My Living Locket

I LOVE my Origami Owl Necklace!

I LOVE that in just a simple piece of jewelry, it tells the whole story of our family.  

My first charm is the heart that says FAMILY.  

I’ll start with my family growing up.  Our family was pretty typical.  I grew up with my mom and my dad.  My dad worked as a construction worker and my mom stayed at home with us.  I was born in 1973 so I’m about to hit the big 4-0.  🙂  I have a brother that is four years younger than I am and a sister that is ten years younger.  Some of my most memorable times as a child were memories of my brother.  He has cerebral palsy and is in a wheelchair.  He has never walked, though my mother sought out every physical therapy and newest trend to try and help him. I don’t ever remember NOT having a brother with special needs.  It was just part of our family dynamic.  My brother was in and out of hospitals for surgeries and whether or not we were about to do things as a family was dependent on whether or not it could accommodate my brother.

We were always surrounded with other people with special needs.  My brother’s friends ran the gamut from others that had cerebral palsy like he did, others with spina bifida, some with Down syndrome and many others with mental and physical delays.  It was just a part of our life.  My parents always taught us to treat each person with respect.

Next in my necklace, I have my birthstone and my husband Bryan’s birthstone.  

Bryan and I decided to get married after dating for a few short months because we both happened to be off work on a Wednesday. 🙂  Smart huh?  Well, we must have done something right, because we will celebrate 16 years of marriage in January.  When I met Bryan he had a four year old and a one year old. The boys are almost grown now it seems, David is twenty and out on his own and Will is seventeen and a senior in high school.  You just blink and the years fly by……

That takes me to the birthstones of my youngest babies.  

Bryan and I tried for six years to have a baby.  During those years, I felt like it was never going to happen for us. Like I was never going to be a mother.  I know looking back that God was protecting us.  We had many struggles in those first six years of marriage.  Custody struggles concerning Bryan’s boys…marital issues that I didn’t think we would ever overcome.  So looking back I am grateful that we did not have small children during those years.  Grateful that God knew what He was doing and allowed us to work through all those issues as a couple and not as parents.

So finally after six years, we found out we were expecting our oldest, a little girl we named Ellie.  Let me just tell you what a treasure she was.  She was just the most perfect little baby.  She was gorgeous of course and so good.  She had her Daddy wrapped around her finger and I had so much fun doting on a little girl. 

Three years later, we welcomed our first boy together, Ethan.  I sure did love my little girl but there is something special about being the mother of a boy.  It is hard to even put into words.  He loves his momma like nothing I have ever seen and he just melts my heart.  He has the prettiest brown eyes and I could just eat him up!

While I was pregnant with Ethan, I discovered that I had epilepsy symptoms.  Since I was on medication that was harmful to unborn babies, we decided to plan our next pregnancy very carefully so that I could be off my medicine for a period of time.  Well, God has a sense of humor and while we were busy planning how to make that all work, we found out we were pregnant with our third child, a little girl we named Ruby Kate!  We are not even sure how she got here but we sure do love her!  She is a HANDFUL and that is putting it nicely. 🙂  Our house would not have the same amount of fun and crazy if she weren’t with us!

During our marriage Bryan and I had always discussed my desire to adopt.  I don’t know that he was ever 100% on board but he was always kind and listened to me ramble about it.  The thought of international adoption seemed impossible to me.  Mainly because of the cost but also the travel and time away from our young children.  My heart was breaking mostly for the children of the world that no one wanted to adopt… those with special needs.  I really thought I would never convince my husband to adopt a child that wasn’t “typical” and “healthy”.  I ran across a website called Reece’s Rainbow and began to just pour over the site.  They had pictures and information about children all over the world with Down syndrome and other special needs that needed families.  I would look at it for hours after I had the kids in the bed, emailing Bryan links to the pictures of the sweet little faces that I was falling in love with.

Again, he was always very kind to me about it but was never jumping up and down that he was ready to adopt an orphan with special needs.  I knew that the Lord was calling us to adopt a child with Down syndrome specifically.  I knew that somehow, one day, we would have a child with Down syndrome in our family.

I thought the best way to convince my husband to adopt would be to go through the foster care system where there is very little cost to the adopting family.  I called and got the paperwork packet so that I could start filling it out and then figured we would start the process.  We would be open to fostering children as well as adopting…wherever the Lord led us.

Well, before I could put pen to paper and fill out those forms, we found out we were expecting!!!  Surprise, surprise!!!  We decided that before we looked into foster care and adopting, we would get this fourth baby here and settled and then we would proceed.  

I ended up having some minor complications and as a result I had numerous ultrasounds.  Every indication was that the baby looked great!  We were so grateful!  My fourth pregnancy flew by and we were excited to welcome our little Neely Jane on June 4, 2012.  

As soon as I laid eyes on her, I knew she was different.  I knew at first sight that she had Down syndrome.  

The Bible tells us that we were knit together in our mother’s womb and that we are fearfully and wonderfully made.  

The entire time I was pouring over the Reece’s Rainbow website, dreaming of the day that we would adopt a child with Down syndrome, God was knitting Neely in my womb….creating her just for our family.  That was His plan all along.  Aren’t His ways so much better than ours?

Neely was born late on a Monday night and they believed she had a serious lung infection.  They called in the on call pediatrician to take a look at her.  They had her on oxygen in the nursery, she was in an incubator and we had never even gotten to hold her.  The doctor that night never mentioned Neely’s Down syndrome. I think she didn’t know how to approach us.  She wasn’t our actual pediatrician.

The next morning Dr. Sabens came into my room.  He is not our pediatrician either but he is the one I had chosen for this delivery and he had seen our other children at delivery as well.  So I felt like we knew each other at least a little.  🙂

He sat down next to me on the bed and put his arm around me.  He started to talk and before he could finish his sentence I said, “She had Down syndrome.”  He asked why I would say that and he apologized that I had worried all night about it and not rested well.

Little did he know, there was no worry.  I slept like a rock! 🙂   I knew that my God was in control and that Neely was the answer to my prayers.  She was just what I had been waiting for.  

Dr Sabens believed Neely had a very serious heart defect at birth called transposition which is very common in children with Down syndrome.  It requires almost immediate surgery or it is fatal.  He made plans for Neely to be airlifted to UAB.  There was a storm brewing in the Birmingham area, so the helicopter got about halfway to Anniston and had to turn around and go back.  So UAB sent an ambulance.  Then the ambulance broke down so they sent another ambulance.  Eventually she made it to Birmingham.

Within minutes of arriving she was seen by the attending neonatologist and then by a cardiologist.  They immediately did an echocardiogram and found that she did not have transposition.

We found out that she had a different kind of heart defect, basically the whole center of her heart was one large open hole instead of being in four chambers.  It’s called an AV canal defect. Thankfully it was very treatable with surgery and Neely had open heart surgery at 4 months old.  

She had some complications with her surgery but bounced back beautifully and she was the prettiest pinkest baby I had ever seen.  Prior to her heart surgery she was a lovely shade of light blue and very mottled! 

That gets us to my next charms…Neely’s birthstone and the numbers TWENTY ONE that represents Neely’s Down syndrome…she has three copies of her 21st chromosome where you and I only have two. 🙂

Life with our four little ones at home was just wonderful but adoption was still lingering in the back of my mind.  Others that we knew were very quick to express their opinions that we probably didn’t need to have any more children.  We already had six total, we had a child with special needs….others were concerned that Neely was going to take up so much of our time.  I had moments where I thought they might be right…moments where I thought I should just be happy with the children God had given us.

Then I began to believe that maybe the reason God had given me a heart for children with Down syndrome was so that Bryan and I would be accepting of Neely’s Down syndrome and then better able to deal with Neely’s diagnosis.  

Maybe we were never meant to adopt.  

Maybe we really were done having our children.  

Just when I began to believe that….we found out we were expecting!!!  WOW!!!  That came out of nowhere!  We were ecstatic!  Adoption DEFINITELY was going on the back burner now!  

I was so excited to start dreaming of life with our new little one.  Dreaming about what it was going to be like to have two babies that were SO CLOSE together!  I was pretty excited and couldn’t wait to tell anyone who would listen.  

But after a few short weeks, we had a miscarriage and lost our sweet baby.  This brings me to my next charm…a sweet little baby foot.  I treasure it every time I see it, I’ll always remember that little baby that we loved from the very first minute.    And this baby gave me a gift.

This baby reminded me that I DID want more children.  

This baby gave me confidence that God WAS calling us to adopt!  Now to get hubby back on board!  I knew that it would have to be a God thing.  That only God could assure Bryan that we could handle raising ANOTHER child with special needs…and that we could handle the financial aspect of adoption.

I began to pour over the Reece’s Rainbow website yet again.  I fell in love with each face and each story.  I wanted to bring them all home.  I continued to email Bryan links…I pinned their web pages on my Pinterest board. 🙂

I love the heart of the Reece’s Rainbow family.  It’s their goal to advocate for those with Down syndrome that are forgotten and without a family.  

As I continued to look at their website, I saw her….”Laura” was the name on her file, her American name.  Her given name was Bao MinLan.

OH, how I wanted to bring her home.  She had Down syndrome and was about five months older than Neely!  I prayed that God would move in a mighty way in Bryan’s heart and that he would be the one to start the ball rolling.

I showed him her picture and we talked about her briefly…nothing earth shattering.  That was on a Saturday.  

On Sunday during church, Bryan slipped me a note that said “ How do we get her?”

I had to ask WHO?!?!?!?  That’s how shocked I was!  I didn’t even know what he was talking about!!!  Needless to say I don’t think I heard another word that our pastor said during that sermon!

We contacted Reece’s Rainbow Sunday night, emailed her adoption agency on Monday and submitted our letter of intent to adopt her that same day!

That brings me to my next charms….my little January birthstone for MinLan and my little lady bug which is a treasured adoption symbol for those adopting from China.

Our dossier is in China. Now we are awaiting our LOA that says she is ours!  We hope to travel in March to bring her home forever.  That’s why I have my last charm. It says FOREVER FAMILY.  Just like God has adopted us into His family, we are adopting MinLan into ours.  

She’ll be a part of our family just like our biological children.  Loved and with all the rights and privileges that comes with being an heir.  

The world we live in is such a hard place.  Those that are different are considered outcasts, not valued.

The last little part of my necklace is my charm that hangs on the side.  It says LIFE IS A GIFT.

I pray that the world sees my littlest girls as a gift.  I pray that the world doesn’t hold their number of chromosomes against them.  I pray that the world will treasure them and what they have to offer.  I pray that others will see them as the gift that they truly are.

Thank you for hanging in there this long……I encourage you to check out Reece’s Rainbow…donate to help little ones find their forever families.  Pray for those children still waiting.

Want a “living locket” of your own? Click HERE to shop on my friend Charlotte’s Origami Owl website!


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