Saturday, February 8, 2014

Day 8 - Hope, Ben, Eli & Evie Ellsbury

I wish I could say that I have always had a heart for adoption.  I wish I could say from the time I was little, I have wanted to change the life of a child and that James 1:27 was the cornerstone of that dream.  Unfortunately, it took me much longer than most to come to realize just how important adoption is.

(Left to Right- Back row - Zach, Lainey, Hope, Eli, Jasmine, Cassie, Evie, Codey. Bottom row Maisey, Grace and Benjamin.)

Even after our first adoption, I’m not sure I really got it.  I certainly didn’t know the sheer number of children waiting to be adopted throughout the world.  All I knew was, at that moment, there was one little girl who needed a family and I believed fully that God had orchestrated her arrival into our lives.  Hope’s story had God’s hand all over it, but her story was unique and not the norm, and it certainly wasn’t anything we had planned. 

Dan, my husband, was a fellow in neonatology when he heard the story of a little girl waiting to be born.  The mother of this little girl had just had an ultrasound that was requested by the pre-adoptive parents.  The ultrasound showed that this unborn baby girl had a major heart defect, Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome.  The pre-adoptive parents chose not to proceed with the adoption.  This little girl was born during my husband’s shift.  After birth, my husband presented the biological mom with three options:  three-part surgery, transplant, or non-treatment.  She chose not to treat the child, which would lead to death in a few weeks, but God had other plans, as He often does. 

My husband’s heart was moved by this little girl’s story.  He couldn’t withdraw support.  He had fallen for this tiny baby’s sweet little feet and beautiful brown eyes.  And even though most people we shared our story with thought we were crazy, we proceeded with her adoption.  Hope has had three open heart surgeries is now a beautiful 14 year old girl.

I include Hope’s story because it is such a big part of our entering into the congenital heart defect world.  Hope’s amazing arrival into our lives and the earlier death of our son Kyle, due to complications from prematurity, would be the two main factors that would allow our hearts to be open to adopting children who had limited life expectancies.  

It was Hope who would ask us to adopt a little boy with a heart defect just like hers.  We had already accepted the file of a little girl who was deaf when our agency presented us with the option of adopting a second child with more severe medical needs.  We prayed about what Hope had asked us.

We decided to proceed and immediately fell in love with Benjamin’s picture.  We sent his information off to cardiologists.  All of the cardiologists said we would be crazy to adopt him because his heart was unfixable, but we knew in our heart that this little boy was ours.  We just hoped that he would live long enough for us to get to be his family. Ben was worth the wait, the paperwork, the trials, the tears, and the cost. He is a sweet soul who deserved the love of a family just like every child does.
We no more than landed in Des Moines with Ben and Maisey and I knew that God was saying we needed to go back.  We started the paperwork a month after we got home.  Crazy was what we heard again, but if there is one thing I have learned through this amazing journey with God,  it’s “If He calls you to something, you must trust Him and proceed.”   Many of God’s plans often don’t make sense by worldly measures.  I think that is what faith is all about; hearing His calling and proceeding knowing that His plan is perfect, but that others may not understand. Faith is taking that first step without seeing the rest of the path.

That is where we found ourselves in June of 2012.  It was time to trust in the situation to which God was calling us.  Little did we know that the coming year would bring miracle after miracle while God orchestrated our beautiful adoption story.

In June, we saw another wonderful little boy with pulmonary atresia listed on the New Hope Foundation site.  My heart was gone the instant I saw his face.  Benjamin said over and over again that this little boy was his didi (Chinese for little brother).  Ben prayed for Eli daily.  We asked the orphanage to get his file ready and they said they’d start.  We waited and waited and waited.  In the meantime we saw a little girl with PKU that we had decided to proceed with. 

A few weeks later our agency presented us with another little girl’s file.  She had a single ventricle and pulmonary atresia.  It made no sense for the agency to present us with Evie’s paperwork considering we were already set to adopt two, but they did.  We looked over her file and once again heard the words “you’re crazy” from others.  You’d think that word might start to bother us, but if there is one thing we have learned, it is to listen closely to God’s calling.  We were hearing it loud and clear. She was to be our daughter.
I’d be the first to admit on paper, this did seem a smidge crazy.  How do you adopt three children at one time? How would we make it work?  How would we pay for it?  At that moment we didn’t have a clue, but we believed fully that God would provide so we continued with Lainey and Evie’s documentation and waited for Eli’s paperwork.

And then the most amazing thing happened, we saw a 13 year old girl on the Love Without Boundaries site.  She was going to age out, and Dan and I were smitten.  We had said we wouldn’t adopt an older child but here God was calling us to do just that. We decided to trust God because He had been so faithful in orchestrating these adoptions so far.  What else could we do but proceed?  It was amazing watching things line up.  With the help of our agency, we petitioned China to allow us to adopt three children at once.  They agreed.  We were over-the-top ecstatic!  How blessed were we to be given the opportunity to adopt three children at once?

Things were progressing with the three girls, but it was January and Eli’s paperwork was still not ready.  How could this be?  I knew he was my son.  What was God asking of us?  Did I need a little more testing of my patience?  We decided to proceed with the girl’s adoptions and finish our paperwork so we would ready to go back and get him after we got home.  We were that sure that he was our son.

Magically in March, Eli’s paperwork became available.  We sent in our letter of intent and China accepted.  We expedited everything we could, trusting that God would provide and He did in amazing ways.  We asked our agency to petition China to allow us to adopt four at once.  Our agency was hesitant because China had never said yes to adopting four children at once.  We waited but knew no matter what Eli was our son and if they wouldn’t allow it this time, we would just go back.

BUT then the most amazing thing happened they said “YES!”.  Everything proceeded as planned and we adopted four children in May of 2013. 

This journey has been one of constant amazement of what happens when you just “let go and let God”.  I have had a front row seat to the most amazing, wonderful, unbelievable happenings.

First of all, the amazing things that had to happen to allow us to adopt four at once including funding that came out of nowhere that paid for Eli’s portion of the adoption as well as for my daughter, Cassie, to travel with us for an extra set of hands.  Only God could have orchestrated that.

Second, Benjamin had surgery this past November.  He has done amazingly well.  He had his open heart surgery and was released one week later.  The great news is even though we heard that he was unfixable from all the cardiologists and surgeons we had previously talked to, Ben’s heart may be fixable.  We were urged by other heart mothers to get a second opinion so we sent our information off to Boston Children’s Hospital.

We were lucky enough to get Dr. del Nido to agree to operate on Benjamin.   Ben was five years old with uncorrected transposition of the great arteries, he had a PDA, ASD, and a VSD, but after surgery and pulmonary banding Ben did better than anyone expected.  They were worried about his pulmonary pressures so they left his VSD open.  Ben has done so well that they think he may be able to get his VSD closed in a year.  Instead of being very blue, with life shortening severe pulmonary hypertension, he is now pink and full of energy. His pulmonary hypertension will remain a lifelong issue, but the repair will very significantly slow its progression and greatly extend his life.

Which leads me to the final amazing walk we have been on since May, little Miss Evie.  When we arrived in China, we were given a two year old very, very blue little girl, with round cheeks, big eyes, a dazzling smile, and the body of a baby who was unable to sit unassisted.  We checked her oxygen saturations and they were low 50’s.  What had we gotten ourselves into? 

But this girl has a personality bigger than anything I had ever seen before.  As sick as she was, she was a happy little girl.  She has blossomed over the past eight months.  She had one hospitalization after her heart cath.  She coded and it was a very scary time.  We were told that she wasn’t a candidate for the Glenn but they would try a BT shunt.  We had surgery in September and she did amazingly well.  We are now waiting for a date for her second surgery.   She is a walking, talking, unstoppable bundle of joy.

Every single day with her is a blessing.  Her sweet smile, her contagious joyous personality deserved the love of a family.  I am often heartbroken when I stop to think of the other children like Ben, Eli and Evie who have unbelievably beautiful souls and will spend their lives in an orphanage.  They will die alone without the love of a family.   There are so many things wrong about that scenario. God did not intend for children to be alone.    Circumstances beyond their control brought them to this place, but we can do something about that.   We can proceed in faith.  We can step out of our comfort zones and make a difference.   We can be the hands and feet of Christ.

Francis Chan says it well, “But God doesn't call us to be comfortable. He calls us to trust Him so completely that we are unafraid to put ourselves in situations where we will be in trouble if He doesn't come through.”

The blessings that come from stepping out in faith are immeasurable.  People often say how blessed our children are that we stepped up to adopt them with their unknown futures, but the truth is we are the ones who are beyond blessed.  I have had a front row seat to a year full of miracles.  How many people can say that?  No matter what happens I will trust in God and His plan.

  The number of days that our four heart kids have is still unknown, but those days are just as unknown for our other children.  What the death of a child and the possibility of death does for your family is it makes you stay in the present.  You love each and every day.  You hold your children tighter.  You appreciate the silly and the quiet times.  You take less for granted.  You learn what is really, truly important in this life.  This year has been the hardest, best, most blessed year that I have ever had and I thank God daily for allowing me to be a part of this amazing, crazy ride!

*You can follow our story at


Drea said...

What a glorious story! I have loved getting to know you and watching your beautiful children thrive!

Sarah said...

Wow, amazing story! Thank you for sharing with all of us.

Claire from the Calico Corner said...

Absolutely beautiful. Thank you so much for sharing this beautiful story! Your children are such lights of joy.Thank you for obeying the call.

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