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Adoption: A Reflection on Ten Years

In the fall of 2005, our family grew by one in an unconventional way: we adopted into our then-family-of-four a little 9-month-old girl whom we named Emmaline Anne Ding. Here’s our first photo of this girl who I dubbed “Emmie” early on, who spent the first 9 months of her life in an orphanage in Gaozhou, China.

In the past, on this blog and elsewhere, we’ve shared about our experience journeying to China to bring Emmie home, as well as our ongoing experience as adoptive parents.

This past week, it came to my attention that it’s now been exactly ten years since the Lord placed Emmie into our family. It seemed appropriate to jot down a few reflections on our experience as adoptive parents at this milestone. Some of these reflections are rather personal and in the coming years may be tempered or deepened by further experiences. Nevertheless, I believe they accurately reflect our experience thus far, and hope they might in some way encourage or educate others in their own lives.

  • Our choice to adopt was, and continues to be, rooted in God’s adoptive love of us. From the beginning, even until now, our desire to adopt was driven primarily by a shared desire to show a child the specific kind of love that God shows Christians when he rescues them from their sin, and not only forgives but adopts them as sons and daughters and bestows on them privileges and providence as their Father as they become his heirs. This rich spiritual parallel was foundational in our desire to adopt, and over the years has also provided strength and guidance in the face of challenges along the way.
  • Adoptive parenting has proven to be harder than we’d first imagined. The vast majority of the materials we encountered about adoption read like a cruise catalog: describing the joys of enfolding an orphan into one’s home, the privileges and delights of a child joining her “forever family,” and so on. While I’m sure there were some cautions along the way—I recall concerns about interracial adoption which were not an issue for us—the majority of expectations we had were warm, fuzzy and overwhelmingly positive.  But adoption has brought with it challenges that we did not expect. In particular, we’ve had to handle health issues that were unexpected (reflux, sensory issues, congenital dislocated hips not discovered until 18mo) and emotional attachment issues which created serious friction and stress in our family and marriage along the way.
  • The difficulties I’ve encountering in loving our adoptive child reveal as much about the nature of my heart and affections as they do about her. Our adoptive daughter is a wonderful young lady. She’s always quick to lend a helping hand, and is a very quick study in picking up new skills. She’s also developing into a beautiful young lady, and is very perceptive about the world around her. Yet there’s no denying that I have had greater difficulty building an emotional connection to her than with each of our biological children. A large part of this is Emmie’s own ongoing tendency not to be affectionate or to pursue emotional security in us, but instead in herself—a byproduct, we’re certain, of nine months of vicious neglect in an orphanage combined with a survivor’s strength. Yet, as I’ve reflected on this difficulty, I recall having trouble feeling close to another of our (biological) daughters early in her life. This other daughter was fervently attached to her mother (and not me!) during her first two years of life, and this made me “like her” less. What I learn from this is how fickle my own heart and affections are. I could blame my adoptive daughter for her reticence to open up to us, but really, the more important question I continue to reflect on is what drives me to love (or causes me not to “feel” love?). Which leads me as well to the other side of the coin, which is…
  • I’m just like my adoptive daughter in her struggles to develop a healthy sense of security and identity—we both desperately need the reality of the gospel! It’s tempting to point the finger at her difficulties in trusting us, or allowing us to know her and love her fully. But the Lord has used our years as adoptive parents to show me that I’m not really any different from her in this. Just like her, I struggle to trust God fully; and I’d rather hide my sin and weakness from Him (and others around me) rather than believe that He truly and fully accepts me as I am and loves me to the uttermost in spite of it! So being an adoptive father has given me glimpses of how desperately I still need the gospel to saturate my being to the very core and undermine my ongoing tendencies to self-trust, self-reliance and self-protection.
  • Parenting, whether adoptive or otherwise, is an ongoing exercise in learning to adapt, love, forgive and hope. Having five biological children alongside our one adoptive child has in recent years made clear to us that there are areas where our adoptive child differs drastically simply due to her different genetics (though we joke that she has certain physical traits that are remarkably similar to mine!). There are very concrete ways in which parenting our biological children has been easier, simply because we’re “wired” very similarly. Yet regardless of birth origin, every one of our children has presented us with ongoing learning opportunities in parenting. Parenting our sixth child is more familiar ground than when we were parenting our first—but we never cease to discover that areas we need to grow to better love and serve each of our unique children in his or her needs, journeys, desires, and future. So we continue to seek God’s wisdom in believing in His best for them, and trusting in His generosity for their salvation and flourishing both now and for the rest of their lives.

Well, those are just a few thoughts off the top of my head. Our lives don’t afford a lot of time for reflection, or I’m simply not good at making that time. But a decade on this adoption road is a pretty decent reason to pause and consider what God has taught us, how He has led us, and to ask Him for still more grace to sustain us in the coming years to be the kind of parents and friends to our children He wants us to be! I thank God for bringing Emmaline into our family and into our lives, and am trusting that He will continue to reveal more of his loving purposes in putting us together until we see Him in eternity!

Posted in Our Family, Theology in Life.

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Things That Delight: Produce Stand

Things That Delight is a category of posts that includes things whether big or small, serious or trivial that bring me joy due to their usefulness, simplicity, or aesthetics.

IMG_20150925_102027I often find myself standing, staring, and marveling at the produce stand my husband built for me using Over the Big Moon’s plan because I just love the way it looks. Besides the aesthetics, this sizable produce stand serves our large family very well.  When fruits are displayed in the open, the children tend to notice and want to eat them.

Posted in DIY, Photos, Things That Delight.

DIY Kitchen Drawer Organizer

After reading The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, I’ve been on a decluttering and organizing kick. My latest project was making my kitchen drawers more usable. I have always been dissatisfied with store-bought trays and dividers because they are not custom tailored to the length and size of my kitchen tools and utensils.  In addition, the height of most trays is only 1.5″, which means that drawer contents are always spilling over from one compartment to another due to the trays’ shallow depth.

These are the Ikea organizer trays we’ve been using for some time:


My kitchen tools spilling over:


When I came across Kevin & Amanda’s utensil drawer project on Pinterest, I knew it was the exact thing I wanted to do.  I quickly emptied the drawer, threw or gave away tools I no longer use, and visualized the new layout using my kids’ Keva planks to simulate dividers.

After I was satisfied with the layout, my husband drew schematics for each different drawer with measurements.


We then trekked over to Home Depot and purchased enough 0.25″ x 2.5″ x 4′ poplar hobby boards for all three drawers (total of four for $18).

My husband cut the boards using his miter saw and used wood glue to join all the pieces at the proper places:


The height of the new divider is 2.5″. The additional inch provides significantly more capacity for each compartment.  Our finished product has brought me much joy and satisfaction.  I really love having organized, clean, and clutter-free kitchen drawers.


In addition to the kitchen tools drawer, we also made organizers for two utensil drawers.

IMG_20150925_185833 IMG_20150925_185854

Posted in DIY, Photos.

Book Review: The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up

tidyingupAfter gaining much recognition and popularity in Japan, Germany, and the UK, Marie Kondo’s book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing secured the #1 New York Times Best Seller standing in the United States.  Its popularity suggests that its message is relevant and interesting to cultures across the globe.  I can attest to such interest myself, so with much eagerness I reserved the book at my local library.  Much to my surprise and dismay, I was #178 on the waiting list! The immense waiting list only piqued my interest even more.  Thankfully my library’s e-book borrowing queue was much shorter and I was able to satisfy my intrigue with a very short wait.

In the book, Kondo describes a system she developed to help people declutter and organize which she calls the Konmari Method. Her methods detail the best order of categories to tidying up, the ideal way for sorting and arranging one’s clothes, and the best way to store items.  Along with her methods, she dispenses many useful tips such as folding shirts into squares and standing them up in the drawers.

Kondo believes tidying should be an event, not a daily chore.  Contrary the common understanding that we should spend 15-30 minutes a day to slowly chip away the clutter, Kondo insists that decluttering must be treated as an event where you spend however much time is needed to finish.  The immediate result is gratifying thus enabling you to function and think better.  Once your house and belongings are set, there is no need for 15-30 minute daily chores.  Your work will simply be putting things back to where they belong.

If I could distill the book to few points, the essence of the method is:

  1. Take everything out in the open.  Everything means everything.  If you are decluttering clothes, you take all the clothes out of your closet, crevices, and miscellaneous places you might stash your clothes.
  2. Discard items you don’t want.
  3. Decide where to put the items you are keeping. Everything must have a place or a home.
  4. When selecting which item to keep, you must hold the item in your hand and ask the question, “Does this spark joy?”  If it does, keep it.  Discard if it doesn’t.

These four steps, particularly steps 1-3 must be done in order. The idea whether an item sparks joy is intriguing to me.  It is a concept I thought to be irrelevant to tidying and initially I doubted its usefulness in deciding whether to keep stuff.  However, I was proven wrong.  I asked the question “Does this spark joy?” when decluttering recently, to my surprise, it helped tremendously. It made it much easier to part with things I don’t regularly use. However, as useful as this question has proven to be, for many people, it has its limitations.  Even though my oven, phone charger, and utensils don’t spark joy, it doesn’t mean I need to discard them.

Readers may find Kondo’s practice of anthropomorphizing her clothing, furniture, and house odd.  She thanks her socks and sweaters for keeping her warm, and thanks her dresser for storing its contents wonderfully.  She also dresses up, rather than down, when tidying her house because she believes that the act of tidying is paying respect to her house, and dressing up is a gesture of paying respect to someone.  This particular practice is based on Shintoism and makes sense in her culture.  This certainly doesn’t take away the tidying principles she teaches, though for some perhaps, it may provide an atmosphere that helps them!

I found the book helpful and especially enjoyed Kondo’s non-Western perspective on decluttering. I recommend this book to anyone interested in learning how to declutter better.

Posted in Reviews.

Things Our Kids Say: Pondering What “Thing” is

Things Our Kids Say is a category that captures any interesting, amusing, thoughtful, and funny things our kids say.

While having lunch together recently, 11 year old Andrew asked me rhetorically, “How come you can’t call a person thing but you can call all the parts that make up a person things?”

Such question leads me to a greater insight into my boy’s mind. Great question!

Posted in Things Our Kids Say....

Resurrecting Our Blog

After a year of blogging silence (and even taking our blog offline), I am resurrecting our blog with the intention of updating it on a regular basis.  I have debated over the year whether it is wise or sustainable to keep the blog alive.  Despite our inactivity on the blogosphere, our “real” lives are more than busy and often overwhelmed with homeschooling and activities related to family life.  When family life takes the main stage, maintaining a blog takes the backstage. My other reason for not blogging was my increased distaste for our culture’s dependence on all things social-media such as Facebook, Twitter, Google+, etc.  The older I get, the more I want to disconnect from  social media in order to live a quiet life and to work with my hands per 1 Thessalonians 4:11.

Why then am I resurrecting the blog?  I’ve come to realize that writing helps me to process all the swirling, unrefined thoughts in my head.  Blogging is a form of journaling so that I can document my thoughts and musings.  If I regularly update the blog, I am forced to slow down in a fast paced culture. It is also my desire to become a better writer, and hopefully that ambition can gradually be realized through consistent writing.  I have been going through Circe Institute’s The Lost Tools of Writing curriculum with my 13-year-old, and as my son struggles and learns through it, I am inspired by the lessons to improve my own writing as well.

As the blog slowly wakes from a year of slumber, my hopes and goals are that I might develop some friendships with the readers of this blog and that this blog might provide the platform to share ideas and thoughtful discussions.  Hopefully this tiny slice of blogosphere might even inspire and provoke thoughts.

So what have we been up to over the past year of relative silence?  This year marks our 11th year of homeschooling and our six children are now in 8th, 6th, 5th, 4th, and 1st grades and Preschool.

Our oldest, Matthew, is 13 and he’s becoming a fine young man with emerging tastes, thoughts, and humor.  He is enrolled for the second year at Veritas Press Scholars Academy, an online school, taking Omnibus II and Logic I. He’s also getting taller, having caught up with me, and stronger, able now to replace me when it comes to helping my husband move furniture (yay!).

Our second son, Andrew, is 11.  He is our quiet introvert who prefers to work quietly. His artistic bent often inspires me and his thought life surprises me with interesting observations and analysis that I don’t normally think of.  It was this boy who several years ago quietly mused, sheepishly smiled, and slowly informed me the last three children of the Ding clan were all born on the leap year: 2004, 2008, and 2012.  As 2016, the next leap year, dawns, he informs me that a baby should be due as it is only logical.  Please note that this sentiment is not shared by his aging parents. To be clear: there will not be another leap year baby in this family. :-)

Both Matthew and Andrew took up basketball earlier this summer and joined a local YMCA youth basketball program, which they’ve loved. Their enthusiasm was quickly matched by my husband, Evers, who started coaching Matthew’s team in August. All three of them enjoy getting some exercise, learning life and sports lessons on the court, and making friends along the way!

Our 10-year-old Emmaline is our no-nonsense girl who loves to keep an organized and orderly room.  Her diligence in cleanliness and chores resounds with my love language. She has also shown over the years herself to have excellent visual memory. In past years, this has translated to great “finding of lost things” ability (a.k.a., remembering where she’s seen stuff lying around). In coming years, we hope to leverage her visual memory to help her to excel in all her areas of study.

While our 9-year-old Calissa is a quiet introvert, it hides a spontaneous goofy side that often entertains those who are closest to her.  We are blessed to have such a fun-loving, goofy, book-loving, and sharp witted child.  Recently this child walked past by me and nonchalantly declared, “Mom, I am your greatest accomplishment in life.”  She left me speechless. It was only later that I learned that this declaration was inspired by a classic Calvin & Hobbes comic strip.

6-year-old Bethany is our friendliest child who easily makes friends with just about anyone.  At this age, she has already garnered two marriage proposals — one of which was quickly rejected by her older brother for her. She, like her older siblings, is a very capable reader; and her voracity and enthusiasm in reading books is only surpassed by Calissa.

Our youngest child is 3-year-old Nathaniel whose greatest accomplishment this year is being potty-trained.  We are in awe. Do I dare to believe that after 13.5 years of diapering that we’re finally done with diapers?  We are still ooh’ing and aah’ing over this. While there may come a day when we’ll celebrate his graduating from university or the like; for now we’re quite content with this milestone in his life (and ours!).


Posted in Our Family.

Family Reading Six Years Later

In 2008 I blogged about our new family reading time, inspired by Andrew Pudewa’s insightful workshop on Nurturing Competent Communicators.  That was six years ago! I am quite proud to say that our family reading time is still a very treasured time and it has definitely become part of our family culture.  Admittedly, we weren’t always consistent in having family reading every night.  There were several periods of droughts due to different circumstances, but we were always able to get back on the horse.  My husband is still the preferred reader in family because he can do different voices and accents that make books come alive. As I look back to the last six years, it is with much fond memory, and I hope when the children get older and leave our house, they too, will look fondly to our many book adventures.

Given our love for family reading, it is with much interest and excitement that I discover Read Aloud Revival podcast this year.  It is a radio show that promotes reading aloud as a family through engaging interviews.  Each episode inspires me to keep our family reading alive and I always come away with nuggets of wisdom. I highly recommend this podcast.

Posted in Homeschooling, Our Family.