Where in the world has one year gone? I can hardly believe that today marks the one-year anniversary of Haven being in our family.
Just one year ago we walked into a civil affairs office in China to meet our new daughter.
Over the last year I have shared bits and pieces of our journey with Haven. Some amazing, some challenging. The year has certainly been filled with tremendous highs...and difficult lows.
But today marks a celebration, a time of rejoicing in ALL that God has done in Haven's life. Not a time of focusing on the difficult times. He truly has done great things.
Two years ago we found a little girl on a waiting-child site. We soon learned that her story was sad--filled with hopelessness, abandonment, and too much pain for a child her age. We heard of her first adoption. We were told of the family that she had bonded with--and then had to say goodbye to when she was returned to her orphanage just five days later. Diagnosed in China with profound autism, the family felt that they could not handle her needs and felt it best that she be returned to the place she had come from.
She grieved. She had a family...then she didn't.
When she returned to the orphanage, a directive was passed from the orphanage director that no one should handle this child. She was contagious. She had the dreaded 'Closed Syndrome,' known to us as autism. The director informed staff and other children that if they touched this girl, they would surely catch the 'disease'--and they too would not speak! Being ignorant, they followed the directive. Fear entered their hearts. Orphanage staff were afraid to touch her. They truly believed they would become like her--non-verbal and very developmentally delayed.
The result of this horrible action? A precious child was ostracized. Forced to spend her days alone. For two long years no one touched her. Children refused to play with her. Nannies were too afraid to touch her. No affection. No care. No love. Nothing.
She shut down. Emotionally, developmentally and physically. She literally stopped growing.
I so clearly remember the day I saw her picture. I remember my first call with the agency who had her file. They shared her story with me, that her adoption had been disrupted. I was told about the autism diagnosis and all the details of the five days she had spent with the American family. We read a letter written by the family who adopted her, cautioning any family considering adopting this child that she was indeed "seriously mentally ill"--something they said they were not prepared for.
Our hearts broke!
We knew it as clear as daylight--this child was not autistic. We knew the diagnosis had to be incorrect. We knew we had to go and bring her home, come what may. She had been dealt an awful blow. Should she remain in China, labeled 'mentally disabled,' her future would be hopeless.
Sometimes we just have to dive into the deep end and trust the Lord to get us to the other side. This was one of those times when we knew that we knew that the Lord was calling us to step out of the boat. The Father named her "Haven." He knew she would need a 'safe and sheltered place' after all that she has been through in her short life.
We got through the paperwork as fast as humanly possible. We were so anxious to get to her as fast as we could.
One year ago we walked into that building and met our new daughter. Haven was already there. Her life was about to change. The moment she saw us, we saw absolute terror on her face (which we expected). The 'white people' had come to take her away again. She trembled with fear and clung to the caretaker who had brought her. Oh my goodness, my heart ached seeing her standing there. She was so very afraid.
Most of the time she stared off and would not make eye contact with anyone. She fiddled with her hands and had her eyes half-shut...kind of like she was shutting out everything happening around her. It was heartbreaking to see. She was there in body, but emotionally shut down.
The nanny tried to distract her by pointing to other things. Poor little girl, she looked so tiny--nothing like an almost eight year old. We were shocked at her small stature. She looked like a toddler.
The caretaker was so sweet. She kept feeding her and giving her drinks to distract her. We sat off to the side--giving her space to adjust to us just being near her. Every time we made an attempt to get closer, she screamed and clung to this lady. Fear in her eyes. Absolute terror.
Eventually we got a little closer. She would not come near--but only gave us these looks out the corner of her eye.
She found safety in the arms of the one who had brought her to the civil affairs office. She would not let go!
Eventually, to try and make the transition a little easier (because things were not going well), the sweet caretaker came with us back to our hotel room. She stayed with us for about one hour. When the time came for her to leave, I took Haven (it was the first time I had actually touched her in the three hours we had been together). She screamed when the lady walked out of the room. Grieving sobs that broke our hearts in two.
We prayed like there was no tomorrow.
The presence of the Lord was in that room. It took 45 minutes of her crying that way. Forty-five minutes of terrible grieving. Tears like I have never seen on any child. It was so hard.
And then, all of a sudden, she stopped. Just like that. We looked into her eyes and there was a knowing there--a look that said, "This is okay, I am safe!" God had breathed a quiet assurance into her terrified little heart.
She was safe!
Slowly but surely we started to see this little flower bloom. Right before our very eyes she started coming out of her shell. A beautiful butterfly started emerging. All fear was gone! She bonded with us almost instantly, as the Lord replaced her fear and anxiety with absolute peace.
She looked at her sister and saw a soul mate. She adored her from Day One.
She had found her best friend.
Haven knew that she would never have to let her sister go...ever!
She loves her family with all her heart. She knows with everything that is within her that she will never, ever, ever, ever, ever be abandoned again!
She is NOT FORSAKEN!
And so the journey with Haven continues. Actually, it has only just begun. We have seen a transformation that is nothing short of miraculous.
As many of you who read my blog know, the autism diagnosis was indeed incorrect. There is no autism in sight for this child. No surprises there. Obviously we have a long road ahead. Even today Haven is non-verbal. But you know what? That's okay with us. We get by. We have learned, with the Father's leading and guiding us, how to parent this sweet little angel.
Perhaps she will find her words, perhaps not. That is not our concern, but God's. We think she's perfect just the way she is.
Whatever may be wrong with Haven seems so irrelevant, so small in the bigger picture. We only see everything as being oh so right with her. Today we rejoice. God has turned her life around. Written off as unadoptable, without hope, labelled "mentally ill," without any future--look what God has done in just one year!
We rest in knowing that whatever the future may look like for Haven, it is going to be good. Simply because her God in heaven promises her hope and a future...that is where our peace lies.
How blessed we are to be the parents of this little girl. Thank you Father for sending us! Thank you that Haven has found the safe and sheltered place that you promised her.