Thursday, April 30, 2009

The Dichotomy Times Two

Some of you might have read my original post called “The Dichotomy of the Season”, which I wrote a few years ago as I struggled to reconcile the excesses of our holiday seasons with the realities of how many children around the world are hurting.

This last week, I had another experience which has caused me to deeply reflect on the inequities in our world, and I am wondering how everyone else comes to terms with this in their own hearts.

LWB was incredibly blessed to be able to win the Smart Cookie Reader’s Choice Award sponsored by Cookie magazine and CITI. Through this event, we received essential funding to sponsor many children needing medical care as well as general funding for our Heartbridge Pediatric Healing Unit outside of Beijing. What I didn’t realize at the time was that the staff of Cookie magazine passed my name to a new TV series which will air on a cable channel. This new show, which will air in July, surprises unsuspecting people whose families and friends feel they need a break from their work, and takes them on vacation.

Last Thursday, during what I thought was a small documentary interview on grassroots charities, I was surprised by my family and friends and quickly whisked away to Scottsdale, Arizona, where I spent three days doing things I never in a million years would have ever done for myself. Our activities included soaring over the Arizona desert in a hot air balloon, having a private meal prepared for us by one of Arizona’s top chefs, and being treated to an afternoon of art gallery browsing and then presented with an original ink etching. Not only that, but we were housed at our own private ranch, complete with pool and rock waterfall. Pampered doesn’t even begin to describe it, and so those of you who know me well know how very much I struggled with it all. Probably the very hardest moment to me was the massage, which was done at poolside. Oh I tried to relax….I really, really tried…….but the harder I tried, the more I pictured all of the faces of the children in China that I know are waiting for help right now. And the more I tried to clear my mind, the more the images burned brighter and the more ashamed I became that I was lounging poolside being “served” while so many children around the world are in need. It felt ……well…….not right.

I don’t want you to get me wrong…….this was a once in a lifetime trip that I will never forget, and we had so many moments of real laughter and fun. I loved getting to have so many new experiences, but I realized so clearly that what brought me the most joy was simply connecting with others. It was in meeting the artists and watching them work, in getting to sit and visit with the ranch owners about how their love story began on a dance floor, in being able to sit and talk on the porch with the production crew about the children in China after the cameras were turned off that I truly found my much needed rest. It wasn’t in the actual balloon ride; it was in being up 6000 feet with a dear friend laughing about conquering our fear of heights. It wasn’t in the actual meal by the chef (although it was magnificent); it was getting to talk with her and learn how she creates her new dishes and finds her inspiration. It definitely wasn’t in being filmed since that’s far out of my comfort zone; it was in driving our extremely kind cameraman to see his aunt and uncle in Phoenix and getting to hear about what he’d experienced in his work. The true gift of the weekend was in meeting new people, finding our connections, and forming friendships. Once again I realized that our lives on this earth were created to be shared. Life isn’t supposed to be done alone.

So all this past week I have been reflecting not on the dichotomy between those who have “stuff” and those who do not, but instead on the dichotomy between those who get to feel love and those who do not. My family and friends wanted this surprise for me because they care about me, and that is a gift I will keep inside my heart forever. But I continue to struggle with the knowledge that all over this world there are abandoned babies who cry out for help and no one comes, orphaned toddlers who lie alone in the dark, hearing the thunderstorm approaching, with no mom or dad to run to for comfort, forgotten children who look out barred windows and see families walking in the street picking up their children in love and who must then turn away to get ready for their day alone.

That is the discrepancy that is burdening my heart right now.....the disparity between those who are loved, cherished, treasured, valued.....and then all of those children who are not.

My hope when this new show airs is that it will help at least one person who watches it to consider adoption as a wonderful way to form a family. If even one more child can go from being orphaned and alone to being someone who truly knows love, then all of the cameras and wireless mics and being filmed (yes even while getting that massage) will be worth it all. I hope we can all take a moment to realize how truly blessed we are to have people in our lives who love us, and then take a moment to say a prayer for all of the children around the world who wait each day for someone…..for anyone… truly care.


Wednesday, April 29, 2009

99 Balloons

Today I got word that a tiny baby we were wanting to help passed away before she could get the medical help she needed. She was just 21 days old. I was hoping we could help her through our Unity Fund for rural families. Her parents were extremely poor, from a western province, and they are devastated that they lost their precious daughter.

Thinking about this family today reminded me of one of my favorite videos about another child who was born very ill. Some of you might have seen it before, but it is always worth watching one more time. How I wish every orphaned baby we have lost had a video just like this one.

Every child born deserves to be this treasured.


Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Are things “meant to be”?

Every year up until 2008, LWB doubled in size with its programs and donations. Last year, however, our donations declined just a bit. We reflected on the reasons behind this and one thought we had was that our largest support group has always been adoptive families from China. With adoptions slowing…maybe our donations were going to slow, too. We thought long and hard about our future plans, and we knew that one of the ways to help more children in need was to get our message out to people outside of the adoption community, while staying loyal to our core donors of adoptive families.

Then comes a night in December that I will never forgot….I was just finishing up my emails for the night and came across an email that another LWB volunteer had forwarded to me. It was about a contest in a magazine geared to moms….Cookie Magazine’s Smart Cookie award. It was past 9:30pm CT and the contest closed at 11:59EST. I thought about blowing it off, quite honestly, but it was 250 words or less on a mom who was making a difference and I thought I had nothing to lose. My first attempt writing about Amy was over 750 words…it is actually really hard to write about someone in just 250, especially Amy. I chopped up my entry as quickly as possible and pushed send. Never in a million years did I expect to hear anything. Amy had just told me the week before that we needed medical money, and this contest came with $35,000 in prize money for the charity. I knew that would help so many children, and was astounded when two days later, I got a call from Cookie magazine. Amy had been chosen as one of the five finalists, and of course LWB went on to win the donation from CITI. Baby Tai, above, will now have surgery because of this money.

We had all prayed and prayed for a way to help even more children, and I never would have thought that way would have come into my inbox through a magazine contest. I can’t help thinking that it was truly “meant to be”. So what do you think? Do you believe things happen for a reason?


Sunday, April 26, 2009

Be a Hero

Baby Mei was born with several heart defects. This precious 8 month old baby girl has a VSD, a ASD and PH. She is urgently waiting for her heart surgery. Right now, LWB is holding our 6th Annual Art Auction where 100% of our proceeds will go to heal children like Mei. You can either take part and bid on some wonderful items at

We know the economy is tough and many people aren't able to participate by bidding like they did in the past, but the truth is that you can still be a part of saving the life of a child with heart disease simply by passing on the news that our auction is now live (until Tuesday). Please use every internet means possible to let people know: Facebook, Twitter, blogs, email. We have so many children waiting for the heart surgery they need, and our art auction provides essential funds to give them a second chance at life.

Thank you SO much!


Thursday, April 23, 2009

Photo of the Week

There was no question this week as to what picture we were going to choose. Our cleft home nannies are so amazing. As you can see in this photo of our little Lyn with her nanny, there is a true sense of love and connectedness that exists between the two. We just loved how this was captured in this beautiful photo. Our nannies go above and beyond the call of duty and truly love and care for "our babies" as if they were their very own. We are just so grateful for them all and the role they play in each babies' story of hope and healing!

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

How Do Your Kids Play?

A friend shared a blog this morning about the importance of unstructured play by the Grass Stain Guru through this link. At first, the blog caught my eye, because the picture at the top reminded me of my visits to China. With that thought in the back of my mind, I read the blog and reflected on the difference between the way we are raising our children and the way the children in our rural foster care homes are being raised.

My children have toys, video games, and activities to fill their days….the children in our rural Chinese foster homes have very little toys bought at a store. I have often thought about how creative these children are in these homes, because even though they don’t have a lot of material things, they are always playing and laughing when I have visited. They are happy and I am in awe of their inventiveness. So many things become their play.

The author of this blog writes that “Unstructured play teaches creativity, independence, problem solving, communication skills, risk assessment, negotiation skills, a host of social concepts, and adaptability. The list goes on and on.”

So this has me thinking….are we doing our children a disservice with all we do for them? How do we change the way we are raising our children and slow down, so that there is more time for creative play? In the end, will the children who have so many “things”, so many activities, and so much structure, be ultimately less creative than a child that has had to invent more of their play?

Friday, April 17, 2009

Thank You to ALL Our Volunteers.

Today marks the start of National Volunteer Week, and for those of us at LWB, that is a big week to celebrate as most people know that we are a volunteer run organization. When we first started LWB, we honestly were hoping that we could help a handful of kids a year. Of course, as we have watched LWB grow into the foundation it is today, touching over 1500 children a year, our volunteer model has had to grow as well. Having an all virtual office, with no two workers in the same location, has not been without it challenges. But it has been amazing to watch the energy and passion that people bring to helping children when they are allowed to work from their homes or offices, whether they can give an hour a week or volunteer full time.

We recently started a weekly “meet our volunteers’ email that goes out to the LWB team, and I have to admit to looking forward to that weekly letter with great anticipation. While I don’t get to meet in person all of the people who are helping LWB change lives, I love meeting them in my heart by reading about their commitment to children in need. We now have over 100 volunteers living in 36 US states, Spain, Wales, UK, Ireland, Guam, China, Canada, Australia and Holland. If that doesn’t sum up “Love Without Boundaries”, then I don’t know what does!

Sherry Anderson once said, “Volunteers don't get paid, not because they're worthless, but because they're priceless.” I couldn’t agree with her more. Our work wouldn’t happen without our dedicated volunteers, and so from the bottom of my heart I want to say THANK YOU to everyone who has so generously given their time to LWB. You have brought hope and healing to so many children each and every day, and that is truly a reason to celebrate this week.

Amy Eldridge

Do you have extra time to give to help children in need? You can fill out a volunteer application here.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Believe In Me-Jinjiang

Our photo of the week is courtesy of our Believe in Me School in Jinjiang. Our newest class meets for half a day. This is photo is from our two year old class and it's easy to see how much fun they are having as they experience new activities. They are ready to learn!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Fewer Children for Adoption?

Yesterday I read an online article from CNN that carried the headline: Fewer children up for adoption in China. You can read the article at this link.

While generally an accurate story that fewer Americans are finalizing adoptions each year from China, I couldn't help but finish the article with a feeling of frustration. The reality is that there are thousands of children who need homes from China who have a special need, and those of us who follow adoption agency lists know that every month far too many children's files go back to China "unchosen". I read posts online all the time from parents who have seen a child's file or picture with an agency and who then plead for someone to please consider adopting that child before they lose their chance. That part of the story isn't often communicated publicly to the world.

I think one of the reasons that more and more children on waiting children lists do not find families is because of the growing feeling that China is no longer a good option for international adoption. While it is true that adoption through the non special needs path has slowed to 5 years, the special needs path to adoption is still a wonderful way to form a family, often in under a year. I am writing this, of course, as a mom who knows that calling the non special needs path the "healthy" path to adoption isn't always accurate. My son TJ, adopted through the waiting child path due to a limb difference, is as healthy as a horse and hasn't been sick in years.

I think the thing that bothers me the most with articles such as the one above is that they portray special needs adoption as a second choice. I wish more national newspapers and media outlets would promote special needs adoption for exactly what it is....a wonderful choice which blesses both the child and the parents. There are so many great children on waiting child lists who are waiting to be chosen TODAY. Perhaps if that positive message was communicated better through the media, we wouldn't have to hear yet again, "the child's file was sent back without finding a family. "

What are your thoughts?


Monday, April 13, 2009


My daughter Anna had her feelings hurt in school the other day, and it has resulted in some very open talks again about her adoption. One of her friends innocently asked her why her ‘real’ parents couldn’t keep her. Anna is very knowledgeable about China and orphans, of course, since I work for LWB, and so she answered the question in a very good way (in this mom’s opinion). She explained that China has a one-child policy and so she said that perhaps her parents already had a child, or perhaps they didn’t have a registration certificate to have a child that year. One little girl then said in a mean way, “or perhaps your parents just didn’t like you.”


So this week Anna and I have again been discussing her birthparents, and I have tried to reassure her that if they could see her now, they would be so taken with the beautiful, confident, amazing young lady she has become. At the end of our last talk, I told Anna how much I wished I could find them for her. I told her I would do anything to give her that missing part of her heart. And after she left the room, I asked myself, “WOULD I do anything?”

Many of you might have seen the Swedish documentary that profiled a couple who had searched and found their child’s birthparents. I will never forget how hard the birthfather was crying when he saw his daughter by videotape and told the story of why they abandoned her. Obviously in some cases, it IS possible to locate them. We’ve all heard the occasional rare story.

Why do you think more people aren’t actively searching? Do you feel that it is a decision that the child should make on their own when they are older, or is it something that an adoptive parent should attempt even if the child isn’t old enough to fully understand the ramifications? Now that domestic adoption is increasing so rapidly in China, do you think that more and more children there will start asking these same questions? I have to wonder if we will see private investigation firms that specialize in finding birthparents begin opening as more and more adoptees reach an age where they want to know their history. What do you think?


Sunday, April 12, 2009

Gratitude and the New Normal

I’m enjoying my morning with my laptop (the new morning newspaper?), a cup of coffee, and my daughter’s favorite shows on the television when I came across a blog entry titled Do Over. The author writes about her husband Chris losing his job, finding a job herself, and trying to stay positive through the experience. Eventually, the effort to stay positive wore thin and worry slowly crept in. After the worst year she and her husband had ever experienced, the next year was even more difficult. She writes:

If only I had known that was only the beginning.

The beginning of our new "normal". A normal that brings with it daily worries about things I once took for granted as easily as the air I breathed. Things like medical insurance and being a stay at home mom. Things like full tanks of gas and a kitchen full of groceries and a husband that doesn't get sent home during the day because "there's just no work".

I think there are so many of us who are either experiencing this situation or fearing it. How would we make it if my husband lost his job? With seven children and a mortgage, just living is expensive. Without a doubt, one of the best things in my life is making a difference for children through my volunteer work with LWB. Would I be able to continue if life became too difficult financially? It’s something I would have to consider. Could I find a way to make life better for children in need, no matter what our financial circumstances? What motivates me to make a difference?

But, here is the conclusion of the blog and this is what really caught my attention. The “new normal” might have an important upside that I hadn’t yet considered:

Without the last two years I wouldn't have learned to prioritize, to improvise. I wouldn't have learned what I'm made of. I wouldn't have learned that I can rise to the occasion.

Most of all, I wouldn't have learned how to be truly, truly, overwhelmingly appreciative when Chris learned this morning that he got the job.

Gratitude. Yes, I am more grateful for things than I used to be. I’m grateful I can keep seven children fed and happy. I’m grateful my husband has the job we depend on. I’m grateful we can make our mortgage payments. Maybe this is the whole point of the “new normal?”

In realizing my blessings, I’m also grateful that I can make a difference in the world – and I hope that it isn’t something that comes from the largess of my family’s finances, but from the largess of my heart. Is gratitude the crucial component of giving back, paying it forward so to speak? And if gratitude grows stronger in tough times, then does the inspiration to make a difference kindle stronger, too?

Debbie Smith

Public Relations Director

Thursday, April 9, 2009

BBC Children's Host Blog

Had to share this blog address since it tied in with our discussion on people's comments regarding children with special needs. The host of a new children's show has a limb difference, and it has caused quite a debate.


Before and After

Our photo of the week was an easy choice this Friday! Little Gavin had a severe facial cleft which took Dr. Ness four hours to repair on our medical exchange in Shanghai. We absolutely love the before and after! Thanks to everyone who supported our 7th medical trip. You wrote such a beautiful story of hope for 22 wonderful kids.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Were You Prepared for Adoption?

I picked up the phone one night at 2 a.m. and found myself talking to a father in China who said they couldn't go through with their adoption of a child with cleft.

"When she eats, stuff comes out of her nose," he told me.

"That's perfectly normal in a child with cleft", I tried to reassure, thinking quietly to myself that surely they should have known this before they traveled.

"It's really freaking us out," he said. "We don't think this is the right child for our family." After listening for a few more moments, I knew the decision had already been made in their hearts. They would not be bringing her home despite anything I could tell them.

I hung up from that call troubled, as disruption always makes me sad, but I was also realistic in knowing that if the family felt disgust towards their new daughter, then that certainly wasn't a good situation for the child. But I did have to ask myself how someone could go a whole year of paperchasing and waiting to adopt through the waiting child path and NOT take the time to educate themselves on their new child's special need.

And so that is the question for today's blog. Were you prepared to adopt internationally? What books did you read to get ready? If you adopted a child with special needs, did you do research in advance? Was there anything that you absolutely weren't ready for? Did you have any moments during your adoption trip when you thought, 'I don't think I can do this?" Let's share any and all advice for people considering international adoption, especially through the special needs path.

I am a firm believer that education is essential. What have YOU learned from the journey?

And don't forget to keep following our cleft exchange in Shanghai. Visit our story blog for more details and links to absolutely great photos.


Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Disabilities or Abilities

A friend of mine passed on this video of one of the most inspiring young women. HeeAh Lee was born with only two fingers on each hand and legs that had to be amputated at her knees. She was so sick and weak when she was young, the doctors didn’t think that she would survive. Her spirit proved them wrong.

Her hands were so weak that her mother started her taking piano lessons, hoping that it would help. HeeAh Lee surprised everyone. Not only did her fingers get stronger, but she was amazingly gifted. She learned to play piano better than most pianists that play with 10 fingers. Audiences around the world now hear her play.

When I played this video the other day, Tyler, my 18 year old son, happened to be nearby. A piano player himself, he asked who was playing the piano on the computer. When I told him that it was a young woman with 4 fingers, he didn’t believe me. He actually had to come and watch for himself. As he watched, he told me how hard that piece was.

After watching this, I thought about another of my children who has a severe hand disability. It really made me think about the expectations that I have set for him and made me rethink the best way to parent him. This video made me think about special needs and how I view them.

When you look at a person with a disability, do you think about those things that they can’t do instead of being open minded about their abilities? Do we set lower expectations raising a child with a disability? How do we best parent a child with a disability, giving them all the support they need but not setting limits?


Charity Day on Twitter

Bill Handy, an expert in social media, has a challenge for everyone. He has asked everyone on Twitter to promote their favorite cause. He has “spent an inordinate amount of time networking, researching, pondering, pontificating.” During his research he saw a lot of people talking about social change, but not a whole lot of action.

Today, April 7, he has created #PSATuesday – or PSA Tuesday. His goal is two part. One, for people to tweet their favorite charity to get the word out about. To do this, tweet your favorite charity with a #PSATuesday tag. Next, donate, even if it is just a little, to your cause.

We would love for LWB and the good we are doing, to be spread around Twitter. We need your help to do this. Please use our Twitter name @Chinalwb and a link to our website

Follow us on Twitter at -

Sunday, April 5, 2009

What's Your Dream?

LWB's 7th medical exchange just started this week in Shanghai. You can read more about it on our main LWB blog at Seeing the photos of the children has made me reflect back on the missions I have been on, and it made me think today of the very first international medical exchange we ever did, back in 2004. I can only smile when I think of that trip, as I knew absolutely nothing about sending a medical team to China, of getting medical supplies through customs or obtaining international medical licenses. All I knew was that there were babies in orphanages who needed cleft surgery, and I knew we wanted to help them. Thankfully everyone involved on both sides of the ocean granted me a lot of grace for my mistakes, and wonderfully.....SO wonderfully.....over 50 babies were healed.

It was on that trip that I met Dr. John Padilla, who has sinced tragically passed away. We were sitting on a bus in China when he first turned back in his seat to ask me, "hey Amy...if you could dream anything for your foundation, what would it be?" How's that for a question that makes you stop and think? And so I began to tell him what I dreamed of, about a day when no baby would be abandoned simply from being born with cleft, of a day when any family who was too poor to afford surgery for their child could have it for free, of a day when LWB would be throughout China helping kids. And then he looked right at me and said, "then make it happen."

Of course I tried to protest and tell him those dreams were too huge for our then tiny foundation, but he smiled with confidence and said, "Dream big.....dream big....dream big."

I can't help but think of him each time another LWB cleft trip happens. Because of John's encouragement to never stop dreaming, LWB now has a cleft home specifically for babies born with cleft. We have a Unity Fund for rural families who have children born with medical needs so they don't have to make the awful decision to abandon their children in order to get them healed, and we of course are now helping babies in orphanages throughout China. John's words have stayed in my heart that great things can happen when you do dream big.

So my question today is whether you have a dream of what you would like to do in this world. Is there something really big you want to do but you don't even know how to get started? Do you think you will act on that dream? Why or why not? Of course this mom from Oklahoma would encourage you to I have seen amazing things happen when people step out in faith to help others.


Thursday, April 2, 2009

Photo of the Week

How many of us have had our children plead with us for a puppy of their very own? I loved this photo the minute that I saw it. How it reminded me of the day that we got our dog six years ago.

Our local manager Crystal wrote in Caleb's most recent report that he loves dogs and he knew that a neighbor's dog was going to have puppies. He pleaded with his foster mother for days to keep one of the puppies. Can you tell what the answer was?

Karen Maunu
Associate Executive Director