Friday, March 17, 2017

Happy Birthday, Little Man!

Our Howie turns 3 tomorrow! I am a bundle of emotions as I miss another birthday and also prepare to come and finally see him very soon. We will have a late birthday celebration when we get home with him.

We got travel approval and our consulate appointment confirmed this week! We will be leaving April 6 and have him in our arms on April 10. We cannot wait.

Here are some updated pictures we have received over the past few weeks...

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Name Change

Our little guy's name in China is Hao Hao (pronounced "how how".) For a long time (since we saw him on a waiting child list), we have been calling him by his name: Hao Hao. As the time came near for us to officially name him and send his name in for his adoption certificate, I found I was still calling him Hao Hao. Often, we would call him Hao and then one of us would say, "I guess we should start calling him Derek." But I just couldn't. He is my little Hao Hao. And then I thought about my Rachel. 2 months younger than her newest brother. And what she would think if someone decided to change her name. She would be indignant. Her name is a part of who she is. She is Rachy.

My mom suggested Howie and it delighted us! I love keeping a piece of his history in his name. I love that it is a natural transition from Hao Hao to Howie.

And, so, just like Andrew (who was Noah until he was born) and Laura (who was Susanna for a long time)...our little Howie had a last minute name change...down to the wire. :) Howard Derek Zopp. Can't wait for him to be here!

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Introducing Our New Son

We are thrilled to introduce our son, Derek Norman Zopp.

We saw our son's face on the waiting child page of our agency's website. We fell in love with him instantly and were eager to ask for his information. However, when we asked the next day, we were told there was already a family who had asked about him and the agency thought the other family would move forward to adopt him.

About a week later, we got an email from our waiting child department and attached to it was this precious face and all the information they had about him. We knew the first time we read through it that he was meant to be our son and were so happy to say yes to being his family.

We actually connected with the family who had been reviewing his file before we received it. They told us they wanted to say yes to him but every time they prayed about it, they felt God was saying "This is not your son." They eventually returned his file and were blessed to be matched with their sweet daughter the next day! And we were overjoyed to be matched with our sweet boy.

We named him Derek after my brothers (David and Eric), who were my best friends growing up. As our family moved from place to place, we were each other's constant and they have long been two of my favorite people. Now we are grown up and don't see each other as much as we would like, but those two grown up brothers are dear to my heart. Norman is my mother's maiden name. I don't have enough words to tell how important my mother and my maternal grandparents are to me. They are who made me, me.

Derek's Chinese name is Zhao Chen Hao and he is currently living in Nanyang, Henan, China. He is from the same province as Laura, but is in a different city and orphanage. He will be three years old on March 18.

We are now working through the paperwork required to bring him home. We are hoping to travel in June and are so excited that Robert might get to travel this time too! We cannot wait to have Derek home with our family.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

One Year Anniversary, Part 2

I have struggled with this post for weeks. I intended to write about the change in our hearts after walking through the adoption process, after going to China and coming home, and after watching Laura blossom and grow over the past year.

Here is the thing: people expect me to say that what changed us was the sadness. The poverty, the desolation, the grief. All of those things did exist during the adoption process and of course while we were in China, and in the first year home. There are many sad stories we have seen and heard. There are many maddening and deeply tragic pieces to our story.

However, it was not the sadness that changed us. It is the joy, hope, love, and redemption that have taken hold of our hearts and forever changed who we are as a family.

What has changed me the most is the transformation of my daughter and all the children who came home with her. On October 19, 2015, I stood in a room full of expectant parents. As the children came in, they were terrified. Some cried, some fought, some retreated inside themselves and sat as statues, not moving, crying, or fighting. They all carried scars, physical and emotional, of their life so far. When Laura was handed to me, her whole body went stiff. She cried and arched her back away from me, pushing with all the might her 15 pounds would allow.

Two weeks later, we all gathered for a photo and the children...the children! They were sons and daughters. They still carried scars. Laura still refused to eat the last of anything. She carried food in her hand at all times, so afraid that it might be the last one. But, she smiled. She laughed. All the children there had already changed so much, in just two weeks. Their needs were being met and already love was changing their lives.

One year later, I delight in getting email, text, and social media updates from these travel friends. And their babies are all so beautiful! All doing well. All a part of a family. And that has made the difference for them. They have in their lives a mom and a dad who will love them no matter what. Who provide for their needs at all times. They feel safe and loved and have endless opportunities in front of them.

We look from where they came, where they are, and all the possibilities of where they might go, and we rejoice! These precious children have families, homes, and futures.

Then we look back at the little ones left behind, and we do grieve. These precious babies need families. They need homes. Many of them need medical care. But, they wait.

And, so, we come to our other big change: the constant battle in our hearts of "what are we doing here?" Obviously, the Zopp family is not going to solve the orphan crisis problem. Obviously, we "can't rescue them all", as random strangers in the produce department love to say.

But...look at our Laura. Look at how she has grown. Look at how she is loved deeply by us and at how even more deeply she is loved and cared for by God. We see her opportunity to hear the gospel of Christ and come to a saving knowledge of him. We see her opportunity to be anything she wants to be. We see her medical needs and know we can meet them. We see her limitations and know, even if she never speaks...even if sign language becomes her language...she still has so many opportunities ahead of her in her sweet life. We see that her learning to speak is more of a possibility here than it ever would have been there.

Look. Look. Look at all the children and how they have grown. Look at the spectacular love their families shower on them. Look at their futures ahead of them.

Again, we circle around to change. The change is, we will never be able to look at life in the same way again. We will never be able to make big purchases without debating: is this a need or a want. And then weighing the wants...because what good things could that money do? We will never look at the days with our children the same again. Suddenly, sitting on the floor for hours with absolutely no "me time" sounds delightful and like exactly what I should be doing with my life right now. We look at the present and cherish sweet days with our 5 little hearts that have been entrusted to us. We will never look at the future the same again. Retiring to sit on the beach will never be our plan. I look forward to the future not for rest but for new work...what will be put in front of me once my children no longer need me on the floor?

And, finally, we will never look at big families and think, "wow, they are crazy." By God's grace, this woman who was told she may never get to have children, and this man who only wanted two, now are blessed with five, and still adding.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Monday, October 10, 2016

1 Year Anniversary: Part 1

Growing up, and even into early adulthood, I never thought about or dwelled on anything that was sad, or difficult, or maddening, or hard. That is just not what my family does. We push through and move on. The hard stuff is never talked about again. Then I met Robert. His family talks about everything.  And when I say talk, I mean beat it to death. Or that is what it feels like to me.

Robert and I have been married now for over 12 years, and so I have had to learn to talk. And fight. And discuss. The happy things and the sad things. The hard things and the easy things. Sometimes I still have to fight the shut down response to anything emotionally negative. It is hard to change.

And, so, as I look at our year anniversary with Laura on the calendar, my personality and tendency is to say: What a fantastic year! Everything has been so fun! She is doing so great! These things are very true. She is doing great. Better than great, really. It has been a fantastic year. And we have had so much fun.

Laura just a few minutes after I met her. October 19, 2015
But, in order to really appreciate just how wonderfully she is doing and the amazing year we have had, I think it is necessary to look back at the hard. And, so, I have purposefully gone back to memories of the hard this week.

I went back to China. Just a few hours into being Laura's Mommy; I had never felt so alone. I was sitting in my hotel room with a baby who I had just met. Who was 10 pounds thinner than I had been told she was. And she was refusing to eat. She screamed every time I tried to give her the bottle. She didn't know me. I looked so different from anyone she had ever met. I smelled different. I spoke differently.

I went back to palate surgery day and the two weeks of torture that followed. Every moment was hard in those weeks. She was in pain. She stopped trusting me. She retreated inside herself.

I went back to just last week when fear overtook my heart and I wondered, will she ever speak? What will we do if she never speaks?

As I looked back at the hard, with all the experience of the present, in each moment I saw something beautiful. In each moment I saw God reach down and put before me the exact encouragement I needed to push through. He has been so gracious to me through this year. Truly He has walked through the fires and rivers with me so that they would not overwhelm me (Isaiah 43:2). Truly He has made beauty from ashes (Isaiah 61:3).

In that moment in China, I reached into my suitcase and grabbed a nutrigrain bar. Maybe she would eat this. I handed it to her and she had no idea what to do with it. She had never been given solid food. I put a tiny taste on her lips and received a big smile. Her eyes met mine and she opened her mouth for more. She still wouldn't let me give her a bottle, but she let me feed her that cereal bar. She watched me closely the whole time and her tiny self consumed that whole bar.

In the hospital after her surgery, as she screamed and fought against the morphine, the surgeon and the nurse stood watching as I tried to soothe my baby. Then the nurse said, "She is a fighter, isn't she?" And I cried. Knowing I was so thankful that she was a fighter. I was so thankful her fighting spirit got her through her year and a half in an orphanage that didn't feed her. As the tears rolled, the nurse then said to the doctor, "I think she is also the most amazing mom I have ever seen." And the doctor said, "I agree." Of course that was just to make me feel better and we all knew it. But, it did make me feel better and their confidence in us (Laura and me), gave me confidence to advocate and care for my Laura even when she didn't want me caring for her.

And, today, as I sat on the couch in a rare quiet moment with just Laura and me, I started practicing the "m" sound with her. Back and forth, we'd make the "mmmm" sound together. Then, in a soft little whisper, she looked at me and said "Mama" for the first time.

Even the hard is good in the end.

Robert and Laura: Daddy's girl
Laura really is doing wonderfully. She has grown into a healthy little 2 year old. She loves toys with buttons, stacking blocks, and trains. She carries two flannel blankets around when she is tired. She starts every morning with cold milk. And you don't want to mess with that milk routine. She loves playing outside and riding her scooter. She loves to be held by both Mommy and Daddy. Daddy is her favorite and she runs to see him when she hears the door opening in the evening.

And we do have fun. There are too many happy moments to list. Everyday is fun with this bunch. We are blessed beyond measure.

My sweet crew shopping for new books. 

Monday, March 28, 2016

Glorious Healing

When Laura had her post-op visit about a month after her surgery, we confirmed that a small fistula had formed during her healing. It was about the size of a pencil eraser and in the back of her mouth. Our doctor said he was disappointed to see it, but not surprised. Her cleft was very wide in the back and so the stitches were under a lot of tension. Sometimes, often even, that tension gives way in some spots and small holes form. I was certain I had seen the hole forming as I cared for Laura's palate, so I wasn't surprised when our doctor confirmed it. We were disappointed, though, since a hole meant an extra surgery to continue to try to close the roof of her mouth. Our doctor said to give her some time to completely heal before we started talking about closing the small hole. I asked him if there was any chance it would heal on its own. He said not likely. I decided to pray for healing anyway. Robert and I both prayed for her little mouth.

Last week, while visiting our favorite ENT for Rachel Beth's ears, he asked me how Laura was doing. I told him, "I know you are going to think I'm crazy, but that hole is getting smaller on its own." He said now he was going to have to look and he looked in her mouth and said, "You're right! It is smaller. Let's just leave it alone and see what happens." I am thrilled. Leave it alone sounds wonderful to me. Not doing another palate surgery this year is gift from God! She will still have more surgeries in the future, but will also have some needed time to grow and heal in all ways before we tackle another surgical hurdle.

Sister love! 
Laura is healing emotionally as well. Things that seem like tiny steps mean so much for her. Her little heart is healing as well as her mouth. Day by day, by God's glorious grace, she is learning what it means to be loved unconditionally.  To have siblings who love to play and help. To have enough to eat. (So much, that she now feels enough freedom to throw what she doesn't like on the floor!) To have a family who provides and protects.
Laura loves all things technology and is obsessed with big brother's Nook. 

I have said it before, but I must say it again. I am so humbled that God called us to adopt and am ever thankful that in His sovereignty, He chose Laura for us and us for Laura.

Looking a little deviant as she sneaks some early morning candy.