My mystery

I had big plans. Wonderful intentions. Today marks two years since we sat at the Civil Affairs Office in Nanjing, PRC and promised to do our very best to care for and provide for our new daughter, Isabelle. It was a day full of hope and wonder.
Today I planned to honor that special day with lots of beautiful pictures of my precious girl that I could then plaster on the blog and say, “Look how she’s grown!” “See how lovely she is now!” and feel fabulous about how the last two years have been spent. It didn’t happen. The day progressed (post-op check for Isabelle’s ear tubes, took Tori to lunch to celebrate her graduation on Saturday, appointment with Dalton’s teacher to discuss his progress, dinner, ballgame, etc). When we finally got to Asher’s ballgame, I thought I could get some cute pics of her in the park, but it started to rain. I just didn’t have the energy to follow her around in the rain to commemorate this day. Maybe I’ll get some cute shots tomorrow. Today I am feeling a bit melancholy that here we are, two years since she has been in our care, and this is where we are. Trudging along with no real idea what we’re even dealing with. I feel sad that we have not been able to do more for Isabelle, that her ‘issues’, whatever they are, were not recognized until this year, that she and her delays had been largely ignored by her EI team due to her ‘international adoptee’ status. And I can’t just point a finger at EI and not point the same finger at myself. I am hardly a wonder mom. I don’t do a lot of ‘playtime’ on the floor with my kids. There, I admit it, it drives me nutty to sit and play with my kids when they are little. I am the mom that sits and plays for a couple of minutes and then runs off to do something else, like empty the dishwasher. I could have been doing more over the last two years. I could have been talking colors and numbers all the time and insisting that she ‘use her words’ more. This has been a huge wake up call for me and has forced me to ponder what I think is most important in my life. What is my purpose on this planet? What has God created me for, right here, right now? I can truly say, without a doubt, that it is my kids. But does the way that I spend my time reflect that? Other than the list of things I have to do daily in order for our household to function, am I doing all I can do to make sure each of the precious children entrusted to me grows up to be all they can be? To know how loved they are? To know Jesus? I think I have fallen short in a big way. So it’s time to pick myself up and get my game on. I CAN do better. Isabelle NEEDS me to do better. She requires so much, sometimes it overwhelms me. And sometimes I see how much she needs, but don’t know WHAT she needs. Even the experts don’t agree on what she needs. Yes, she needs speech and OT, but what else? “In your face” therapy? A wait and see attitude? Time? Patience? It’s exhausting just to consider the options, but the reality is that time is ticking away. She is almost three. Many therapies succeed when started at a very young age (ie under 3). But putting her into aggressive therapy that she does not need would not help her, in fact it might be actually bad for her. So there lies my conundrum. I WANT to do for her, but WHAT? Some days are so wonderful with her. Some moments are pure bliss. I love the way she throws her head back when she gets really tickled with something. She has a completely contagious laugh. I love her perfect teeth that remind me of miniature dentures. I love the way she comes up to the shower and presses her lips on the shower door until I return her kiss. I love the way she grabs two sticks every time we’re at the park and hands me one so we can pretend to have a sword fight. I love the way she pats the picture of David when he’s crying in “No, David!” because he got sent to a timeout and says “Don’t cry!”. I simply love her. In such a fierce and protective way. And in such an overwhelming and passionate way. There are moments my heart is simply overflowing with pride and admiration for all that she has accomplished in the time she has been my daughter. There are times when I look at her and see such pure and unadulterated innocence, all I want to do is love her and protect her from the world.
But there are also times that I am sad to admit to a stranger when they ask her what her name is, that “Her name is Isabelle” because she has no idea what they are asking her. Or when I have to pull her off a stranger at McDonald’s because she has decided she wants THEIR chicken nugget and not her own. Being her mommy is like being on an emotional roller coaster. Daily. I can never predict what she’s going to do, but she is guaranteed to surprise me. And she is guaranteed to remind me, daily, that it is all worth every tear shed and every moment spent sitting at doctors offices or driving to therapy, trying to do my very best for her. My mystery. Happy two years together, Isabelle. Mama loves you.



  1. What a great post – You are a great mommy and God put her with you for a reason!!! I love his big plan!

  2. Family4Liv says:

    I hope you are okay. Im Praying for you.
    there is no super mom, we are all merely human. Remember no one can be perfect! My mom always told me I can only do the best I know how and the best thing she ever did for us growing up was pray for us. You are wonderful to these kids and they know you love them thats most important. Sometimes we get to this point(me personally) because we try to control or think we are in control, when all along it is God who gladly has it all in his hands and teach us to rest in Him. He will carry you, I have to remember to ask Him to carry it daily, because I try to take it back everyday.
    Sorry so Long,

    Appreciate your candidness, it is okay that you are really human! Really!



  3. Team Gilbert says:

    Stefanie –
    The day that Isabelle was given to you was the day she found Jesus. You are right about your calling in life. You are here for your children and any other child out there that needs help. You have done many great deeds with the children in China as I’m sure you have with your own. Being an avocate for their needs is a very large task. Your children are blessed and you and Chris are their gift from God. As you both are blessed with them. Your plan in life is BIG!!! But you are going in head first. I love your blogs and I find strength in your courage. So today didn’t turn out the way you thought….look at your baby girl and know that it didn’t take anything away from her. Know that what you have done for her today is give her more love, affection, selfworth and selfrespect than she has ever had before. You loved her more today than yesterday and you will love her twice as much tomorrow. You are awesome and I admire your honesty in your blog. But don’t ever doubt what you have given to all your children. That’s why God put you on this earth. To spread his word and love. You, my friend, have done that with such great honor. Holiday or not
    With love and respect-
    Jeff and Tory

  4. My Three Girls says:

    Happy two years together! I read your post with tears in my eyes. I just recently posted (but then removed) about my struggle with Bella and the pain I feel about the attachment problems I have with her. It’s a daily struggle. I, too, long for the day, I don’t have to tell others what her name is when asked, don’t have to explain to a 4 year old why Bella can’t talk to them, why she doesn’t know her colors, why she can’t count, etc. It’s painful. I feel your pain. I really do. I have the utmost admiration for you that you have been able to bond and love Isabelle through all of her ups and downs the past two years! Hang in there……..

  5. The Ferrill's says:

    Thank you for sharing your heart. I read this devotion this morning before I got on the computer, and I think God had me read it just for you:
    “Eagerly I’ve asked for God to take charge of my children. Out of fear that I might “ruin” them, I hand them over to him. But as I give my children to God, I often hear him ask, “Do you really trust me with your children? Do you trust me to get them to school safely?”
    “Yes!” I respond.
    “Do you believe that I can guide them through an illness?”
    “Of Course!”
    “How about deciding if they will marry–and who?”
    “Better you than I !” I say.
    “Then do you trust me to select the very best mother for your children and for who I want them to become?”
    We can be the mothers our children need because God divinely chose us for the job. Don’t doubt it. He knows what he is doing. And aren’t we glad!”
    I think all of us mothers could use that confirmation! Hope your day is very blessed!

  6. Global Girl says:

    Beautiful post, Stefanie.

  7. Patricia/NYC says:

    Dear Stefanie,
    I read your post with tears in my eyes. You are such a wonderful and inspiring mother! You have done so much for your children & the love you have for them & the love they have for you is so evident in your photos and your posts!

    I don’t know you, (feel like I do 😉 ), but love and warmth come through every post that you have written, be it here or on our DTC group. You have inspired me to be a better mom since the day I “e-met” you and continue to do so.

    God’s plan is BIG for you, your family, for Isabelle. There is a reason she is with you & your family. I pray for you & your family everyday and know that Isabelle is in THE BEST HANDS!! Yours & God’s.

    Chin up, girl! You ROCK as a mom & as a person! Keep up the fantastic job with your children!
    BIG HUGS go out to you!!

  8. Stef…
    I once heard that twinge in your voice, and today I read it in this heartfelt open post, and I’m so happy you are sharing some of it with all of us. You are SUCH an incredible mom. It saddens me that you are this hard on yourself. Look at this family of yours… they aren’t beautiful because they were blessed with great looks, they are beautiful because they are SO rich in love and experience joy daily…

    Isabelle is your special one, who needs a little more. That’s okay. I’m betting the greatest lesson’s you learn about life will come from that little girl. She’s amazing. I love that she wants someone else’s nugget. Maybe she saw the truth- that THAT nugget was way better than what she had!

    I think of you guys every single day, and continue to pray for each of you, and especially that Belle.

    Happy TWO years. I can’t believe it’s been that long already. I’m going back in time, remembering the day you posted the referral. It was one of our groups happiest days, by far. Second only to you bringing her home.

    God bless Belle and her mom, her dad, her sisters and her brothers.

  9. Mike, Hayley & Piper says:

    Sometimes we look too hard, and when the answers seem locked up, not accessible to us for some strange reason, we think we have failed. You are a shining star in a sky of Mothers, you ARE showing others that motherhood is not perfect, it has challenges. If we all could handle them with the grace and strength that you show each day then we have succeeded. You are our inspiration, and Belle’s light …I cannot fathom this beautiful girl in the home of another. You are her Mother, her hero.

  10. Dear Stefanie,
    all the others have already commented better than I could have. They are all right, you are a great mother! I read your blog and it inspires me to be a better mom to my 2 kids. You also make me think that someday my husband and I can actually handle another child. Also, thanks for adding that you don’t play “floor time” with your kids as much as some mothers can. I can’t stand floor time with babies either! Dishwashers are better, haha!
    Anyway, you are doing a great job. The pics show that all your kids feel loved. My mother has always told us that there is always one child who needs more attention than the rest. My sisters and I all think that we were the ones who got that extra attention. Weird, huh?
    Have an awesome day!

  11. Stefani,

    You are truly an inspiration to me!! I love following your blog. You continue to amaze me with the beautiful pics of Isabelle and Sophie along with your other beautiful children! I also wonder somedays if I am doing enough but our jobs as parents are to follow God’s plan for us and to make sure are children are secure and loved! Isabelle is definetly a very happy child, yes at times she may have issues and that is God’s plan for her or for maybe someone else! But she is loved and that is what counts. Yes, your day did not turn out the way you planned but you did so much for your other children that needed to be done that the pics you took later of Isabelle with her goggles couldn’t be better. And don’t worry about stolen chicken nuggets, the other day Allie was sitting at someone else’s table playing with their toy and enjoying their french fries with ketchup!! Most people don’t care and enjoy the company of a beautiful little girl!!! One day Isabelle will surprise you and tell everyone her name, your name and your age!! She will know her colors and can count and you will be begging her to be quiet!! At times I wish Allie couldn’t talk as well, her favorite questions — 100 times a day “What you doing?” “Whats that noise??”

    Just remember you are a wonderful mother to all 6 of your children soon to be 7!! You are an inspiration to so many people and your children are loved and secure in their lives and knows who loves them and who they are safe with!! Your job has been well done!! Keep up the good work!!

  12. These are some GREAT comments! You know that the Word says that HIS power is made perfect in our weakness! We ALL have areas of weakness but it is in them that the strength of God is truly shown!
    Please don’t allow conviction to become condemnation! There is a huge difference! Everyone that knows you says that you are a wonderful mother and your children are PROOF of that! GOD CHOSE YOU to be the mother of EACH of your precious children by DESIGN, not by accident! Through your joys and through the trials, your love and dedication for your family shines through! We can trust His plans for your precious Belle and for each of your other children as well. I know you know that, but sometimes, somedays, you just need a reminder!I hope to be able to see the awesome ways that God moves in your family and blesses you all as His mighty plan unfolds!
    You truly have a heart for His little ones and you have stepped out in obedience time and time again! God is creating a masterpiece in you my friend!
    Blessings of peace and joy,
    Holly McDaneld
    Wife of 14 yrs to Tony
    Mom to 12.5 yr old son, Anthony
    9.5 yr old Halle
    and 18 month old Josiah, still in China waiting to come home

  13. Melissa & Scott says:

    Oh Stef,

    I haven’t even read others’ comments yet, but I am sure everyone has sung your praises. The love for your children radiates out of you. You are such a sweet, determined, smart, loving mother. Be gentle with yourself.

    That being said, I also understand what you are saying. Kate can absolutely exhaust me to the point where I don’t do what I know I should. Or, trying to make decisions for her can exhaust me to the point of indecision. Kate and Belle really are two peas in a pod…. We need to spend a weekend watching them together and comparing strategies.

    For the longest time, I was absolutely baffled at how well you did everything. Actually, I’m still baffled, but not as much as before. I used to think, “Well, Stef handles it all so well and look how many kids she has.” Now I’m passed comparing myself to others (well, most days anyway). I’m also starting to understand how a child like Belle, like Kate, can be more challenging than a houseful of other kids. Except you know what? Belle and Kate are also teaching us something that other kids cannot. They are teaching us to hear God’s voice in a different way, to find patience, to find our strength and to learn to be tolerant of our own lack of knowledge at any given point.

    And you know what? While it’s important to reach some diagnoses and find appropriate treatments, our love for our children and our tenacity in getting them what they need — that alone is affecting them in a profoundly positive way.

    If you feel you don’t do enough floor time (and I don’t either), get a clock timer and set it for fifteen minutes — start with once a day. And as you are searching for ways to be a better parent to Belle, remember than you already are the best parent for her.

    You rock and you are loved.

Leave a Reply