ashes. He works all things for our good and this would be no exception.

I’ll be very honest. When that CI was removed, it felt as though the ground beneath us had shaken, split, and was swallowing us as we tumbled, aimlessly, down into a chasm. As we’d gone through the process to acquire a cochlear implant, our vision of Ava’s future had become centered around her having some level of hearing, with some possible speech skills. Everything we’d begun to envision for her was hinged on her having a cochlear implant and now it felt as if all was being snatched away from her. 

We were imagining a life for Ava based on our perspectives as hearing people; we had to accept that such a viewpoint wasn’t fair to our daughter.
Her life would be no less meaningful or purpose-filled without a cochlear implant. Supporting our daughter meant we needed a change in perspective – one that included American Sign Language

Personally, as a speech-language pathologist, I had now entered territory that was beyond my scope of knowledge. I had a good grasp of general sign language but no real understanding of American Sign Language, which is a true language, vastly different from English. 

ASL was something we’d thought we’d dive into if, and when, the time came. That thought process now seems very naïve; however, in addition to attempting to form attachment and give our daughter vocabulary and basic communication skills, we’d been busy addressing other medical needs related to her cleft lip/palate, as well as various other developmental delays so often present in children who have been institutionalized. 

Signing with Ava was paramount but learning ASL had taken a back seat. Once again, we found ourselves stepping out in faith and saying “yes” to the unknown as we endeavored to learn a new language. Our sole ambition in doing so was to be able to truly connect and communicate with our daughter. 

Five years later, God’s word to me has come to fruition. Ava is an amazing 11 year old who is happy, healthy, and thriving. She’s become one of the most securely attached children I know and she is fully engaged in life and relationships.

She loves to create, whether it’s painting/drawing, constructing, or making jewelry. She also enjoys swimming and horseback riding. Science, particularly life science, fascinates her; she has an insatiable curiosity for spiders and insects, a love for any and all marine life, and thoroughly enjoys gardening.

Ava has made tremendous strides in all facets of development. The delays and behaviors we witnessed in those early days have either disappeared or become almost nonexistent. We give credit to our miracle-working God for the transformation that has occurred in our precious girl. Signing, specifically, learning ASL, has been key to her development, education, and attachment. ASL opened doors that had been locked for so many years and Ava continues to walk through doors to new possibilities.

Our adoption journey to Ava, walking through some very dark days, and eventually learning ASL has opened doors for us, as parents, too. We have since adopted three more children from China. Our youngest daughter has moderate-severe hearing loss in one ear and our middle daughter is, like Ava, profoundly deaf. She receives some benefit from hearing aids but ASL is her sole form of communication.

I know that, had we not experienced life with Ava, we’d have found it very difficult to agree to adopt the children we now call ours. I hate to think how we could have missed out on our greatest blessings!

We’ve become a bilingual family – something we never imagined in our journey to become parents. Our deaf children offer a unique perspective on the world and it is one which fascinates me. I never imagined that first yes – stepping out of our comfort zone to adopt a profoundly deaf child – would lead to the family we have now. I am so very grateful that it did.

I am ever-reminded that even when God says “no”, He will honor our “yes”.

Click here for Part 2

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Signs for Hope ASL-Immersion Family Retreat 2016!

WHEW!!  That was a lot of work!   And FUN!

Worth every minute of it!

Matthew 18:5, “Whoever receives a child in My name, receives Me.”

Plans for next year's family retreat have already begun with lots more volunteers ready to assist!  Praise God!

It is funny...God's will. Sometimes it is exactly what we think it is, but often it is not anything like we think it is.

This family retreat was "in the works" for over 3 years.  Families adopting deaf children were begging to get together and then hearing families were begging for help with their ASL learning. 

I prayed! Others prayed!  I shared and searched and searched some more and thought the doors would open here or there, somewhere, but they did not.

Until...this past October 2015.  The contract was signed in early November and I let our SFH board members know the dates, immediately. Somehow, I thought they could all be a part of this first ever SFH ASL-Immersion Family Retreat, but it was not to be. 

I have had three years to plan and re-plan, in my mind, our first SFH family retreat using much of the training I have received over the past 3+ years relating to children who come from "hard places" and also attending a Joni & Friends Family Retreat as a STM (Short Term Missionary) three summers ago. 

When God did not open the way for all our SFH board members (general and/or advisory) to join us, I just kept moving forward. How could I not?  The need was great! 

We were so blessed to have two SFH board members, one advisory and one general, join us and their commitment and sacrifice to do whatever asked was encouraging and so needed.

Maybe I was hoping He had a plan for others to join me, in time?  I never really considered abandoning this years family retreat, even though I knew things were not going as they should, having a detailed plan in place, on paper not just in my head, and a full team of volunteers to help facilitate every detailed part of the plan. 

Psalm 10:14, “But You, O God, do see trouble and grief; You consider it to take it in hand.  The victim commits himself to You;
You are the helper of the fatherless.”

I KNEW there would be many unfinished plans, lack of clear communication, especially as the date for retreat grew closer.  There was NO WAY I could get everything done and in place in time. We just did not have an adequate number of volunteer staff. Yes, the framework was there for all.  And everything I wanted for the hearing families to experience was in place, i.e., bringing these families together and providing an ASL-rich encouraging environment for all.  However, as the details and volunteers for the children's program did not match the number of children families both deaf adopting families and our Deaf support families were bringing...YIKES! 

No, I never wanted to do all this all myself.  Are you kidding me?  I already have plenty on my plate to keep me on my toes, every single day. 

I do know how to delegate when I have volunteers ready, willing and able.  God has gifted me that way.  I have planned and organized events well on this scale before, but I had dozens of volunteers from the beginning each with a skilled leader I knew personally as their guide, in place in plenty of time.

So why did God allow these inadequacies to go on for our first family retreat? Why did He not provide what we prayed for...adequate volunteers and Deaf support staff?  Why were all our SFH board members not able to join us? 

Isaiah 1:17, “Learn to do good; seek justice, reprove the ruthless, 
Defend the orphan, plead for the widow.”

Some would say it was because this was just not HIS timing for our family retreat, we should have only moved forward when we had every person needed and in place to do so.  I would tend to agree most of the time with that thinking, as it has biblical foundations.  And that is my approach for our 2017 family retreat.  I am a firm believer in the orderliness of our God and His desire to do things with great quality and not just halfway. 

However, this time I believe it was to spread God's vision for SFH beyond those already involved.  God did provide some willing Deaf volunteers, at the last minute--His perfect timing--some with no experience at all with adopted children whatsoever and some who had adopted deaf children.  Those who had no experience with adopted children learned much in the three days they interacted with our hearing families and their adopted deaf children and they want to come back next year for more, as do the others. 

Intermediate ASL class for hearing parents who have adopted Deaf children.

Helping educate His Church one-by-one in how they can obey the command to 'care for the orphan' (James 1:27), when not called to adopt, is always on our radar.  Giving them the opportunity to see how different it is to raise an adopted child, especially one with deafness and no language prior to coming home, helps them connect with and support these families in ways they never could had they not "done life with them" at family retreat. 

In addition, the staff at Bonclarken Conference Center, the place for our first family retreat, went above and beyond to accommodate and serve us in every way.  This began with our initial visit there in October and continued throughout the retreat. Had this not been such a good fit and partnership, with so many uncertainties surrounding our first family retreat, I suspect I would have been easily tempted to cancel this year's event.

There were no expectations placed on us for providing the specific number of folks joining us until about 10 days prior to the retreat and then we were granted flexibility to add folks right up until Thursday at check-in. Which we did.  We were not required to pay for anything we did not use.  $200 held our dates from November and they would not even accept a partial payment one month prior to the retreat saying we would settle up the week after retreat.  THIS was the most tangible reason why I continued to push forward fully knowing our staff insufficiencies.  ONLY GOD!

Yes, discussions are ongoing for next year's family retreat and folks are volunteering to fill in those vacancies of leadership.  I now know them and together we will make improvements.  As soon as the dates are secured and a contract signed, we will begin promoting family retreat 2017 fully for volunteers and families.  Praise God!

Now, allow me to share some very interesting facts surrounding this year's SFH ASL-Immersion Family Retreat!

Asheville Deaf Church joined us for worship on Sunday and our children were eager to learn the signs to the song, Jesus Is Champ!

Ten hearing families joined us from five states with their hearing biological children and their adopted deaf children.  One family had multiple adopted hearing children, as well.  These families brought twelve deaf children who were adopted from China, Poland, India and the US Foster Care System.  We had six hearing couples. One couple is in process to adopt their first deaf child, one was a hearing single mom, one was a hearing dad attending without his wife and adopted deaf son. They are missionaries in the Philippines, their deaf son is Filipino and mom and son were still in the Philippines. And one hearing grandmother took a hearing dad's place. 

Yup!  A hearing grandmother is learning ASL to communicate with her two deaf adopted grandsons. 

James 1:27, “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress. And to keep oneself unpolluted by the world.”

Our 4 Deaf families (support staff) who have adopted Deaf children and biological children, served either in the children's program or in our hearing parents program each morning and evening.  We had a Deaf grandmother of one of our Deaf support family's join us, as well.  And the hearing mother of one of our Deaf support staff brought her therapy dog for all to love on.  

We ended up with 65 children ages 16 mos. to 17, with the majority of the children being 7 or under.  Many of our older hearing siblings became "helpers" with the younger children.  There were some great blessings observed with this. 

Next year, I am praying we have a 3 to 1 ratio of adult volunteers to children and ample space to spread them out appropriately, with additional volunteers to facilitate the behind the scenes activities as needed.

Our own family and friends support staff, some local and some not so local, were invaluable in their support and help.  No they do not know sign language.  Their support began even before set-up on Thursday morning and included grilling Thursday and Saturday evenings meals, baking cakes, decorating and/or serving for our parents special event, driving golf carts to transport things and people, to the clean-up after Asheville Deaf Church joined us for worship and lunch on Sunday.  You guys were great!

What would we have done without each of you?!?!

There are three ways you can help us prepare for next year's family retreat. 

You can thank God for what He allowed to happen at this years family retreat.  I shared many of our hearing families comments and photos in our May/June 2016 PrayerLetter here

You can join us in asking for God to continue to provide the needed volunteer staff and the needed donations specifically for our SFH ASL-Immersion Family Retreat 2017. 

And you can ask Him if He wants you to join with us next time. 

Matthew 25: 45, “Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of the least of these, you did it unto Me.”

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

"So You Want to Adopt a Deaf Child", Part 13 of...

This post has been on hold long enough.  This is #13 in a series entitled, "So You Want to Adopt a Deaf Child?"  There are many more just waiting to be written, completed and shared.

To be linked with the other 12 start here.


Deaf Adoption...REALITY CHECK!!

Part 13 of...

Yes, I have covered much of this in previous blog posts, beginning in June of 2014.  But the ongoing day-to-day challenges and frustrations that our Signs for Hope families face, who have adopted children with deafness, mandate the need for this redundant post. 

This often comes from the new families who have adopted deaf children God connects to us sometimes on a daily basis and sometimes in crisis. 

Do not!  I repeat...DO NOT...adopt a deaf/HOH child thinking this is going to be easy!

Technology does NOT make this easy!  In fact, I believe it makes it harder! 

I will dedicate an entire post to support that opinion with research, soon.

Even if you are ASL-fluent, this will NOT BE EASY!

Adoption Agency Staff...PLEASE DO NOT tell your families, "The deaf/HOH child is an easy special needs adoption."  If you have not checked in recently with your own families who have adopted deaf children, do so.  See how they truly are doing, before you proceed with any additional placements of children with deafness.

Deafness!  No family!  No formal natural language exposure!  No formal education exposure!  

deaf older child fluent in another sign language and then placed with a non-signing or newly signing family!  Please, do not do this, please!!
And if that is not enough...

Trauma - possible in utero, during birth mom's pregnancy! 

Trauma - possible during labor & delivery, premature birth, early hospitalization! 

Trauma - from institutionalization & abandonment, lack of nurture & neglect!  

Add to that...

The very real probability of multiple abuses, verbal (truly the nonverbal body language since they cannot hear), physical and more often than I care to think about... sexual abuse.

All of the above have great impact on the brain's development, or lack thereof, of adopted children with deafness.  Research is growing in so many of these areas relating to deaf children, especially those who have been abandoned and institutionalized with no exposure to an environment of natural language learning of any kind during that critical period, that first year of life.

Since some of you are thinking this, I will go ahead and mention it. 

If by some miracle the deaf/HOH child you are seeking to adopt was abandoned at a older age you may be thinking they MIGHT have received that initial nurture/bonding in their birth family's home, prior to abandonment.  Even if they did, the shear challenge of dealing with abandonment can negate all that.  And their deafness has prevented them from being exposed fully to a spoken language whereby creating that great deficit during the first year of life. 

The brain is the central command center for every system within the human body.  God designed it in such a way that "connection" with others is the fuel it needs to develop uniquely according to His plan.  Research now proves even babies between the age of 4 and 6 months recognize language over non-language and choose to turn toward it repeatedly.  Removing  "connection" through neglect, lack of nurture and lack of natural language exposure leaves challenges for a lifetime.

I recently completed an online course at Gallaudet University, offered by the Linguistics Department and will be sharing the incredible research related to the above in the near future.

The reality is, these many challenges require many years of tireless devotion by adoptive parents to help their adopted deaf child(ren) to reach their greatest potential socially, emotionally, academically, mentally and spiritually.  Often this comes without much effort or commitment from the deaf child(ren) themselves.  Lack of self-motivation by their adopted deaf child(ren) to learn and achieve successes is a common complaint among our families.   

The delays in exposure to language because of deafness brings with it cognitive, emotional and social deficits and delays, which can lead to a variety of disorders in these areas.  Often times these cannot be fully overcome, no matter how much opportunity and time is invested for such. This research is based on children with deafness born to hearing parents, not those coming from abandonment and/or institutionalization backgrounds.

Even after deaf children have been "home" for as long as 5 years parent's expectations for improvements go unmet.  One of the hardest realities for parents is keeping an accurate perspective on the "real" age of their adopted deaf child.  The chronological age of the deaf child is so far removed from their real behavior-age, which is usually much less than half their age in months and years.

One way of keeping this more realistic is to ask families and then remind them often to think of their deaf son or daughter's birth date as being the first day they bring them "home".  Keep in mind though, they are not a "blank slate", but rather this child already has deficits and delays, since they have never received what God intended in utero and from birth on, naturally...full nurture and full language.  And they have survival skills you and I will never understand, fully.

This is why I stress the need for families to be fully convinced this is God's plan, not theirs before adopting.  This is why families who proceed with the adoption of a child with deafness must have a strong support system securely around them.  Even then, we have families who tell us that support system they thought was in place, was not in reality and disappeared once they brought their son or daughter home. This is not only those who can identify with them in the challenging adoption process, which is lifelong, but it is a support system that can and will support them in the deafness aspects, as well. 

If you are a believer and you are reading this post, no matter if you are seeking to adopt or seeking to place a child with deafness...PLEASE pray before you proceed and pray every time. Do not trust something just because you have always thought this way or that or done it this way or that.  Joshua made assumptions about God's plans for attacking Ai on the heels of his miraculous win in Jericho.  Thirty-six Israelites died because of Joshua's lack of seeking His plan, His way.  And there was disobedience to deal with, as well; sin in the camp.  You and I must seek Him constantly when making decisions of this magnitude.

Let me pose a few questions for which I do not yet know the answers, fully:

Is there a BETTER way?

Is the trauma adoption causes equal to the trauma of no adoption
, at times?


When is it "BEST practices" to support deaf children in their own countries in "family homes" with the $25,000+ it costs for one international adoption?

I am not asking you to do something I will not be doing, as well.  I will keep on asking, seeking and knocking until He gives me the answers and all for His glory! 

 Trust in the Lord with all your heart
    and lean not on your own understanding; 

 in all your ways acknowledge Him,
    and He will make your paths straight.

Proverbs 3:5-6