Recently someone asked me how Anna became a part of our family...how did we even meet her. Well, it's quite a crazy story. Looking back now I can only see the hand of the Lord in the entire situation.
Walter and I took 16 teens to serve on a missions trip to Bridges of Faith in Alabama. We arrived at Bridgestone ready to serve the Ukrainian orphans who were spending a summer learning the Gospel and hopefully meeting some prospective adoptive parents.
Some of the children would stay on campus and others would go to spend the summer with families who had sponsored their trip. Well, apparently Anna's sponsor family was unable to keep their commitment. Unfortunately, that would mean Anna would arrive with no home or family to care for her.
The Ukrainian government officials would not allow her to stay at the camp as they would only allow a certain number of children to remain on campus. But Anna was already on a flight to America!
Tom, the Director of Bridges of Faith Ministries, asked Walter and me if we were willing to take Anna "for a few weeks" until a sponsor family could be notified. Let me interject...each sponsor family has to pay for the orphans flight and all summer care...costing about $2000 per child. Walter and I agreed. But we had NO idea what we had agreed to nor how it would change our lives.
I remember the first time I saw Anna-who was supposed to be "slightly delayed" and 12 years old. To say that I was shocked is a complete understatement. She was running uncontrollably around airport yelling and touching everything. She was so tiny. She looked more like a 6-year old-thin, dirty, and full of head lice. What had we gotten into?!!
I tried to convince myself that this would all be ok...I mean, she was only staying for a few weeks. How bad could it be? Oh...let me share...
Anna wasn't verbal except to babble like a baby. She urinated herself at any given time, would poop all over the bathroom floor, had no idea how to remotely care for herself and she was out of control.
We would find her walking around the house during the night-hiding family objects or playing in the garbage. She would scream bloody murder if our dog even looked at her. She would run and hug any stranger, run off like a wild child in Wal-Mart, and eat until she vomited.
I prayed daily for a family to be available...quickly. But days turned into weeks and no one wanted a special needs orphan.
So we decided to research and work with Anna. What was she capable of doing? We had learned that the orphanage had never bothered to teach her anything.
So the training began.
We put her on a toileting schedule, taught her how to eat with a fork (she had never held one!), taught her how to shower herself, dress, and brush her own teeth (with her OWN toothbrush!).
We worked on social skills, refused to allow tantrums, and required her to step up her game. And she did it!
We were slowly witnessing a miracle.
Now let me clarify-there were times I felt like Ann Sullivan working with Helen Keller. To be honest, we still have those moments. But by the end of the summer, she had grown from a size 6 girls shorts to a size 10. She had learned to act like a sweet little girl. She was a completely different child. But we were still hesitant in regards to adopting Anna.
We spent time praying, talking with our biological children, and researching how to care for a special needs child. Could we handle this? Did we WANT to do this? But no matter what answers we arrived at, we felt the Lord tugging at our hearts to make Anna a permanent member of the Donnelly Tribe.
It would be over a year later before Anna would become a Donnelly. During that time I poured myself into research. We had no health records except that her mother was an alcoholic and she was found walking the streets alone at the age of four. At that time she was placed in the care of the orphanage.
Apparently, they noticed that she was "slow" and was placed in a room with mentally disabled and non-verbal children. This had a huge impact on her language development as well as her social development.
She was never taught to do ANYTHING!
Fast forward to adopting Anna, along with the other three children (that's a story all in itself!). We arrived back in the United States a few days before Thanksgiving.
Anna was not a "wild child" but had definitely regressed. We had our work cut out for us! So slowly we began with the basics again. Starting with toileting, showering, and how to behave around strangers. She caught on quickly and has progressed steadily since that time.
It has now been almost three years since we adopted Anna. It's been a roller coaster ride, to say the least. She is now 17 years old but mentally and socially acts like a 12-year-old.
Her verbal skills are improving, as she is not only learning to speak but learning a new language. She works weekly with a wonderful speech therapist and is currently working on a first grade level in reading and math...which they said she would never do.
Our hope is that Anna will be a "functional" reader and learn what we call the basics of life. She loves to smile and talk with people. She would be a wonderful Wal-Mart greeter!
What are we learning by parenting Anna? That God is our strength, our present help in the time of trouble. I start my day by begging, yes begging, God to help me have patience with Anna, to give me ideas to teach her how to speak and read, and to heal her brain.
So remember, whatever your challenge is, God is your refuge. He makes beauty out of ashes. And we are more convinced than ever that if God calls you to something, He will be with you-enable you-along the journey.
Such a huge difference since we first met Anna at Bridges of Faith!
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