Adopting Families: Extraordinary Ordinary Families

Isabelle 2-2 Our Angel Tree Sponsored Child

“Isabelle 2-2,” Our Angel Tree Sponsored Child

This summer my family vacationed with a group of sixty extraordinary ordinary families. Almost all of these families had adopted children with special needs, and many of them had adopted their children from other countries. Down syndrome, Muscular Dystrophy, limb differences, dwarfism…you name it, children with these conditions were there. And it was beautiful.

That week was the first time I spent an extended amount of time around special needs children, and I was both amazed and humbled. I expected to meet families of great strength and spirit, and they are, but they are also ordinary families.

Most of the moms had met through online groups, especially Reeces’ Rainbow. But few of the fathers had met or corresponded with each other. It was conversations with fathers that inspired me and one in particular provided a breakthrough moment, making this whole special needs adoption process very real to me.

At the poolIn a pool filled with a hundred children, most of whom had special needs, a beautiful blond girl was in her floater near me, clearly enjoying being in the water. She was splashing and giggling and looking lovingly with her huge blue eyes and charming smile at her daddy. I struck up a conversation with the dad about his daughter. After talking for a while, he happened to mention that one of the ways their family raised money for Lyla’s adoption was by selling t-shirts.

Suddenly I made the connection. We had bought one of those t-shirts! My wife wore it for months, and all of my children knew who Lyla was and had been praying for her. In that moment I realized that before me was a little child of God who only a couple of years earlier had been languishing in an orphanage. I told dad that we had one of the shirts and he looked me straight in the eyes and said a simple, “Thank you.” Even now as I write this down, my eyes are leaking.

You can help special needs orphans and adopting families by contributing to the 2014 Angel Tree drive. Won’t you please help “bump” an angel to their next funding threshold or their full goal? Or you can give Angel Tree Dollars as a stocking stuffer!

Ordinary People

These adopting parents and siblings are just like you and me. They aren’t independently wealthy, and they aren’t Mother Teresa either. The fathers work jobs just like everyone else and are fully sold out to their adoptions. The moms mostly stay at home with their children, making their important contributions one day, one child at a time.

I spoke with several of the dads, and their stories were simple. I asked, “Why did you adopt? How did you get to that place in your life?” There were no lightning bolts, no visions of angels. They just heard the stories and saw the pictures and were convicted that someone had to do something. And the someone was them.

“Samson,” who died before he could be adopted

Their children (biological and adoptive) are outrageously typical. They are sweet, friendly, shy, demanding, generous, whiny, clever, humorous, mischievous and perfectly lovely to be around. That is, they are children are just like everyone else’s children.

Extraordinary People

These families radically transform their lives and families. In many of their home countries, orphans are on the lowest rung of the social ladder, and people with special needs are even lower. The trauma experienced by these children in orphanages is often physically and psychologically devastating, and the parents who graft them into their families take on the medical and therapeutic costs of healing and caring for these precious ones.

They spend months or years raising tens of thousands of dollars to fund the adoptions. They often sell off many their own possessions and spend countless hours fundraising through crafting and activities in their community. Many radically simplify their lifestyles in order to make the adoption happen.

Adopting families open their homes to social services and CPS agency workers in what must be a stressful and intrusive process to evaluate the quality of their home and home life, in detail.

Single moms who adopt children have to do it all—work and fundraise and raise other children they may have.

These are courageous men and women of faith and conviction. Some are Christian, some are of other faiths, but all of them are striving to improve the life situation of orphans, one at a time.

Transformed Children

Adopting families and those who contribute to their adoption funding are literally rescuing children from mostly terrible conditions. The life of a special needs orphan (especially in current and former communist countries) can be particularly brutal, because a person’s value is based on their potential contribution to society. Viewed as a drain on society, those born with special needs are often consigned to poorly-resourced orphanages with underpaid staff.

In most Eastern European countries, orphans with cognitive disabilities are sent to adult mental institutions at 4-6 years old, where they stay until they die or are adopted (huge majorities, at least 90%, of those who remain die within a few years). Special needs orphans without cognitive disabilities age out of the system at around age 16, and are released without job skills and illiterate. Human traffickers are usually waiting for them, and you can guess the rest.

Here are some “Before-and-After” photos of Reece’s Rainbow children whose lives have been transformed by adoption.

RRAT 14 4RRAT 14 3RRAT 14 2 RRAT 14 1 JoJo 1 month homeBy rescuing “the least of these” adoptive families literally transform the children’s lives. Here is one of our favorite blogs about these kinds of rescues, and you can read about various adoption stories here.

You Can Help

Adopting children internationally is quite expensive.[1] The reason I like the financial model used by Reece’s Rainbow is that when money is donated to a child’s dedicated grant, it stays connected to that child until a family is actively in the process of adopting the child. Families who commit to a child can set up their own account. In either case, Reece’s Rainbow strives to ensure that money dedicated to a child helps that child’s adoptive family when the time comes.[2]

Reece’s Rainbow’s annual fundraising campaign is Angel Tree. Angel Tree Warriors select a child, and commit to raise $1,000 to jump-start a child’s adoption grant, increasing the chance that a family will be able to afford to adopt him or her.

You can help by contributing to the 2014 Angel Tree drive. Won’t you please help “bump” an angel to their next funding threshold or their full goal? Or you can give Angel Tree Dollars as a stocking stuffer! We are so grateful to those people who helped our family raise $1,000 for Isabelle 2-2!

In this last ten days of the year, will you please take some time and look at the pictures of these children and find it in your heart to help their warrior reach their $1,000 goal?

As a Christian, God has adopted me into his family, making me an heir to the inheritance of the promises of Abraham, and one of his children.

Romans 8:15: For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, “Abba! Father!”

Galatians 4:3-7: So also we, while we were children, were held in bondage under the elemental things of the world. But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, so that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons. Because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” Therefore you are no longer a slave, but a son; and if a son, then an heir through God.

Ephesians 1:5: He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will.

Helping families do this for children is one way my family pays this gift forward to others.


Videos Links

Here are a few videos documenting the conditions in orphanages in Romania, China, Bulgaria, and Ukraine.



Bulgaria (The orphanage shown here has since closed; here is a follow up BBC story )



[1] I originally thought that the high cost was due to corruption and bribes in the children’s home nations. It turns out, however, that most of the money goes toward the demanding travel and nation-stay requirements, and American social service and legal fees.

[2] Reece’s Rainbow is not an adoption agency, and must comply with US and home-country rules for disbursing funds.

Celebrating Image Bearers with Down Syndrome

Today, March 21, is World Down Syndrome Day. While our family has no member with Down Syndrome, over the last few years we have become advocates for orphans with the condition internationally. Specifically, we strongly support the efforts of Reece’s Rainbow, an agency with a mission to raise money for children abroad who are waiting for adoption and adopting families. My wife and daughters fundraise for these children in an entrepreneurial spirit through handmade crafts, my wife’s Etsy Store and Lilla Rose franchise, which she started so we could increase the amount we give without further taxing our family’s budget.

Our motivation is loving compassion born out of awareness that people with Down Syndrome are also created in the image of God, as you and I are (Gen 1:27-28). Therefore they are worthy of respect and dignity. We also are encouraged by the many passages of scripture in which orphan care is praised and commended to us as part of living out our faith (e.g., James 1:27, Psalm 82:3, Psalm 146:9). Moreover, since we have also been adopted by our heavenly Father:

when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, so that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons. (Ephesians 4:4-5)

when we adopt or support those who do, we are living out God’s image stamped on our spirits, and are working out our salvation (Eph 2:10).

Today, on World Down Syndrome Day, consider what you can do.

1. Encourage families with members who have Down Syndrome. This video is an encouraging reminder that even those among us with cognitive disabilities have tremendous potential for, and therefore deserve happy lives.

Here is another touching video along the same lines. // And another one.

2. Consider supporting families who have a mission and calling to adopt special needs children. In most areas of the world, these young ones are thrown away or abandoned due to social stigmas or superstition, even if their parents are still living. Moreover, many orphanages around the world are simply horrific, especially in Eastern Europe and Russia. We can help! Check out this before and after shot of a beautiful girl rescued from an Eastern European country in February of this year!  

JoJo 1 month homeReece’s Rainbow  is a great organization that targets and collects money toward children’s adoption grants; when a family comes forward and commits to adopting a child they can be reimbursed from the child’s account.

Friends who have adopted or are adopting can be found here and here and here. (If I missed your page, email me and I’ll add you to the list!)

The opportunities are not international only. In the United States people with Down Syndrome also need support, and sometimes adoption. On the other hand, the US Government’s expansion of prenatal testing coverage, which with the medical community’s negative attitude toward DS is sure to reduce the rate of Down Syndrome in the population through the only way it can occur medically: abortion. (State prenatal programs even had the goal of reducing the DS population!) So even though less “enlightened” countries deal with special needs children by committing them to orphanages and mental institutions, in the “civilized” USA  we simply kill them—at a rate of 90%!

3. Learn about Down Syndrome and educate the people around you. Teach your children or the kids in your sphere of influence that people with cognitive disabilities are children of God, too. Recently the medical community agreed to eliminate the phrase “retarded” and “mentally retarded” from their diagnostic manuals; let’s eliminate those and the word “retard” when we’re talking about people, shall we?

4. Encourage your church leaders consider how they can come alongside their church families that have members with cognitive disabilities. Many of these families feel rejected by their churches, even though churches should be where they find support. Growing up in Connecticut, our church was involved with a group home a block away, in which several young women with Down Syndrome lived, and they attended worship services and many church events. Is your church a welcoming place for “the least of these” and the family members who care for them?

Me with our friend Daisy

Me with our friend Daisy

My family has been blessed by our interactions with children and young men and women who have Down Syndrome. I pray that you will take this day to seek out this blessing as well. You’ll be glad you did!