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Your Moments Defined – Our Blond Pigtails

This blog was not born out of a defining moment in my life or my husband’s life; It was born when we made an intentional decision to turn our tragedy into Our Moments Defined.

I know many of you have done the same. Tragedy and heartache have come your way, but you’ve sought the Father and have redefined those moments.

I want to share your stories through regular guest posts. Today’s guest post is by Courtney Westlake. You can find her blog here.

Courtney has become a very dear friend to me. We first met when her daughter needed a Developmental Therapist (that was me!). We’ve built our friendship over writing and blogging, business ideas and special needs parenting. 


When my husband, Evan, and I found out we were adding a little girl to our family, joining her big brother Connor, we saw pigtails.

We envisioned a little girl toddling around the house chasing her brother with blond pigtails bouncing on the sides of her head.

But on the afternoon of Brenna’s birth, that image of pigtails was ripped from our minds. There was complete shock in the delivery room when Brenna was born; Evan almost fainted at the sight of her, and the medical staff frantically called for a neonatologist.

special needs adoption blog

Brenna was covered in plaques that were so thick they almost looked like armor, which were split by deep cutting fissures. Her eyelids were flipped inside out, her fingers and toes were short and clenched, and you could barely make out her ears. Brenna was rushed to the nearby NICU and diagnosed with a very rare, very severe genetic skin condition called Harlequin Ichthyosis.

Essentially, what this means is that her skin has trouble doing the jobs for her body that skin typically does. It doesn’t hold in moisture, it doesn’t keep germs out of her body – so she can get skin infections very easily – and her skin has a difficult time regulating her body temperature. She can’t physically sweat, so high temperatures are dangerous for her, and she gets cold very easily.

Brenna’s body recognizes this error in her genetics, so it tries to make up for that error – by making more and more skin. She makes skin 10 times faster than we do, and she can’t shed it quickly enough, leaving her with an appearance of a severe sunburn all over her body.

And, interestingly enough, another effect of making too much skin is that this kills off her hair follicles. When she was born, we could see clumps of dark hair grown into her thick plates of skin, but as those original plaques of skin began to peel off, they took her hair with them.

special needs adoption blog

However, as Brenna got older, little strands of white-blond hair began to emerge from her scalp around the back of her head and has continued to grow in, little by little each month and each year, with small tufts on top and longer around the back.

One evening when Brenna was two years old, I prepared as usual for her post-bath routine while Evan completed his scalp care. He was taking longer than usual to finish up bath time, and just as I was about to ask if he was almost done, he called out to me from the bathroom with a laugh: “Look at this!”

As I entered the bathroom, I peered into the tub to see him gently twisting tiny curly hairs near the base of Brenna’s neck.

Special needs adoption blog

And there they were: our blond pigtails.

We laughed, and we took pictures, and we exclaimed to Brenna how beautiful her hair looked as she proudly patted her head. Suddenly, fashioning pigtails into our daughter’s hair became so much more special than we ever imagined.

We often have expectations about what our lives will be like, what our families will look like, and who our children will be.

Sometimes, when something is different than we anticipated or hoped for, it leaves us disappointed, confused or even grieving a kind of loss. Too often, we see things for what they aren’t – how something doesn’t look, how something didn’t happen.

When Evan and I first thought about our daughter’s pigtails, the thought certainly didn’t cross our mind that she may not be able to grow much hair. And there was a time that we mourned the loss of her hair, along with the loss of many other things we expected about adding a little girl to our family.

Yet, that one evening, when two tiny twists of hair emerged on her head to form pigtails, it wasn’t the kind of pigtails we imagined…. It was so much more beautiful.

Through these challenging years of raising Brenna and Connor, motherhood for me has become a journey of letting go of my own expectations so that I can truly understand and accept who my children are as God created them. Motherhood means the privilege and joy of discovering the child that has been gifted to me and getting to encourage and bring out the best version of who that child is, rather than pushing them to become the person I might have envisioned them to be.

What an incredible opportunity we have to get to know our children as they grow up, to learn who they are as God created them – with such unique talents, abilities, and purpose – and help guide them toward Him.

Motherhood doesn’t usually end up like what we had planned, but when we can see the beautiful in the unexpected and in the different, we can start to celebrate the joy of what is, instead of mourning what isn’t.

I found that when I began letting go of the loss of my own expectations and plans, it was then that I was able to begin more fully living in the extraordinary life that God has planned for me… like the incredible beauty of tiny twisty pigtails.



special needs adoption blog

Courtney Westlake is the author of newly released book A Different Beautiful. She lives in Illinois with her husband Evan and two children, Connor and Brenna. After Brenna was born with a severe skin disorder, Courtney began chronicling family life and experiences raising a child with physical differences and special needs on her blog. Her writing has been published on sites such as the Huffington Post, Good Housekeeping, Woman’s Day and Yahoo Parenting. You can follow her on Facebook and Instagram.

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Your Moments Defined – No Longer Satisfied with Crumbs


This blog was not born out of a defining moment in my life or my husband’s life; It was born when we made an intentional decision to turn our tragedy into Our Moments Defined.

I know many of you have done the same. Tragedy and heartache have come your way, but you’ve sought the Father and have redefined those moments.

I want to share your stories through regular guest posts. Today’s guest post is by Terri Gorton Fullerton You can find her blog here.

I have gotten to know Terri through her writings in an online writing group. She has become a mother-figure in our group. I know you will learn from her wisdom just as I have.


A person doesn’t settle for crumbs unless she is starving, scared or ashamed.

I grew up in the terror of domestic violence. Survival became a fortress. It helped me endure as a child but it also became a prison.

I settled in relationships, conversations and circumstances that were not life giving.

Eating “beneath the table”as an adult  seemed safe, like a fort my brothers and I built as children. Instead of tattered quilts and sheets pulled off from beds, shame and fear draped the sides. Lies clamped the self-protective blankets and held them in place.

Crumbs fail to feed our God-given hunger.

I settled for crumbs because I believed the clamoring lies.

You don’t deserve anything else.

There is no room for you at the table.

You are not worthy to sit with the others.

You will never get out.

No one wants you there.

It’s not safe.

When I started to hear the compassionate whisper of truth, the enemy turned up his volume of lies.

Isn’t this always the case?

I had a choice to make. Do I believe the lies that feel true or do I believe the truth that seems like a lie?

Christ squatted down and met me beneath the table because we have a loving God who meets us where we are.

He didn’t give me bigger crumbs. He didn’t shame me. He cupped my face and asked me to trust him. He extended his hand of grace and helped me to stand. He led me out because our faith is not deepened in our forts of safety.

That presence created a hunger that initially opened a deep wound.

Longing and desire felt wrong. It was excruciating. I squirmed. I looked down. I fidgeted with my shirt and twirled my wedding ring, yet he led me to a place at the table.

He sat me in community with others.

Fiery white anxiety shot through my body. It was uncomfortable. I wanted to bolt. Yet crumbs failed to sustain me for too long.

It is exactly where He knew I needed to be.  With his faithful love, God has created a new thing in me. Today I have my identity in Christ and embrace his truth about me.

He doesn’t just save room me at his table he provides a feast!

It’s far more than I could have ever asked or imagined.

If you’ve settled for crumbs in any area, please hear me. God doesn’t desire that you settle for crumbs. He’s gently leading you to a place at the table.

Will you join me?


Terri is a wife, mom, Bible study teacher and mentor.  God’s creation and His Word nourish her soul. She loves stories of redemption and things that are funny. She longs to encourage others to find hope and freedom.  She is a freelance writer and is working on her first book. She is contributing writer at The Glorious Table 

She also shares posts at Life Letter Cafe and The Huffington Post.


Follow her on TwitterPinterest, and Instagram

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The Grandfather Clock – Family Farmhouse Renovation

To me, the chimes of our grandfather clock symbolize life.

As a child, my grandmother taught me the rhythm and pattern of the clock. From a young age, I would lay in her guest bed, counting the dongs of the hour and deciding if Grandma would think five dongs was late enough to get up and make pancakes.

Weekly, my grandma wound the clock. If for some reason it stopped working, she quickly had it serviced. She counted on the chimes of that clock. They were a constant in her home. She loved to hear its sound.

When Grandma passed away almost two years ago, the clock stopped chiming. No one was living in the house, so no one thought to wind the grandfather clock. Grandma’s house was eerily quiet when I’d drop in to check things over or gather her junk mail.

We began renovations on the family farmhouse almost a year after she passed. The house was no longer quiet, but the clock still did not chime. It remained silent in the dining room — the very last room we renovated. No one gave much thought to the clock for six months as plaster was repaired and cabinets were installed.

When we moved into my grandmother’s farmhouse, we moved the fifth and sixth generation of my family into the home. It was built by my great-great grandparents in 1885. My children can’t even comprehend how rare it is to live and love within walls containing such family history.

The day we settled our belongings into the home and began to add to the history, the dining room was still untouched. For weeks, the grandfather clock sat in our hallway. It was crammed into an inconvenient space with a table for eight and all the matching chairs. Plaster dust covered the clock, but there was no sense in cleaning it until the renovations were complete.

Farmhouse renovations on a special needs adoption blog.

Despite its condition and unlikely location, on our first full day in the farmhouse the grandfather clock began to chime. I stopped unpacking a box of belongings and realized moving the clock to the hallway must have activated the tired chimes. The melody of the timepiece brought along memories and emotions from my childhood.

To me, the sound of the clock symbolized life.

It had been silent following my grandmother’s passing. The house was empty. There was no one for whom to keep time.

Now though, my grandmother’s legacies were running through the house, trying to find their favorite toys amidst the chaos. The farmhouse was once again filled with life. There was a reason to announce the time.

As we inhabit this house of history and legacy, I think a lot about that grandfather clock. It chimes every fifteen minutes to remind me life fills this home. It also serves as a source of accountability as I listen to it keep time. Am I loving in a way that pleases God and builds his legacy in my family, as my ancestors did? How have I filled my time since the last time I heard the clock sing?

1885 farmhouse renovation on special needs adoption blog.

To me, the grandfather clock symbolizes life; it reminds me to live.

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What’s new with the Newinghams?

Our summer has been busy, but good. I feel as though we’ve filled almost every minute since Nasko was placed. It’s been good to stay busy, but we are just about exhausted.

We’ve done multiple (4? 5?) Vacation Bible Schools for Chance’s job with Lifegate in Africa. SO much money and awareness have been raised this summer, but if I have to learn the motions to another theme song……..

Last week, we spent the entire week at church camp. We brought a babysitter with us, so I could teach a daily bible class and Chance was the featured missionary for the week. There were 60+ 5th and 6th graders (Lord have mercy) but overall things went very well!

Special needs adoption blog.

I was reminded how much I love to study the bible and share its truth with kids. Additionally, my boys both want to live at church camp, so I’d say we did something right! Our babysitter was ok with returning to modern conveniences like air conditioning though!

Special needs adoption blog.

In addition to being busy in real life, I’ve been super busy online! I am writing four posts for BumbyBox (Post One) (Post Two just went live yesterday and contains cute pictures of my boys).

I’ve gained two clients for the social media marketing I’ve been doing. And I was hired by my friend Courtney to run her book’s launch team. (Buy her book. Not just because she pays me to say that. Because it’s legit good. Buy it.)

Special needs adoption blog.

I also took over the social media accounts for Lifegate in Africa. (If you haven’t hopped over and liked our Facebook page, could you just go ahead and do that now? Kthanks. Sometimes I talk about the four/five VBSes we’ve done this summer. You don’t want to miss that.)

In addition to working, I’m pretty sure I’m going to be traveling for the rest of 2016. Chance and I are taking a late 10-year anniversary trip (destination is still TBD, so if you have suggestions, we’re all ears! This week we are leaning towards Portland or Seattle). We have only spent two nights away from our kids since Nasko came home over four years ago. His PTSD kept us close to home. This trip is long overdue.

I’m working on scheduling a trip to Sierra Leone this fall/winter to get some stuff done for Lifegate, and really to just go visit my BFF in Africa. Girls trip, but Africa-style!

Chance is traveling for work this fall as well and has invited me along. (He’s just so nice.) Next week, we all have to go to Indy for a couple days. Just Chance and I will hit Dallas together in September and the whole family will go to Kentucky in November.

Then in December we shall sleep. :—)

Just this week I’ve had many moments of feeling sad and overwhelmed that my sweet Nasko doesn’t live here anymore. Can you all just remember us in your prayers? When you pray for Nasko at 6:12, maybe sneak in a prayer for Nasko’s parents too. He’s doing well and loving school; it’s Chance and me who are struggling the most!

Our farmhouse is almost ready to be shared with you all! This does not mean that I have enough guest beds for everyone, but I do plan to share pictures of each room along with some history about the house VERY soon. My mom, aunt, and I are gathering the old house photos next week. Then I should be ready. Be sure to follow me on Instagram as I’ll be sharing the most house photos there and here on the blog.

With the same amount of importance as Nasko’s transition and all our travel plans, I present to you…….. what I am currently reading: The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith.

Confession time: I have never read Harry Potter. I just need to do it. I keep digging in my heels. For my birthday this year my brother and sister-in-law (huge Harry P. fans) bought me a three-book set of novels they enjoyed. Cool. Ok. APPARENTLY THEY ARE WRITTEN BY J. K. ROWLING UNDER HER PSEUDONYM. I feel like they were tricking me and trying to edge me closer to HP. Well. It might be working. The books are well-written but easy reads. They have been perfect for our crazy summer schedule. Alright fine. I’m adding HP to my reading list now…

I’m getting my haircut today (watch my Facebook page for before/after photos) and my cousin is bringing her three-month-old foster daughter here for me to hold all the live long day. Tonight is our last night of VBS for the summer.

It’s going to be a good Friday! Hopefully your day includes self-care, songs with motions, and a snuggly baby as well. Or maybe a nap. Definitely a nap.

That’s what’s new with the Newinghams. What’s new with you?

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I was in love…

It was my first day fulfilling the required observation hours as a Child Development major. Early in my college career, professors began assigning my classmates and me to classrooms full of sticky-handed children. With our degree, we had the opportunity to be teachers, so of course we needed hands-on experience – even if that meant our hands would also be sticky by the end of the day!

I remember being so nervous as I walked into my observation classroom. I loved kids. I interacted well with kids. It wasn’t the kids that scared me, it was the teacher. 

Would she like me? Would she see me as a nuisance? Would she be a teacher I looked up to?

As I entered the room, Mrs. G (her name was too long and had too many consonants for her speech-delayed kindergarteners) was stooped over, helping a pixie-cut blond girl. The girl was nearing tears as she attempted to understand her math homework. Mrs. G draped her arm around the sweet girl’s shoulder and asked if maybe it was time to take a break and move on to the next activity. The girl sniffed, composed herself, then was assigned the task of gathering the class on the carpet.

The class didn’t just walk directly to the carpet. Mrs. G and her student-helper called out categories of children to make this transition (if you have a dog at home, if your shoes are untied, if your hair is parted). Once they arrived to the carpet, the children were encouraged to sit in specific ways (boys on the blue squares with their legs crossed or girls on the green circles with their legs straight).

As Mrs. G spotted me in the doorway, she winked but redirected her attention to her students. It was time to practice early literacy skills. I pulled up a child-sized chair and watched as the children interacted through hand motions and movements; they chopped words, sounded them out, and clapped compound words together. The formerly tear-filled student smiled brightly as she used the “magic fairy wand” to dismiss her friends to recess, counting them by twos as she went.

The students (as kindergarteners do) tripped over each other and struggled to stand in line until Mrs. G called out a back-and-forth rhyming cheer to regain the class’ attention and focus. She sent the children out the door imitating arctic animals before turning to introduce herself to me.

I was in love… 

Special needs adoption blog.

For the next two weeks, I am writing on BumbyBox’s blog. Click here to read the rest of this post.

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He’s never going to look the same. He is still beautiful.

He is never going to look quite the same as the other kids.

A Different Beautiful book review - Courtney Westlake

His spine twists and turns. His leg is shorter and under-developed. His growth is stunted. He’s half the height of kids his age.

He looks different.

My friend Courtney has a daughter who looks even more different than my sweet Edward. Brenna’s skin doesn’t shed at the proper speed, and her body perpetually looks as though it is covered in a severe sunburn.

Brenna is still beautiful.

Edward is still beautiful. He doesn’t look like everyone else; he is a different beautiful.

A Different Beautiful book review - Courtney Westlake

Today, Brenna’s mom is releasing a book with the reminder of this message. It’s all about redefining what our society sees as beautiful. Our kids may lack hair or height, but if we take a hard look at what beauty truly is, we will find it everywhere around us.

Courtney says this about beauty:

The truest beauty that God intentionally and lovingly created for us is not only seen but also felt. The most dazzling beauty in this world is not found in magazines or even seen in the mirror. It is felt deep within our souls, and it is released to those around us in the forms of love, kindness, compassion, and generosity.

Maybe, as a society, we’ve been thinking about beauty in the wrong way. We look to those who seemingly have perfect bodies and symmetrical features. We seek perfection on the exterior, but what if beauty truly cannot be seen just by viewing the cover of a magazine or a photo on the internet. What if we allowed ourselves to see the beauty, even in someone who doesn’t look “just right”?

That different beautiful is found in the uniqueness God has bestowed on every single one of us and the gifts he has placed within us to be shared with the world, if we choose to trust in Him and tell His story with our lives and gifts.

I’ve thought about the fact that he’ll probably never join the track and field team. I know his limp and his limb deficiencies will slow him down for the rest of his life. I am aware of the stares and the whispered questions about his stature and his gait.

But for those who take the time to get to know Edward (it doesn’t take long), they realize what he lacks in height, he makes up for in personality.

A Different Beautiful book review - Courtney Westlake

He’s outgoing. He’s friendly. He’s caring and compassionate. He seeks attention and love, but quickly shares it back to everyone he encounters.

Anyone who goes beyond their initial judgment of his appearance soon learns of a sweet boy. He may lack in height, but he does not lack in love.

Courtney’s book, A Different Beautiful, reminds each of us to look beyond our first impressions of physical appearance and limitations to see the true beauty from within.

But when we can see the beautiful in the unexpected, we learn to find joy and celebration in what is, instead of mourning what isn’t.

Brenna’s story and Courtney’s book caused me to take a hard look at how I define beautiful for my son’s life. It’s also pushed me to reevaluate my first impressions and reactions when I meet someone who looks “different.” I’m praying the message of redefining beauty in our society goes far and wide, as we all need a reminder of what beauty truly is.

There is a whole new kind of beautiful to be discovered when we stop closing our eyes and our hearts to what is unfamiliar or unexpected.

A Different Beautiful book review - Courtney Westlake

You can grab a copy of Courtney’s book through her website here. I recommend it to anyone, as we all need reminded of the message contained within its pages.

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Your Moments Defined – Will the Uprooting Make You or Break You?

This blog was not born out of a defining moment in my life or my husband’s life; It was born when we made an intentional decision to turn our tragedy into Our Moments Defined.

I know many of you have done the same. Tragedy and heartache have come your way, but you’ve sought the Father and have redefined those moments.

I want to share your stories through regular guest posts. Today’s guest post is by Kelly Richards Smith You can find her blog here.

I have gotten to know Kelly through her writings in an online writing group. She is so inspirational and encouraging. I am honored to have her guest posting today.


Special needs adoption blog

Transitions are hard. When everything is upside down, we tend to cling to the familiar for comfort. When you move to a new city, everything is unfamiliar, leaving very little to comfort you.

I found myself in this scenario exactly four years ago. It wasn’t as simple as saying goodbye to our dream house. We grew up in this endearing, small town. Both sides of our family lived nearby. My best friends from high school still lived in town. Their kids were my kids’ best friends. We were members of a life-giving church. Our small group was our second family. I had my life just like I liked it.

My husband prayerfully decided to accept a job that would rip me up by the roots. In the months leading up to our move, I grieved. I didn’t want to go. I packed boxes and mourned my old life.

Special needs adoption blog

The first weeks in our new home were filled with the busy work of unpacking and learning how to navigate the big city. Once we were settled, I picked up my sorrows again and felt their weight heavy around my shoulders. I missed our family and friends. I missed connection. I missed the sense of belonging.

In those dark days of transition, God provided. He didn’t send it all at once but introduced each new blessing slowly like the portioned manna in the desert. As He provided, my brokenness was made whole.


Five Ways God Provided After My Uprooting

Special needs adoption blog


Leaving friends felt like leaving a piece of my heart. It took a while to settle into new, intimate friendships. But God provided the most amazing women to fill the holes in my heart. He didn’t let me stay lonely.



We were little fish jumping into a big pond. Once the shock wore off, my family started enjoying the resources our new city provided. My kids flourished in the bigger school. Target was only ten minutes away instead of forty-five. The benefits of living in a metropolis make it hard to imagine going back to our one-red-light town.



I didn’t look forward to the process of finding a new church. Each Sunday, I compared the new to the old; it was difficult for any congregation to live up to the one we left. And then it happened. After attending only a few services, my husband and I were in complete agreement that Faith Community Fellowship would be our new church family. The weekly services helped me hold onto my faith in those early months of feeling so lost. Serving within our church provided opportunities to build new relationships. The body of Christ has many parts; God provided a new part for us to join.


Financial Freedom

Moving gave us the opportunity to downsize. This freed up some money attached to the mortgage of that dream home. After our third (surprise) child arrived, we decided I could stay home with the kids now that our budget had a little wiggle room. One day, my nine-year-old daughter said, “Mama, I know why we had to move now. It was so Barrett could be born.” That did it for me. If there was a hint of homesickness in my heart, it dissolved with the sweet insight from my daughter.


Renewed Commitment

God used my uprooting to draw me closer to Him. In the months after our relocation, I was lost. The only comfort I had, the only familiarity I could find, was Jesus. I spent a lot of time pouring out my heart on the pages of my journal. I dug into God’s Word looking for peace. God provided an opportunity for me to lose everything that I thought made me so that I could see why I was made: to love Him and to serve Him no matter where I am planted. I needed to be knocked off my self-constructed foundation so He could set me on His firm foundation.
God used these portioned provisions to bind my broken heart together. I am a stronger person because of my uprooting. I am more myself because I lost what I thought made me.

Are you in a season of transition? Does uncertainty tug and pull at your faith? In an uprooting, we can lose ourselves in the past, or allow God’s provisions to propel us toward the future.


Special needs adoption blog

Kelly Smith is a small town girl who married a small town man. They have three energetic blessings. Her favorite indulgences are coffee, reading, writing, and running. Kelly believes we are created for community and loves to find ways to connect with other women who are walking in the shadow of the cross. She blogs at mrsdisciple.com.


Special needs adoption blog

#FridayFive Link Up

This week, my friend Ginger of Our Moments Defined agreed to host the #FridayFive link up. My online community is one more of God’s gracious provisions. Share your thoughts on God’s provisions in your life in the comments or by linking up using the button below. Let’s rejoice in our generous Father together!

[inlinkz_linkup id=650202 mode=1]

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Survivor’s Guilt

Chance decided that living in a farmhouse automatically makes us farmers.

He is horrible at keeping a garden though; last year we made a pact and decided it was a better use of our resources to shop at the farmers market and stop harvesting gardens full of weeds. Since produce isn’t his thing, my darling husband has turned to livestock.

For this reason, if you came to my house to eat dinner this week, you would be dining next to a box containing fifteen baby chickens.

That’s right. Fifteen chicks are living it up next to the fine crystal my great-grandmother used to serve cookies on.

She lived in this farmhouse once. I’m sure she’d be so proud.

So, last week, two days after placing Nasko in his group home, Chance needed a few supplies for his future barbecued wings. Normally, a trip to Farm & Home would have required much planning and strategizing. Nasko can only handle so much stimulation before becoming overwhelmed. What’s the schedule tomorrow? Who is coming over today? Should we try to eat while we are in town? Should we eat in the car, or can he handle eating out? Should I just stay home with all the kids? These were all questions we would have needed to consider.

Last week though, we just gathered Louis and Edward and drove thirty minutes to the store.

Chance, who has never raised poultry before, wasn’t certain on some of the products he needed to buy. Shopping in Farm & Home took almost thirty minutes as he had to make multiple phone calls and google searches.

If Nasko had been with us, it would have been a nightmare. He would have attempted to run off multiple times to harass other patrons (especially if they were overweight, had a baby, or were in a wheelchair). He might have tried to open packages. He certainly would have asked 35,000 questions about the rest of our evening plans. All the while, his brothers would have needed their own supervision.

Last week though, Edward, Louis, and I went to the toy aisle. I explained we were not to open any of the packages, but the boys could gently touch the toys and look at them. They obeyed.

They talked about the farm animals and the toy tractors. They asked me to show them toys from the top shelves. Not once did they attempt to leave the aisle we were in. They asked to bring a few things home, but adjusted quickly when the answer was no.

As I watched my boys playing contently, I caught a glimpse of Farmer Chance rounding the corner with his full cart. It was time to go. The boys happily followed him to the checkout lane (at break-neck speeds – no one said they were angels). We checked out and bounded out to the car. Everyone was happy. Everyone was peaceful. Everyone was calm.


It was so easy.

Then it hit me.

The guilt.


I was happy and my oldest son wasn’t there. Honestly, the worst part of it was, I knew I was happy BECAUSE my oldest son wasn’t there.

That made me feel rotten.

Later I texted my best friend; I told her about my guilty feelings.

Unfortunately, she understood all too well. This best friend was forced to bury her adopted daughter last year. Her daughter was just two years old, but for much of her life, this sweet girl had experienced trauma. She, similar to my Nasko, lived in fear. Taking her in public was difficult. Kayla recalled the first time she took her other children somewhere after the funeral. It was so much easier. She was happy. She had a great time.

And then she felt guilty.

I suppose my feelings were similar to Kayla’s survivor’s guilt.

On the night of our chicken-feed run, my mom and my best friend both reminded me I do not need to feel guilty. Yes, life is easier. Yes, I wish life with Nasko could have been easy as well, but it wasn’t. Since it was not, we have provided Nasko with a place that provides stability, structure, routine, and safety he needs.

We have done everything in our power to help Nasko feel safe and happy. It is ok for me to feel safe and happy in the results of that decision.

I don’t need to live with survivor’s guilt.

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Your Moments Defined – We Still Don’t Know the Moral of this Story

This blog was not born out of a defining moment in my life or my husband’s life; It was born when we made an intentional decision to turn our tragedy into Our Moments Defined.

I know many of you have done the same. Tragedy and heartache have come your way, but you’ve sought the Father and have redefined those moments.

I want to share your stories through regular guest posts. Today’s guest post is by Hannah Kallio. You can find her blog here.

Hannah and I have gotten to know each other through a book launch team we were a part of. I love her story today because it doesn’t wrap everything up neatly into a bow. She still doesn’t understand her trial, but she knows God is faithful; she is choosing to trust his plan, rather than be defeated by the hard times. 


It was the kind of moment that would’ve been so perfect if our lives hadn’t just imploded.

We were standing in front of a gelateria in a picturesque Tuscan town. The late afternoon sun streamed through the buildings, and the street was teeming with life and noise. I thought about all the movies that had been filmed there. As I stepped outside of my shock and grief and took in this sun-drenched street scene, I realized how happy I would’ve been to stand here under different circumstances.

I remember my husband standing there, reeling from the news we’d just received. I remember feeling overwhelmed at the thought of everything he’d given up for my dream, the one that had become our dream during our 15 years together. He didn’t have to be here. It would have been so easy for him to point a finger at me, to remind me how much my dream had cost us.

In that moment, I loved him more than I ever had. Honestly, if he hadn’t been there I would have melted into a puddle on the street in front of the gelateria and let grief overtake me. Because he was there, and because he opened his arms to me, we held each other instead. I offered to buy him a gelato, my treat. I remember saying something clever about how we had just won an all-expense paid 90-day tour of Italy.

Special needs adoption blog.

While we ate the gelato, we chatted about how we would make it work, what we would tell the kids, what God was up to. The conversation sounded light but felt almost unspeakably heavy at the same time. What do you say when your leap of faith ends in a crash landing? What do you say when you find yourself suddenly homeless and unemployed in a foreign country?

Weeks earlier we had sold our house and our possessions and moved our family of seven to Italy to live as missionaries. Days after we arrived, we learned that our employer hadn’t followed the correct procedure for hiring a foreigner. That meant there was no way we could legally work in Italy, or stay beyond the 90 days allotted for tourists. We had nothing to go back to in the US, no way to stay in Italy, and no way to do the work we felt sure God had called us to.

I remember being keenly aware of how precarious our story was in this moment, especially the moral. It would be so easy to make it a cautionary tale against stepping out in faith, and people have done exactly that.  But in that moment, we had a decision to make. We had to choose what to believe about the kind of God who would do this to us, and what to believe about ourselves as his children.

Special needs adoption blog.

Two years and three countries later, we still don’t know the moral of this story, because God is still writing it. And we still don’t know what the new normal will look like, or where we’ll be when we find it.  But after we finished the gelato we held hands and walked toward the rest of our lives. We chose to keep putting our arms around each other and keep embracing the uncertainty of life in God.


Special needs adoption blog.

I love one man, five kids, and the crazy story God is writing in our lives – even more than palm trees, ancient ruins, and deepest dark chocolate.  I equip women to live with soul-deep God confidence. I write, speak, coach, create, and sing my guts out at hannahkallio.org.

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If he were moving to college…

When I called the residential placement before we moved Nasko into his group home, I asked the intake coordinator what to send with him. I wasn’t sure what to pack or what he might need.

While on the phone, she gave me a few suggestions, but eventually summarized by saying we should act as if he were moving to college.

At first, my heart sank at this analogy. He is nine. I technically should have another nine years before packing his room and kissing him goodbye. He has only been my son for four years. Most mothers get a full eighteen before their child moves out.

But the more I thought about this analogy, the more it resonated with me.

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I have not sent any of my kids to college (although Louie might be on the direct path to attending at the age of twelve), but I can imagine the feelings that mothers experience when their children make this transition:


First off, I’m sure mothers of college-bound teenagers feel sad. I know I am sad to be missing the daily moments with my boy. I’m sad to no longer see him when I wake him up, and kiss him goodnight before bed. When he falls down and gets hurt, will his caregivers know not to rush towards him? Will they know his past trauma influences the way he reacts to pain? I am sad that my boy is unsafe and cannot live in our home with the family we have created for him.

I am sad that love was not enough.

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As children move to college, moms wonder if their children are safe. There’s no more nightly check-in when the child comes home. Kids can take week-long road trips without even alerting their parents.

I, on the other hand, wonder if Nasko is eating enough. I struggle knowing he sleeps the best when he feels safe in our home, but can make himself stay awake for days in places that are unfamiliar. I feel absolutely helpless.

I know he will eventually get sick. When he is sick, he loves to have his forehead rubbed. I cannot give him the physical touch he desires when I am three hours away.


I know parents who cheer and celebrate the status of being empty-nesters. No longer having to divide your mind and responsibilities in just one more direction is a relief.

I feel that same relief here. Nasko has gotten so impulsive and so dangerous, I couldn’t let a moment go by where I wasn’t sure of his whereabouts. I’ve trained my mind to subconsciously know where he is at all times. (I’m a hoot at dinner parties – guests randomly say, “Now! Where’s Nasko?” and I have about 95% accuracy. A hoot, I tell you.)

For the first three days Nasko was in placement, I was exhausted. I could hardly keep my eyes open. I think my brain had finally stopped tracking Nasko (a child who never sits still) and was attempting to rest after the past four years of being over-worked.


I can only imagine college-student mothers experience a little bit of guilt when they eat at their children’s favorite restaurant without them. Or maybe they experience it when they take the first vacation without the children.

My guilt showed up around day three.

Absolutely no one will be surprised by this, but life without Nasko here is so much easier. Our daily routines are calmer. I struggle with feeling happiness in the relief that life is easier. Is it wrong for me to be happy when it means my son can no longer live with us?

special needs adoption blog


As we moved Nasko into the group home, there was an intake meeting. Twelve adults sat around the room and discussed Nasko’s needs and his level of care. Multiple team members looked us in the eyes and thanked us for preparing Nasko so well. He has the communication skills to communicate his wants and needs. He is so polite. He is charming and understands turn-taking, routine, and disappointment.

Nasko knows who Jesus is. He knows his need for a new heart and a new mind. He knows to pray in the name of Jesus when he is afraid. He understands the concepts of grace and forgiveness.

Above all these other emotions I’m feeling about moving my son out of our home, I have pride. I am so proud of how far my son has come. Just like the mother of a son leaving for college, I am proud we have prepared him well.

Special needs adoption blog

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