By Joleigh Little, Teens for Life Director, Wisconsin Right to Life
“Orphans are easier to ignore before you know their names. They are easier to ignore before you see their faces. It is easier to pretend they’re not real before you hold them in your arms. But once you do, everything changes.” — David Platt
Adoption and Christmas…
They’re not exactly peanut butter and jelly or macaroni and cheese, but they do go beautifully together. Case in point – no matter how crazy my beautiful, funny, vivacious but SNARKY six-year-old is driving me, this time of year causes me to pause, to slow my roll and to ponder.
Maybe I just get a raging case of “It’s a Wonderful Life” syndrome as soon as I start seeing Christmas lights, but every year it’s the same. I watch the wonder in Clara’s eyes as she sees the first snowfall. I hear the glee in her voice when I tell her Christmas is only a few weeks away. For a time I stop parenting a human girl and share my home space with a reindeer (her imagination is vivid) and hear things like “I can’t believe how BIG my antlers are, Mom!”
I notice that it’s quiet (not typically a good sign around here) and sneak up to find her sitting in front of our fireplace, playing with her “ativity set” and talking to Jesus. I experience the season anew through the eyes not just of a child, but MY child.
And I can’t help but wonder – what would my life have looked like without her in it? I’ll give you a hint.
It would be black and white and a little cold where it is now lived in vibrant color (not to mention explosive sound) and warmth. I’d be spinstering it up in my recliner with my knitting in front of a beautifully lit Christmas tree and wondering what life would look like with kids. (Okay, confession, that’s what I did every Christmas for about 15 years before I finally got a clue and adopted one.)
Then, after I’ve gone there, I take a risk and go… there. To the imaginary Christmas where Clara still lives in an orphanage and doesn’t have a mom. I can’t stay in that place too long because it wrecks me. But the reality that is never far from my mind or heart any time of year hovers constantly among the twinkling lights this time of year.
Clara is one of a tiny minority of orphans in the world rescued from cement walls, and rotating caregivers. Meanwhile, around the world, an estimated 147 million or more children just like her wait. They wait in orphanages that are excellent and they wait in orphanages that are stark on a good day and horrifying on any other kind of day.
If no one comes for them, these kids will age out at 14 or 16 and find themselves truly alone with little money and barely any life skills. It’s a reality that they understand from a pretty early age. Life as an orphan is as bleak as it seems in every one of those Christmas specials you’ve watched from time immemorial. With the advent of trafficking and other horrors across the globe, it is even more terrifying than what Hollywood could conjure up even 20 years ago.
But…But it doesn’t have to be that way. To borrow from “A Christmas Carol,” the specter of what could happen to these children who wait doesn’t have to come true. It can, so easily, be changed!
Consider: this time of year, our entire world is focused on children. I want to ask you to focus with me on a few specific children – a few orphans who are very real to me because I’ve met them…
I’ve watched my magical daughter, not that long ago an orphan herself, dance among them taking a hand here and caressing a head there as she whispers things like “don’t worry, you’ll have a family soon,” or “we’ll help you find your perfect person.”
I’ve sat with an incredible team of adoption advocates as they assess the children, making notes of their needs, and vowing to find them families.
I’ve looked at the very blue and clubbed fingers of the little girl with a serious heart defect, desperately in need of surgery.
And I’ve been tightly hugged by the little boy who, at 11, fears he will never have a family because he isn’t as handsome as all the rest of his buddies.
In short, I have seen things that have changed me. I have been face-to-face and heart-to-heart with children I will never forget. And because they have taken permanent residence in my thoughts every day, I want to share them with you.
Dora Lin is nine. She has Down syndrome and a shy smile. She is happy enough where she lives now, as the caregivers are very kind, but she knows what a family is and she wants one. She is a sweet girl who can care for her own needs, but she will never truly shine until she has a family.
Stellin is 11 and is blind. He loves to sing, and has a huge group of great friends at his orphanage but, because of his age and special need, faces an uphill battle to finding a family and an even rougher future if he doesn’t find one. I spent a week at a winter camp with Stellin over Thanksgiving. He is kind to smaller children, sharing his toys with them and making sure they are included. He cares for all of his own needs and would make someone a wonderful son.
Joplin is nine. He loves cars and can replicate pretty much any car company symbol if you give him a pen and paper, but his favorite is BMW. He, more than any of the other older boys we came to love, was very open about his desire for a family. During the closing ceremony of our camp, when all of the children took the stage and sang the popular Chinese song “I Want a Family,” tears streamed down his face. Joplin has a repaired cleft lip and unrepaired cleft palate, and so speaking and singing are harder for him. But his heart yearns for a place to belong.
Havalin is eight and has a heart defect that has been repaired. She has an incredible giggle and loved interacting with our group of kids during one afternoon in the hotel when a rare blizzard in her province kept us all indoors. She had her nails painted with my girls, and pranced around the room wearing a princess crown. She would blossom so beautifully if someone made her their own and helped her chart her course in life.
Poplin, who is four, struck me the minute I saw her. She was so joyful and all over the place! (Okay, I might have been having some flashbacks to Clara’s pick up trip in 2012… joyful…full of energy… all over the place… yep.)
She has a craniofacial difference, so what might strike you first about her is that she looks a little different, but what I guarantee will strike you immediately after that is the zest she has for life and the pleasure she takes in interacting with others. I will never forget her dancing and chasing around the room with my friend, Kinsey, who was adopted from China when she was a baby. There they went, teenager and preschooler whirling around – one a very real picture of who and what the other could become with a family to love and guide her.
There were more… so many more… at just this one orphanage in one of the many countries open for international adoption. Sometimes the scope of the need is so great that it steals my breath away. I am reminded of the story of the boy walking along the beach, throwing starfish back in the ocean and knowing that he can’t save them all… but that if he keeps going he can make a difference for one… and then another… and then even more.
Adoption is like that. Exactly like that, on second thought. If I could build a big enough house and had a large enough salary, I would have taken them all home. But I can’t, because I am only one and there are laws about the number of children I can adopt as a single parent.
Annelise, my second daughter, not yet home, spent the week with us at winter camp this Thanksgiving. The children I have described above are her friends – the people with whom she eats her meals and does arts and crafts. They share an address, and of some of the sweetest caregivers and staff I have ever met. The only thing that separates them is that Annelise has a family coming for her. The rest of them… wait.
All these kids really want for Christmas – more than dolls or bikes or toys – is a family. Some are too little to truly understand what is missing in their lives. But the older ones – especially those close to aging out of availability for adoption – will break your heart the minute you look in their eyes.
The good news – no, the GREAT news following our time in China–is that eleven of the children who participated in our camp already have families coming for them. Why?
Because we made them visible. Their pictures and stories were all over Facebook and their families found them and are working hard to bring them home.
I weep for the children who have not yet had that distinction of moving from the orphan registry to the list of children who belong. And it is my fondest wish this Christmas that you – the group of people I know and love so well – those who advocate for LIFE from conception to natural death, and those who see the value in EVERY child, regardless of special need or level of ability, will truly see these children and help others to see them, too.
My dear friend and the woman who will forever be among my heroes (she found me both of my girls and has worked as hard as I have to bring them home) shares my desire to see these children in families. This video has a piece of her heart – and mine – in it. These children need you – to advocate for them, to pray for them and yes, even to adopt them.
And once families are found for them – for all of the children in this video — I will be right back here telling you about more children. Because, you see, my pro-life work doesn’t just consist of teaching teenagers the value of life, or helping local groups speak out for the voiceless. It also includes going to places and meeting children who need someone to see their value and share their stories.
And I will be so bold as to say that maybe, just maybe, YOUR pro-life work should, too. Let’s be the change we want to see in this world. Let’s lead by example and give these children names, faces and voices as we proclaim to the world that they are valuable and just as deserving of families as our sons and daughters whose laughter brightens our lives and whose joy at Christmas is unmatched.
As you shop for those last minute gifts for your children and grandchildren, please give these children the gift of your time and your prayers. And please click “share” and get their stories out there. Please help us make their Christmas wishes come true!
For more information about any of the children listed here or seen in the video links, please email firstname.lastname@example.org. You won’t be sorry you did. It’s how I became a mom. 😉