When we first began the international adoption process to bring home Superman four years ago, sincere and loving and caring, concerned friends celebrated with us.
But many also asked the hard question.
How will bringing a child with medical needs into your family affect the biological children you already have?
It’s a legitimate question, and one that we prayed about and thought about a lot before leaping into life with a superhero who had superpowers that required surgeries, hospitalizations, daily care and weekly therapy.
And the question we kept returning to after hours of prayer was not How can we emotionally afford to bring home a superhero with medical needs when we have other biological children in the house?
It was How can we afford NOT to? When we have great healthcare? When we live in a country with so many resources? When we have a home and a heart and a family that has so much more to give? When there are children literally dying and aging out of adoption systems who are suffering because they need what our children so freely receive?
Safety, security, necessary care and unconditional love?
What do we teach our boys if we value our comfort and our convenience more than our calling to love the fatherless with the very heart of God? The heart that gave up HIS son to make us all children of God?
What if bringing this child into our family is not our children’s greatest burden but actually God’s greatest BLESSING?
What if THIS is actually how they learn to give and experience Christ-like love?
This adoption, not one of our friends asked how bringing home a child with the superpower of cerebral palsy might negatively affect the other three superheroes in our house.
Because after four years observing Superman’s impact on his two big brothers, they’ve seen what we’ve always known to be true.
That these boys’ lives have only been enhanced, enriched, stretched and deepened by having a brother in their life with superpowers the world calls “special needs.”
That, after four years with this sweet superhero in our home, these boys now don’t run FROM children with special and medical needs; they run TO them. They play WITH them. They invite THOSE children for playdates and ask what those children need.
They view THOSE children not for what they can DO but for who God has created them to BE.
Because after hosting two superheroes and making two more brothers, they’ve discovered that things like missing bones (Superman) and missing limbs (D.J.) and missing fingers (Superman) and extra chromosomes (Joy) don’t make them “special”; they make these kiddos SUPER.
And it is THESE kiddos who have given OUR kiddos the eyes, heart and very compassion of God.
Gifts rarely acquired in that easy, comfortable, convenient life lane.
The gift God has given our older three boys once again with the addition of a fourth Di Di.
The plane that brought our sweet superhero home from China and made him a legal American citizen arrived in our state one month ago today.
And for the last month, as we’ve vomited together and traveled to hospitals together and woken up at 2 a.m. together and attempted to transition into our new lives together, Super-Spouse and I have watched with nearly exploding hearts as our four-some has grown together.
Not as “biological” and “adopted” children.
But as BROTHERS.
Nothing has made me more proud than the way these older three boys have fully embraced a brother who grew in our hearts instead of my belly and gone out of their way to include him as one of the team.
They have poured out their love (and their water guns and their sweat) all over their sweet and spicy youngest brother, and they have loved him so well that he now cries when we drop them off in the mornings at school.
Superhero 1 has been Superhero 4’s number one go-to following Mom and Dad, partly because he is the biggest and strongest and, because Superhero 4 has legs that can’t yet walk, is the best choice for transportation options when Mom and Dad are busy.
And also because he speaks the best Chinese.
Although he and Superhero 2 are still beginners, they have been translating the 3-year-old Chinese that has stumped this Mama whose language skills end at what she learned on an episode of Ni Hao Kai-lan.
Superhero 1 can ask his youngest brother all the most important questions in Chinese that get him quickly what he needs — food, milk, water and a diaper change.
This old man in an 11-year-old’s body has stepped up to the plate in such big ways over the last four weeks.
By getting Superhero 4 breakfast.
By brushing his teeth (something he will only allow Superhero 1 to do without a fight).
By wrestling with him in the hallway while Mom grabs a shower.
By buckling him in his car seat and packing his bag for the day.
Yesterday, Superhero 1 even approached me before church.
"Mom, why don't I go play with Superhero 4 in the back of the church so you can actually be in the service today?" he asked. And then he proceeded to pack a bag with snacks for the both of them and spent an hour of his morning playing with his littlest brother while I got to listen to an entire sermon for the first time in weeks.
This oldest superhero has bonded so beautifully with his youngest brother that Superhero 4 will often cry out for THAT Ge Ge, just so he will pick him up and give him a kiss, which is a really special treat coming from the boy who doesn’t love physical touch.
Meanwhile, Superhero 2, the boy who loves him a good hug, has become Superhero 4’s snuggling buddy. Every night, he’s taken it upon himself to read Superhero 4 his children’s book written in simple Chinese and sing the Chinese songs that he learned by listening to the accompanying CD.
Every time Superhero 2 and Superhero 4, who sit next to each other in the SUV, get in the car together, Superhero 4 cries for the music that has become the staple of our way-home-from-school drive, and Superhero 2 graciously sings and claps and does hand motions with him until Superhero 4 is sick of songs on auto-play.
This week, Superhero 2 has showered his baby brother, dressed him and one night, when I was occupied with another superhero at bedtime on a day Daddy was working late, without being asked, snuggled up in the toddler bed next to his littlest brother and held him until this littlest man sucked his two middle fingers and fell asleep.
He constantly asks if he can hold Superhero 4 or pull him in the wagon or carry him, and he lavishes him with love and affection that just makes this youngest superhero’s eyes shine.
Although Superman has admittedly struggled a bit to relinquish his role as the baby of the family (as evidenced by the fact that he frequently now approaches me with lifted arms and calls, “Mama, bao!”), he, too, has loved on his baby brother in ways that make my heart warm.
On our family run last week, Superman requested to be the one pushing Superhero 4 in the stroller, and he and Superhero 2 often fight over who gets to snuggle next to Superhero 4 on the couch.
Superman noticed that Superhero 4 can do things he CAN’T do — like button the buttons that he’s spent two years in occupational therapy learning how to do with a hand that has only recently gained an opposable thumb.
And then he’s realized what he CAN do that Superhero 4 CAN’T.
Go where he wants to go when he wants to go there.
So Superman has been the first to cry out when the older boys are leaving their baby brother in the dust, and he’s the first to find Superhero 4’s awesome make-shift wheelchair so Superhero 4 can join in the fun.
When it's time for Superhero 4 to do his physical therapy exercises, Superman, the PT/OT expert, is the one who asks if he can practice walking with him.
When Superhero 4 has an off day or is sad, Superman is the one who immediately runs to comfort him.
He's also the one who sometimes even joins in compassionate and sympathetic tears.
Because he’s the one who knows what loss is like.
He’s the one who has been in this boy’s shoes before.
And the way at only 6 years old that he’s loved his baby brother through HIS transition, even when it’s brought both superheroes to tears, has totally, completely and utterly melted my heart.
These four boys — they’ve been the biggest blast and the most amazing adventure of our lives.
Watching them play and love and accept and grow, sometimes as I watch them shoot Nerf guns at each other from my place on the rocking chair on the front porch, has been one of the absolute joys of my life.
I can’t even explain how much I love these angels — how much I adore these four boys — even when I need a glass of red wind-down wine at the end of a long boy-wrangling day, and I can’t even explain how much I love the love they are growing for each other.
On Saturday night, while Daddy was at work, all four boys and I sat down to watch the last quarter of a football game before I tucked them into bed. We’d spent the day out walking in the woods and playing in the yard and baking pumpkin chocolate chip cookies and trying to slow down and be PRESENT after four weeks that have too quickly passed us by.
We snuggled up under homemade fleece blankies with apple cider candles glowing from the kitchen, with pumpkin cookies sitting on the counter and fall leaves now decorating the television on the mantle, and Superhero 4 squeezed in between Superhero 2 and me. And these four boys, who rarely if ever SIT, snuggled in tight, arguing at first over who got to hold Superhero 4 in his sweet and sleepy state, and then agreeing that he could fall asleep that night on me.
And as I took in this beautiful moment — this almost too-good-to-be-true, idyllic, sugary sweet day that we all know is much like a unicorn in the land of parenting — my heart just exploded with the beauty of these four boys and the absolute goodness of God.
And apparently so did Superhero 4’s. Because it was then that he sat up from his place on my chest and turned to Superhero 2.
“Love you, Ge Ge,” he said in English, and then kissed him on the lips.
He turned to his right.
“Love you, Ge Ge,” he said to Superman, then kissed him on the lips.
“Love you, Ge Ge,” he then said to Superhero 1, and then crawled over Superman to wrap his arms around his neck and kiss him on the cheek.
Then he crawled back in my lap, stuck his two fingers in his mouth, leaned against me and sighed, sandwiched between three brothers, totally smothered in love.
My heart and my life seriously couldn’t get any fuller.
Don’t get me wrong — after one month at home, these boys totally now fight like brothers. And Superhero 4 is probably the most frequent hurt-big-brothers attacker of all. (We spent half of this weekend on re-dos so we could learn how to properly use our hands for hugging and not for hitting.)
But the way they PLAY, the way they LOVE, the way they EMBRACE, the way they accept — completely seeing past missing fingers and medical diagnoses and challenges and “disabilities” and instead viewing the HEARTS of the souls inside — it reminds me of the truth God taught us so many years ago.
That it doesn’t take blood to make brothers.
It takes LOVE.