We Should Probably Walk Away

This week we’ll be sharing some stories from special needs adoptive mamas. Our hope is that you are encouraged and inspired by normal families living out a great calling on their lives! To start off the week it is our great pleasure to share some words from Shannon Dingle, mama of 6 kiddos, 4 of whom are adopted internationally, and whose Taiwanese adoption we had the joy of documenting 3 years ago!

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Written by Shannon Dingle

We sat in that parking lot for two hours, just talking. As the car idled, going nowhere but putting out heat in the February cold, we idled too, knowing a baby girl with multiple disabilities existed on the other side of the world but not knowing what we should do about that. We knew no one would blame us if we walked away from the idea of her as our daughter.

But we couldn’t walk away from the idea of her as no one’s daughter, which was the reality at that time.

She was known then by Jesse, an Anglicized version of her Chinese name. One blurry baby picture was making its way around blogs, each advocating for her to be seen by a family ready to adopt. Her medical reports weren’t promising: severe brain damage that probably occurred before birth, a hole in her heart that might require surgical repair, and a few other complicating factors. A leading neurologist said she’d probably never walk, talk, communicate, or interact. “Horribly devastating” were his words.

Walking away made the most sense. With a five year old daughter and a son about to turn three, saying yes seemed a little foolish. Could we do this? We couldn’t answer that question.

So we sat in the parking lot. Lee and I both tend to be hyper-rational, so those hours hashed out pros and cons and logic and plans and knowns and unknowns… and we made a decision that night.

We should probably walk away, we decided.

But we knew we couldn’t.

We asked for more information. We talked to another doctor, who answered our most basic questions and then cocked her head to one side and asked, “But why in the world would you do this?”

I still don’t have an explanation that could satisfy a secular world. Now we can all point to a winsome girl who woos us all into her world, who cackles at youTube videos of cats and lizards, and who is so bright that she fooled us into thinking she could see well for years before we discovered her visual impairments. Now we can show pictures of her stunning beauty, tell stories of her refusal to wear mismatched clothes to school on Wacky Tacky day, and post videos of her rocking her wheelchair, gait trainer, and other equipment like a boss. Now we know how precious it is to see her siblings help her with tasks she can’t do while she yells out “you okay?!” whenever they get hurt.

But we didn’t know any of those things in that cold parking lot. We didn’t know if she would ever be able to say “I love you” or even feel such sentiment. (She does both.) We didn’t know how much joy could overflow from such a petite frame. We couldn’t know how ridiculous the words “horribly devastating” would sound in hindsight, now that we’ve been blessed by being her parents for almost three years.

But God. 

He knew. He knew that we needed her more than she needed us. He knew that her life would lead other families to consider adopting children with disabilities. He knew the flashing lights and wheelchair print on her wheelchair would draw in other preschoolers, who call her their friend. He knew she would soften hearts everywhere we go. He knew we would step forward after that night full of doubts but that time with her would shatter each doubt away until none were left. He knew we would fall head over heels in love with her. He knew our love for her would change us for the better in more ways than words can describe. He knew our yes to her would turn into another yes a year later for three more children in need of a family and another yes recently for a biological relative of hers who we’re adopting right now.

As we sat and talked while the car idled, we didn’t know any of that, though. We didn’t what life would look like as Zoe’s parents, but we were beginning to realize we were saying yes to whatever that might be.

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