Thursday, July 2, 2015

Un-measurable Data


I proudly work in public education. I love what I do, and I work with some of the most passionate, caring, selfless, hard working people on the planet. I'm proud of my school district, and I am honored to work alongside the people that all contribute to educating our young people, despite increasingly stressful and difficult working conditions. Our daughters have all had wonderful, talented, and passionate teachers. Mrs. Roach, Mrs. Kilbourne, Mrs. Walker, Mrs. Still, just to name a few. We are so grateful to have these dedicated educators in our district. But there is one teacher I'd like to shine a spotlight on, if I could.

Gia just completed her first year in an American school while figuring out her first year in the United States after spending 8 years of her life in an orphanage in Shijiazhuang, China. Gia was so brave as she joined our family a year ago, but we knew there would be many challenges when we got back to the USA. Gone were the familiar smells, sights, sounds, and language. Gone were familiar faces of teachers, nannies, and friends. Gia was so brave that it inspired us, but Amy and I were still quite anxious and prayerful.

All of this would have been plenty for a young girl to take on, but then add the fact that the school she was shown, and pointed out daily, all Summer, was not going to be her school for a while. She would be taken to another school, Kellogg Middle School, while her "real" school was being repaired. The first day, all 230+ students at Sunnyside Elementary were in the gymnasium of Kellogg Middle School, and even I was overwhelmed. That's right, the 43 year old who has lived here my entire life, recognized many familiar faces, and understood the language being spoken, was completely overwhelmed. Brave little Gia had 2 or 3 tears that streamed down her perfect cheeks, but her bravery was still evident.


Enter Gia's teacher for this school year, Mrs. Stern, who had met with us weeks before hand, and had willingly, and bravely taken on the challenge of having a non English speaking girl, with special needs, in her classroom. From the moment Gia was able to see and start to talk with Mrs. Stern, you could see her confidence and assurance skyrocket. We went into Mrs. Stern's temporary classroom at KMS, which still had the feel of a safe place to learn, thanks to Mrs. Stern's experience and calm demeanor. This dad had tears in his eyes when he got one last hug from Gia the Brave and watched her take Mrs. Stern's hand to step into the journey of a lifetime.

Even from the first week, we could see progress in Gia's confidence and happiness in her new surroundings. The language was still foreign, the students still strangers, but Mrs. Stern was exactly what Gia needed. After a 1st week of ups and downs, I will never forget the look on Gia's face when I came down the hall of her temporary classroom, to pick her up. (her classroom was in the same building as my office.) She had a smile a mile wide and a spring in her step like she had just conquered the world. Once again, this dad fought back tears of gratefulness and happiness. 


I won't give you a play by play of the entire school year because there would be too much to share. But I wanted to highlight something that has impacted me, and still impacts me today. There is much debate about ways to "improve" or "reform" public education. Technology, accountability, differentiation, highly qualified, adequate yearly progress, the list and the accompanying debates go on and on. However, I happen to feel quite strongly that there is one ingredient in education, that simply cannot be debated or substituted: authentic relationship. You see, you can know your subject matter inside and out. You can have a PhD in education. But none of that matters if you can't connect, and have rapport with your students. Conversely, even if you may not be the most knowledgeable in a particular subject, or have standardized test (yuck) scores that "prove" how great of a teacher you are, if your students know you truly care about them, the other stuff is of little consequence. 

Mrs. Stern genuinely cared for her students, and Gia, and it showed. Yes Gia made academic progress that made us marvel. Mrs. Stern "differentiated" (Education buzzword alert!) for Gia all year long. She went the extra mile to give Gia the individualization she needed. That was all pretty outstanding. But there was a more important area in which Mrs. Stern excelled. Yes Gia was learning lots, but the progress she made as a person, was nothing short of amazing. Thank you Mrs. Stern for being exactly what Gia needed, someone who genuinely and sweetly cared for every part of her development and experiences. I don't know what your classroom "data" shows, Mrs. Stern, but the data I see, the un-measurable data, is off the charts. You have impacted this brave little girl so much, she talks about you every day. She mentions you as often, if not more often than her best friend she had to leave in China, a year ago. 

Gia loves school, and she loves helping others. I fully believe that much of this is because she had a teacher who modeled this for her throughout the school year. Thank you Mrs. Stern, for bravely accepting this challenge, and for making a lifelong impact on our daughter. As you move on from our district, know that this family will miss you dearly, and will be forever grateful for all you have done. 

Someday maybe public education will go back to supporting, appreciating, and rewarding teachers for everything that they do for kids, not simply how their students score on a test. But until then, just know that we acknowledge teachers like Mrs. Stern, who have relationships with students and make a lifelong impact. Thank you for the lifelong reminder, Mrs. Stern. 



Thursday, June 25, 2015

Because He first loved us

Well, well, well. I didn't think I'd be writing this post so soon after adopting Gia P. Simon--for sure!--didn't think I'd be writing this post at all. LOL.

But God!

He has a way of reminding me of what His Word says. He often does that through songs.

This year, two songs that have been playing in my heart and mind a lot are "Do Life Big" by Jamie Grace and "Thrive" by Casting Crowns. Here is a sampling of their lyrics, emphasis mine:

"I came to give you life,
So spread your wings and fly,
Now go and show no fear,

...

Oh, I wanna love, wanna give every day I live,
I wanna do life big,
I wanna love, serve, and give every chance I get,
I wanna do life big...



"Just to know You and to make You known
We lift Your name on high
Shine like the sun, make darkness run and hide
We know we were made for so much more than ordinary lives
It’s time for us to more than just survive
We were made to thrive"

http://myktis.com/songs/thrive/

These songs remind me of the verse John 10:10: "I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly."

God doesn't want us just to survive. He wants us to LIVE. Live in Him. Live for Him. 

I knew that God wrecked my heart for the orphan after we adopted our Little G 10+ years ago. But He solidified that knowledge when I lived through this day. There was no going back. God had called me--us--to care for the orphan. So far, that had been manifested by us adopting 3 children. I didn't know what the future would hold.

I admit, I thought God might be calling us to adopt Gia's best friend in China. I wanted it to be so. I mean, what better fairy tale ending to the story of 2 orphans in China who grew up as "sisters" to each other than to actually become sisters in the same family through adoption?? Seriously. Writers and movie producers couldn't write scripts better than this.

But.

Weeks and then months passed with no "feeling," "nudge," or even a "whisper" from God that we should pursue Gia's BFF. So I promised myself that I would do all I could now to be able to tell Gia later in life that I did everything in my power to see that her best friend found a family. I started advocating for her.

I joined 2 (or more) advocacy groups on Facebook where I pleaded for Gia's BFF's life. Please, won't somebody step forward for this precious girl?!? She was well on her way to the magic (or not so magic) age of 14. When, in China, orphans become ineligible for adoption. (BTW--She has less than 10 months left before she ages out.)

I pleaded. I prayed. I advocated.

I also saw. Other posts. Of orphans needing families.

And that's where I saw G4.

She was on an agency's "list" under a specific name. Something about her smile and her ridiculous hair cut caught my attention. She was super cute. She had the same special need as Gia. She was younger than Gem, so would fit perfectly in our family age dynamics. Hmmm....

Then I asked the agency for her file and all of a sudden that agency didn't have her any more. Oh, man. I guess she wasn't meant to be ours. I was bummed and tried to "find" her on other agency lists to no avail.

Then one day, she appeared back in the advocacy group...this time with a different agency. That meant that she had not yet been chosen by a family.

So, out of curiosity, and without talking to Simon first (oops! did I do that?), I asked for her file. The agency gave me all the information they had on this little girl, including pictures and videos. I watched and read, read and watched. I didn't know what to do.

I knew that Simon's heart was--ahem--no where near not exactly where mine was in regards to adopting again. Well. I did the only thing I knew to do. I fasted and prayed about it. For a few days. Asking God to give me a "sign" about whether or not to share my heart for this girl with Simon.

And then.

I found out her Chinese name.

It is the EXACT same as Gia's Chinese name except in reverse order. No kidding.

Okay, God. I heard you. That was the kicker for me. I shared with Simon that night.

I was SO NERVOUS to tell him about this girl! And it took him a good 3-4 weeks to ponder, pray, wonder, crunch numbers, and figure stuff out before told me that he was on board. :) Oh, and BTW, even though he "crunched numbers," we still don't have it all figured out.

(P.S. To be honest, that was THE LONGEST 3-4 weeks of my entire life! But, I pledged to the Lord to be quiet before Him and wait for Him to nudge my husband's heart. Boy am I glad that I did that! I would not have wanted Simon to agree to adopt again because he felt guilty or because I had somehow "forced" it on him.)

Okay. So he agreed. What next?

Next, we asked the agency to "lock" her file for us while we got it looked over by a medical professional. The agency said no problem, you have 2 weeks until we "unlock" her file and make it available to other families again.

Okay. So, I head right to my Facebook adoptive mom groups and ask for recommendations for a doctor to review this child's file. I got one immediately. I sent the file to the doctor, and a day later I received a response.

I sent the doctor's info to Simon. And he didn't say anything for the next 2 weeks. Eeek! I decided to be quiet before the Lord again and wait. Until the agency sent me this email...

"We’ve had ----- on hold for your family for 2 weeks now, and we are hoping that the additional information we received from the orphanage was helpful.  Have you decided if you want to begin the adoption process to make ---- a part of your family?"

GULP. Decision time.

We prayed. We talked. We cried. We listed "pros" and "cons." It sounds so harsh and heartless, but unless you've been in our shoes, you probably don't really understand all that goes into a decision to adopt a child...from another country...with special needs. 

Obviously, in the end we said YES. We sent in our application to the agency. We sent in our letter of intent to China. And a week later, China gave us pre-approval.

So, here we are paper chasing again. And in case you're wondering, yes, we have to go through ALL.THE.PAPERWORK again, even though we've done it THREE.TIMES.BEFORE.

New application.
New agency.
New fees.
New fingerprints.
New certificates of authenticity.
New home study.
New criminal history background checks.
New financial background checks.
New medical checks.
New everything.

But, if all goes well and China approves us, we will get to look at this face every day for the rest of our lives!


"We love because he first loved us." 1 John 4:19


So here we are entering the unknown again. Not because we're very brave; not because we've got this parenting thing figured out; not because we know all the ins and outs of this special need; not because we have more than enough money; not because our house and car are plenty big; not because we're amazing people. We are entering the unknown because of love. The love our Savior has for us. The love that requires a response. Well, our response is we will love again, Lord, because you first loved us. We don't have to have it all figured out. The One who loves us does. And that is enough.

P.S. We realize that there might be some of you scratching your heads and saying to yourselves, I just don't get why they don't adopt Gia's best friend. Well, again, unless you've been in our shoes, you really don't understand all that goes into making a decision of this kind. It's more than a decision to us. It's a calling. And we do not feel called to adopt Gia's friend. 

That said, she is still available to be pursued by a family. Could she be YOUR daughter? Let me know, if so, and I can point you in the direction to start your adoption process. :)


More Better


Sometimes family vacation means just doing nothing, sitting on a balcony, smelling the sea air, and thinking. While Amy works on her blog post following our big announcement, I'll do one of my own. I'm going to start off with some brutal honesty. I oftentimes (too often)find myself wishing I had "better" stuff. I wish I had a nicer house, like many people I know. I wish I had a bigger, brighter, better TV and surround sound system in a custom Seahawk themed man cave. I wish I could travel to exotic locations, just because I felt like it. I wish my yard was more beautiful and manicured; I wish my house had more/better bathrooms. I wish I had a fancier computer. The list goes on and on, and I sometimes hold on to the notion that eventually I will have these things, because I work hard and I deserve them right?

That's when God gives me reminders. Sometimes they are subtle, like seeing a car broken down on the side of the road or seeing a homeless person.  Sometimes it smacks me in the face, like when I'm whining, complaining, or coveting more/better "stuff," and I learn that a friend, family member, or loved one has experienced life changing news or illness. You see, my selfishness (I'm not judging anyone else here) comes naturally to me. I don't have to think about it... I'm just good at it. I can't visit a friends house without thinking, "I wish I had a nice place like this," or "I wish my TV was that big, bright, and thin." Dang you Costco for putting all those beautiful TVs in the very front of the store! See, I'm selfish... it's really easy, and I come by it naturally.

As you probably already know, my wife Amy and I have adopted 3 amazing girls, from China. If you are wondering "Why China," here is another post for you to read. Each time we adopted, there were signifiant fears and challenges that I faced. Gracie was just 10 months old when we were joined with her forever. This was our first child. I probably spent the first 3 months in a mild panic wondering when I would ever have free time for me ever again. This child took so much time and energy! It seemed impossible, but little by little, God used it to change me. But of course, He wasn't done yet.

Next came our decision to adopt Gemma Lu. Not only were we going the China route again, but we chose to venture into the "Special Needs" arena, because we felt led to do so. A brand new set of fears and doubts crept in. This little girl was 4. She had experienced an interrupted adoption, and we knew she would be very frightened. You can read more about this on another post as well. But once again, God faithfully used all of this to work on me, and I'm grateful every day.

Have I established the fact that I'm selfish? Nice family of 4, good enough for me. Both Amy and I had jobs, we were adjusting to a 2 kid household and routine, and were saving enough money for more/better "stuff!" That's what I'm talking about! But then my wife prayerfully, and lovingly dropped another bomb on my materialistic ways. She wanted to adopt AGAIN. Now, I'm all too familiar with the way couples discuss how many children to have, if any, as well as life's other milestone decisions. But come on man! Things were just starting to get "normal" again. I even posted about "Waiting for normal," and even though I know "normal" doesn't exist as we envision it, I thought we were getting darn close. This one was hard for me. But one thing kept echoing over and over in my mind, my soul, my heart. Step out in faith. I've always had no problem saying it to people and talking about how wonderful of a concept it is to trust the Almighty Creator to do all things, but wait... I'm supposed to live it? Hmmmm. That is a whole separate ballgame.

The transformation that overtook me, during that 3rd trip to China, to meet Gia Pearl, is still to this day indescribable. The way her sweet bravery (how's that for a juxtaposition?) inspired me, and the way she smiled, despite all she had been through and seen, cut straight to my heart. I witnessed a collision of joy and sadness that I will never ever forget, and still hear the sobs of a goodbye during a train ride, like they were yesterday. Guess what, God was changing me. My heart was becoming soft and vulnerable. But still... I waited for normal.





Even though I knew it would probably happen, I still chose not to be burdened daily about adding to our family of 5. Remember the selfish thing? I'm good at it, remember? I'm the Jedi Master of selfishness. So when my wife approached me again, maybe this time, even if I reacted as such, I was not as shocked or opposed, but it was still a diversion from my quest for MBS (more/better stuff). But even as open as my heart was, my logical brain was putting up a good fight. I came up with all the reasons we shouldn't and couldn't adopt again... we can't afford it, our house isn't big enough, our car isn't big enough, we can't accommodate more special needs, I'm selfish, I have a hard enough time being a dad of 3 girls... the list is endless. But God bless my wife for reminding me of all the reasons we CAN do this, rooted firmly in the grace of a loving God. I believe He is able, and he will make a way for this to happen, but it is still a very challenging and difficult decision. But as we walked the streets of a tiny Oregon Coast town this afternoon, and I watched my girls giddily eat ice cream cones, I thought, doesn't every child deserve this?



So here we are again, standing at the beginning of another life changing journey. I still don't know exactly what to think about it, except that even though I'm terrified, I'm confident. Even though I'm selfish, I know I can be more selfless. Even though it seems impossible, we can do it because we have experience, and an awesome God. I've read some amazing testimonies and stories, like this blog post, and they have inspired me already. My selfishness is going to have to wait... and that is not such a bad thing.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Happy Gotcha Day, Gia!

Can you believe it's been ONE WHOLE year since this?!?!?


And this?!?!?


This precious little girl has taught us SO MUCH about bravery and courage. She left ALL that she knew, including her very best friend, took a GIANT leap of faith, and trusted us enough to join our family. She has endured various medical exams, none of which she has liked. She has grieved for her lost life. She has learned English amazingly quickly. She has become true sisters with Gracie and Gemma. She has learned to entertain herself, rather than have to be entertained all of the time. She has grown inches! 

She is AMAZING!

And the best thing of all, she tells us that she loves Jesus. Not only does she have a family who loves her, but she now knows her heavenly Father whose love for her is unmatched.

Adoption is a miracle, and it is the closest thing we have on earth (though not a perfect match) to illustrate what God has done for us by adopting us into His family.

HAPPY GOTCHA DAY, GIA!! WE LOVE YOU SO!!













Monday, January 5, 2015

The Sad, Beautiful Truth

Gia P had an emotional breakdown tonight. Like the kind we haven't seen for months. Like the kind where she cried inconsolably.

But, there was one difference.

This time, she could tell me why she was crying.

It had been a lazy day. It was supposed to have been the first day back to school after a much needed and enjoyed 2-week Christmas break. Somewhat unexpectedly, we got the news this morning that today was a snow day.

Gia was the only one disappointed.

I suspect that may have had something to do with her breakdown later on. But only just a little.

Before dinner, she was looking through the Journey to Gia blog book that we made a couple of months ago. She loves going through it, looking at the pictures, and telling us things about "my China."

So, I didn't think anything of it when she pointed to the picture in the book. The one I used to worry about her seeing. The one she's looked at many times since without much of an emotional reaction.

Shu Mei. Her best friend.

She didn't show much of a reaction at this time either, except to smile.

We had a pleasant dinner and cleaning up time, and then baths began.

Simon usually does baths around here so that I can relax after making and cleaning up dinner. He came to me in the family room to tell me that Gia started crying just out of the blue and he didn't know why.

I waited for her to come down to me. I could tell she was teary eyed and still "on the verge."  I asked her what was the matter, and she replied.

4 little words. 4 of the hardest words in the world.

"I miss Shu Mei."

And she basically melted into my lap and let me hold her while she sobbed.

I was thankful and heart broken at the same time.

Heartbroken for the lost friendship...the lost life...that this little girl has endured and continues to endure.

Thankful that she could tell me why she was sad and that I could do my best to comfort her and pray for her.

This is real. This is the sad, beautiful truth of adoption.

And it is hard.

Thank you, Jesus, that you have felt the exact feelings of grief and loss that our Gia feels.

And that you are the Wonderful Counselor who binds up her wounds and wipes away her tears.


Monday, September 29, 2014

Perspective II

I'm writing this from the waiting room of the Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center & Children's Hospital, while we wait for Gia Pearl to be done with her MRI. Gia is one of the bravest people I have ever known, but no matter how child focused a hospital is, they are still stressful, scary places to be, especially for a little one that is undergoing many life changes and transitions. Gia the Brave.

I recently wrote about perspective after we went out to dinner and met one of the most friendly and helpful food service workers we have seen in a long time. I'm getting another dose of perspective today. Let me tell you something, nothing will give you a sense of how ephemeral and fleeting life can be, like visiting a hospital with your child. Here you are surrounded by some of the brightest, most compassionate, skilled medical professionals around, but you also see the abundance of people with medical needs. Some are more severe than others, but all are needs. All are stark realities of the imperfect, broken world we live in.

In case you didn't know, little Miss Gia was born with Spina Bifida and had surgery at just 4 months old. Amy and I both knew this when we chose to adopt her into our family. Although this amazing little girl is doing very well, we are taking every opportunity to get her the medical care she needs, and hopefully also get a better picture of how her body has adapted over all these years. Gia inspires us every day.

While waiting for Gia to be done with her MRI, I'm doing some work, but also reflecting on how short life is, and how important it is to always remember, and invest in what matters the most: Faith and Family. Yeah I still get unnecessarily stressed out about the most tedious things such as traffic, work, aches/pains, and my job. I still get selfish and take things for granted from time to time. But each and every day I'm being reminded to not let those things impact me as much. It isn't worth spending the time being anxious, stressed, and over-worked for temporary things.

I am now in the waiting room for the follow up neurologist appointment with Amy and Gia, after we had some lunch, and I'm still reflecting on my experience this morning. As Gia came out of her anesthetic, she did not shed one tear. As her nurse took off all the monitors, tubes, and IV, I thought for sure this little girl would start to cry. Instead, in her scratchy little voice she said "Thank you" to the nurse. My heart swelled and I was once again inspired by this 8 year old miracle.

Today is another opportunity to see perspective in what we do. It is not always easy, but then most things fruitful and worthwhile usually aren't.


Sunday, September 28, 2014

Perspective


We have had quite a 3+ month span in the Miller house since returning from China with Gia Pearl. We've worked as hard as we can to establish and nurture a Godly and healthy attachment with our new little girl. Like any family, this has come with ups, downs, challenges, successes, laughter, and tears. But we have been beyond blessed during each and every step of this journey. Things have happened in our family that have caused us to be even more grateful for one another, and to also not take for granted the loved ones in our immediate and extended family.

Despite all the reminders that God gives us of all the things we can be thankful for, and despite all the opportunities that we enjoy, we don't always show that gratitude in our daily actions. We take one another for granted, lose patience with one another, and don't show love when we don't feel like it. We complain about our jobs, traffic, construction, mattresses that make us uncomfortable, coffee that isn't just right, or just the busy-ness that seems to inevitably take over day after day.

This last Friday was the first time in a long time we haven't been traveling, out of town, or at a doctor appointment. We decided to make an impromptu trip to CDA to do some needed shopping and maybe go out to eat, as a family. Speaking of taking things for granted, how amazing is it that a little brave girl, a few months ago, in China, could not go 100 feet in a car, without getting severe car sickness, can now sit in the back seat with her sisters and smile, laugh, point out things she has English words for, without a hint of sickness. And what is even more amazing is that she is not taking any Dramamine whatsoever.

But I digress. Speaking of our attitudes, I have a rotten one when it comes to Costco trips. Something about a super crowded warehouse of people buying things in super-sized quantities, not only stresses me out, but makes me bitter and angry, especially when I see people being impatient and inconsiderate. But this night was different. The girls were super helpful and cooperative, and I think I made it throughout the entire shopping excursion without even a hint of stress or impatience. What happened next was something that impacted me greatly.

We decided to go to Wendy's for dinner. It is one of our favorite "fast food" places because it is relatively inexpensive, fast, and we all like the menu. Who doesn't like burgers, fries, and Frosties!? Anyway, we go to order and I immediately notice the gentleman, (we'll call him Brian for this story) that is working the counter is different. He's exceptionally polite, courteous, and extremely good at his job. This in itself is rare these days. It seems like you can't go anywhere without running into people who obviously just don't like their job. Brian helps us with utmost patience, as we coordinate the orders of 3 little girls, and two adults, changing our mind throughout the entire process. Brian not only tallies our order quickly, but he also tells us we saved 4 bucks on some promotion we didn't even know about. He then communicates our order to his co-workers and assembles our dinner in a short time. He must have said enjoy your meal 3 times and even came out to clean tables and check on us while we were eating.

While we enjoyed our family time, I observed Brian showing the same awesome attitude and courtesies to the next few families and groups that came in after us. It was refreshing. It was a really good reminder for me, and Amy and I shared my observation with her. I said, I want to tell him how much I appreciate his kindness. So I go up to order Frosties for me and my girls and I reach into my wallet and pull out a modest tip and fold it neatly. Of course,  Brian is helping someone else with utmost kindness again. I finally get to order and upon getting 5 frosties in expedient fashion, I say to Brian, "I want you to know that you are one of the kindest, most courteous, friendly service person I have encountered in months, and I really appreciate it. I know you probably aren't supposed to take tips, but I'm not giving you a choice. I want you to have this tip just because." It felt good to let someone know how much they had impacted me.

This is where it gets even better. Brian, with a smile on his face says "Thank you very much. I've worked 6 years at a call center and here, which is my 2nd job, so I have to have good customer service." I followed up with more thank-yous and went back to my girls. As we left, Brian gave a heartfelt "have a great night," as we walked out the door. It was at that moment that it hit me. All my petty frustrations, stress, and hardships, were merely my choice. This guy is working 2 jobs, and both are what I would consider stressful and even somewhat undesirable, yet here he was impacting and inspiring me, and my wife, on a Friday night impromptu family dinner.

I learned a lesson Friday, and I think we all can take a lesson from Brian at Wendy's. We have much to be thankful for, and most of the time, our attitude is how we choose to act towards others. If we would just take a little more time to show kindness to others, it would go a long way. Thank you Brian.