Sunday, February 5, 2017

Mighty Moriah and Her Marvelous Spine

I will praise thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made:
Marvelous are thy works; and that my soul knoweth right well. 
Psalm 139:14

Moriah just turned 10! The day was celebrated with all things mint green, which is her current favorite color. We recently repainted her hand-me-down desk with a fresh coat of mint. And we gave her a mint green bean bag chair, hamper and baskets to help her organize her things. We ate some mint chocolate chip ice cream, of course. She recently cleared out her play kitchen and lots of toys that she has outgrown and now has a more grown up room. Her current favorite things to do are listen to L.M. Montgomery books on CD and color complicated coloring pictures. Such normal ten year old things.

The next few months will be anything but normal, however, as we are finally going to address her congenital spine issues. On the day she was adopted, I commented to Andy that something didn't look right with her spine. There was just a weird little bump about half way down her back that shouldn't have been there. There was nothing in her file about spine issues, but we got it checked out when we got home. MRI's and CT scans and X-rays followed which revealed several significant issues with the way her vertebrae are formed. We have been in watch-and-wait mode for many years. That little bump has become a very large and noticeable hump which causes pain, loss of flexibility and discomfort.

Over a year ago, we were told by our surgeon (who also operated on Joshua's scoliosis) that the time was right for surgery. His next sentence was that he was moving to New York. We were in a quandary. This is a major surgery and the idea of finding a new surgeon was daunting and discouraging to us. We tried to convince our insurance company to let us travel to New York so he could do the surgery, but they wouldn't agree. We had resigned ourselves to switching surgeons and hospitals but really lacked peace about the whole thing. Late last summer we got an e mail from our surgeon (the one who had moved to New York) saying that he was moving back! We were so thankful. We hadn't even thought to pray that this would be a possibility.

The Lord has now worked out all insurance issues, allowed us to have the hospital and surgeon we are comfortable with and given Moriah enough growth and strength to move forward. So it is with great hope and courage that we have scheduled March 6th as the day she will be admitted to the hospital. She will spend a week in halo traction to give her spinal cord a little practice in being in a straighter position and then on March 14th she will have a spinal fusion with hemi excision. In plain English,  the surgeon will remove the misshapen vertebrae and replace it with a cage and polymer and use rods and pins to straighten the rest of her spine and stabilize everything. It will be a long surgery and her recovery will take an additional week to ten days in the hospital. We are hopefully the he will be able to get a lot of correction and she will have a straighter spine when he is done.

We are placing our hope in Christ. Moriah's name comes from Genesis 22:14. Abraham had taken Isaac up the mountain of Moriah to offer him in obedience to God's command. "So Abraham called the name of that place, 'The Lord will Provide' as it is said to this day, 'on the mountain of the Lord it will be provided.'" We have seen his provision for our precious girls through her ten years of life to this point and we trust that he will bring her through this as well. We are comforted by so many who have prayed for her through the years and we are feeling upheld by those prayers now.

Prayers for all of these kiddos would be appreciated.
All of this is rough on each of them in different ways. 

When we saw this sign in Greeley recently she had to do a little dancin'

The green desk freshly painted.
Craft kit to do in the hospital.

Mint green birthday stuff.

Lots of mint!

That unique spine as seen on a recent CT scan.

Sunday, January 15, 2017


Dear Joshua,
I know your birthday was a few weeks ago now. But these thoughts are still on my heart and I want to share them with you. You do not know it, but fourteen is a very significant age for many children in China. The reason is this: at age fourteen children who are orphans can no longer be adopted. Their future is a little up in the air. Some are allowed to stay on at the orphanage, but others have to find other arrangements. Can you imagine being alone in the world at the age you are right now? Those boys and girls do not have a mom and dad to help them with homework, buy their clothes, make their favorite foods or celebrate their birthdays.

I know that we love and serve a God who sees all things. He is in control of all things. Somehow, in His wisdom, he brought us together and we have become knitted together into this wonderful, mysterious thing called family. You are ours and we are yours for your whole life. What a wonderful and beautiful thing this is. I know you think we're annoying sometimes. We hassle you about respect, and working hard, and being kind. Guess what? We think you're annoying sometimes, too. But we love you so much.  God has caused this love to grow in our hearts through, and often because of, our struggles. It was not easy for you to join a family at the age of nine. You really had no idea what a family was supposed to be like. Not only that, but our language was strange to you and so was our food. Added to that, you had two major surgeries within your first six months at home. What courage you have shown! What amazing growth and healing you have experienced.

I hope our hearts will always be soft toward those boys and girls who have not been adopted. I pray that your story will somehow encourage others to adopt older kids who wait and wait for a family. It is hard for me to imagine what your scoliosis would be like now if you had not been adopted and had surgery. You would definitely be having big problems breathing and walking around. Instead, you're on the basketball team and your biggest worry is which color of basketball shoes you want to get! May the coming year be filled with new and wonderful experiences for you. May you grow in your faith and knowledge of God.

We are so thankful for you and the gift you are to our family. We thank the Lord for bringing you into our lives. Happy 14th, Joshua.

Friday, December 30, 2016

It's Been Awhile

An update seems a good place to begin as it has been quite awhile! Things are humming along for the Leong clan here in Colorado. We are thankful for the Lord's faithful care for us through each day.

Big changes have taken place for Kimberly this year as she graduated from high school last spring and began college in the fall. She recently finished her first semester at University of Northern Colorado in Greeley. She has made a good group of friends already and is involved with the Navigators. She is working as a student ambassador, so if you'd like a tour of UNC, she's your girl. She is a pre-nursing major and hopes to become a nurse. We are so thankful for her faith in Christ which has remained steadfast through these changes.

Kimberly and two proud brothers after graduation.

Caleb is a sophomore at Thomas McLaren school. He really enjoys his classes and friends. He is participating in Mock Trial for the second year. His school is unique in that each student plays a stringed instrument. He is in his fifth year of playing the violin. A driver's license is in his near future.  I will be relieved as his social life and my willingness to drive him around are often at odds. He is definitely a leader and an organizer. 

Josiah is a freshmen at Thomas McLaren. He doesn't always like being in his older brother's shadow, but each year we see him finding his own way a little more clearly. He also plays the violin and is in Mock Trial. In contrast to Caleb's constant mob of friends, Josiah usually chooses to hang out with one good friend. He has become a young man with a heart for God and others.

They really loved having their picture taken on the first day of school...or maybe not. 

Joshua is in sixth grade at Gobal Village Academy. He is able to be around many Chinese speakers and many adopted children. Both of these things have been very good for him. Reading and writing in English continue to be challenging, but he is making good progress. He enjoys being active and running around. His health is very good and his back is strong.

A few months ago, Joshua and I agreed to do a promo video for the hospital where he had his surgery. If you'd like to watch it, here is a link:

Andy ran a 5K and Josh signed up at the last minute for a kid's one mile run.
They hope to do more races together in the future. 

Moriah is about to turn ten years old. She is my only remaining homeschooled student. She struggles greatly with reading and we are tackling that with support from reading experts. We enjoy our time together and she is my helper and companion in all kinds of activities. She  is in a ballet class that she really enjoys. This year, her homeschool enrichment program is putting on a production of The Lion King. She is enjoying learning the music for that. We are anticipating a major spine fusion surgery for her in the middle of March. Even though it is something we have anticipated for a long time we are looking forward to having it behind us.

these two sisters are precious gifts

Isaac is nine. He attends Global Village Academy with Joshua. He finds school work easy, but he does get a little homesick while he's at school. His favorite kind of a day is spent at home in his pajamas doing Legos.  He is a fantastic reader. He loves Calvin and Hobbes and can quote long sections of it. He has several good friends at school and church. We have never gotten a diagnosis for his muscle weakness. He remains quite weak, but manages his daily life well. 

Isaac and a few of his creations (in his pajamas).

Andy continues to work hard and travel often. He serves as an elder in our church as well. We are so thankful for the leadership he gives our family. He is an amazing example to us of God's love and care. I was so happy to be able to join him on a recent work trip to Hawaii. It was amazing that we were able to make arrangements for all the kids and spend that time together. It was a lot of fun to eat meals together without interruption and visit some of the places that we remembered from when we lived there ten years ago.

This has become quite a "Christmas Letter" so I will end here by wishing anyone who has stuck it out to this point a very joyous New Year. We are so thankful for God's grace which sustains us through each day. May you know his grace in the year ahead. 

Friday, June 27, 2014

Kimberly's One Year Gluten-Free-Anniversary

A year ago this week, my precious first born, Kimberly, was undergoing tests that are usually reserved for people much older than fifteen. She had already endured surgery to remove her gall bladder, numerous blood tests, various antibiotics, multiple doctor appointments and months (years really) of feeling crummy. The gastro doctor finally said as an afterthought, "Well, I guess you could try going gluten free." So she did. She began to feel better within a day or two. And my brave girl has never looked back. Not once in this past year has she eaten gluten by choice.  The dark circles under her eyes, foggy brain, and stomach troubles are gone.

We do not have a gluten free house, but I do try to make most of our family meals gluten free so that we are all eating the same things. She has her own cupboard which I try to keep stocked with things she has found that she likes.

This journey presented a steep learning curve for both of us. I have tried a thousand different recipes and finally feel like I am getting the hang of things. She has learned to advocate for her herself in a variety of settings so that she doesn't get sick. We have a weekly pizza tradition in our family and it has really been hard to find a decent pizza crust. I am so thankful for my friends at church (Elke and Jenifer) who have been walking this journey for a long time. They have given me so much good information and encouragement as I have tried to cook for Kimberly.

In celebration of this milestone (and because many are walking this same road) I thought I would share my top 10 tips for cooking gluten free. I am focusing on a mixed kitchen like ours where not everyone is on a gluten free diet. This may also be helpful if someone is coming over for a meal who is gluten free, or if you are taking a gluten free meal to someone.

1. We have separate cutting boards for gluten free and non-gluten free food. The gluten free ones are red. I sometimes forget and grab the wrong one, but this has been a helpful habit for us.

2. America's Test Kitchen has recently published a cookbook called The How Can It Be Gluten Free Cookbook. Everything we have tried so far from that book has been excellent. It is very thorough and gives the science behind the recipes. The waffles and muffins were gobbled down by my whole crew.

3. Find a local gluten free bakery. In Colorado Springs, we have Outside the Breadbox. They sell their bread at their own bakery, and also at several other places around town. I take apart the loaves of bread and freeze them in two slice portions so Kimberly can pull out what she needs. Their pre-made pizza crust is not too bad.

4. It is easy to make gluten free "cream of" soup. There are several casserole recipes that I serve often which call for cream of mushroom or cream of chicken soup. These products have lots of weird ingredients in addition to gluten, so I discovered that I can make a delicious alternative with the following little recipe:
     1 cup milk
     1 tsp. gluten free bouillon (Better than Bouillon is the brand I like)
     1 Tbs. butter or oil
     3 Tbs. gluten free flour
Combine the flour and butter or oil and cook for one minute. Stir in the bouillon and milk. Cook until thick. Use in any recipe calling for "cream of" soup.

5. Most Pamela's products are delicious. We especially like the pancake mix and the cake mixes. The coffee cake recipe on the back of the pancake mix bag is so good.

6. Some products are disgusting. And trial and error is expensive. But don't give up.

7. Jovial Pasta is very good. We just discovered this after reading about it in the America's Test Kitchen cookbook.

8. Gluten free specialty food is expensive. But a lot of food is, of course, naturally gluten free. Fruits, veggies, nuts (depending on how they're processed), cheese and meat are always gluten free.

9. Costco often has a lot of gluten free options that I don't see elsewhere. They have Tate's Bakehouse chocolate chip cookies that are really good. I also buy gluten free granola there that is about half the price of anywhere else. But, like everything at Costco, sometimes I'll buy it one month and not be able to find it the next. We recently tried Rice Rollers that everyone liked. They are like rice cakes in a cylinder shape. We have been dipping them in peanut butter.

10. There are some good apps that are helpful in finding restaurants (find me GF) or for scanning the UPC of products that are questionable (Shop Well).

I am proud of you, Kimberly, for your dedication to this new life style. It hasn't always been easy, but you have never given up. You are a tremendous example to me. Happy gluten-versary! And here's to many more!

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Large Family Life

Some people dream of having a big family and are thrilled when their dreams become reality. I feel like we stumbled into having a big family and still find ourselves a little stunned by the reality. This is due, in large part, to the way we built our family. Three the "old-fashioned" way, a baby from China to complete things. And then, three years later, two surprises from the Lord who joined our family at age nine and four. Those last two, Joshua and Isaac, have definitely kicked us into large family mode. And sometimes I feel like I am still adjusting over two years later.

There are days when I wonder why God thought it was a good idea to give me, an introvert if ever there was one, six children. I don't really like people. Yet, I am surrounded by six of them who actually expect me to speak to them all the time. I like these people who fill my world. They are fascinating, funny, and quirky. I love seeing the way they are growing and learning about God and the world. But me, really, Lord? And then He reminds me that His grace is sufficient in my weakness. And I unlock the bathroom door (surely I'm not the only one who hides there?) and I face them again with all of their questions, arguing, and commentary on things big and small.

Then there is the laundry. Eight people generate a lot of laundry.  Especially when one of them is a seven year old fashionista who regularly changes clothes several times a day and thinks each outfit needs to be washed before being returned to the closet. This summer, I am changing our system so that the older kids are responsible for their own laundry. Wish me luck.

The whole issue of food also looks different now that our family is large. I shop at Costco and buy enough to stock a small restaurant. Andy recently bought me larger pots and pans, which have been a big help. My three Asian children think American breakfast food is unacceptable so they eat Ramen noodles, grilled cheese or fried rice most mornings. I buy two of everything at the grocery store and know the clerks by name because I go there so often. I often think I have cooked enough to have leftovers, only to find that there are no leftovers at all. Three of our children have some anxiety about being hungry and not having enough food. So my purse is usually filled with a variety of snacks. Before we ever leave the house, they want to know if I have a snack with me. I always do. I can double recipes without a second thought and run the dishwasher at least twice a day. Cooking and cleaning up after meals is a lot of work, but I am thankful for the privilege to fill these  tummies and share precious time around the table.

Is it weird that we have a schedule for seating in the van? It would be so simple if they would just volunteer to sit in the back row. But instead we have a rotating schedule that resets each Sunday. I write it down in my i-phone so no one can argue or "forget" if it is their week. Speaking of the van, it is two years old and already has over 30,000 miles. Almost all of that is going back and forth to schools and doctor appointments (and Costco). And no matter how often we clean it out, it seems to generate trash at an alarming rate.

The children have all learned a poem (several years ago for the older ones, and recently for the younger ones) about Mr. Nobody.  It starts like this: "I know a funny little man, as quiet as a mouse, who does the mischief that is done in everybody's house." It goes on to tell how he's the one that's responsible for the broken dish, the spill on the carpet, the open door. Yes, he lives here.

There is more I could say about life in our large family (the copious amount of toilet paper we use, for example) but the most important thing that I am seeking to remember is how blessed we are by each one of our precious children.
Josiah (11), Amy, Andy, Caleb (13), Kimberly (16), Joshua (11), Isaac (7), Moriah (7)
(This is the small window of time in the year when I have two sets of twins!)

"Your wife will be like a fruitful vine within your house; your children will be like olive shoots around your table. Yes, this will be the blessing for the man who fears the Lord." Psalm 128:3

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Isaac Hui

Psalm 139:15
Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth.

We recently celebrated Isaac's 7th birthday. Breakfast in bed, presents, root beer floats with grandparents all made it a special day for him. Birthdays are always a time of reflection. So I   thought I would record some of my thoughts about him at this time, especially from a medical standpoint.

When Isaac came home to us from Henan, China just over two years ago, there were more questions than answers about his medical history and status. Many questions still remain unanswered, but in the daily rhythm of our lives, the questions are less important than the joy of parenting this unique child.
Isaac's funny gait (picture a speed walker), frequent falls, struggle with stairs and crooked smile all seem like such a part of him that is hard to picture him any other way. They are as much a part of him as his engineer-mind, his attention to detail, or his laugh.

When we go to the Children's hospital and see the team of specialists they shake their heads because they just can't figure our boy out.  With each visit there are more medical students in our room and more doctors talking together about his unique characteristics.

We have done several genetic tests. Yet each one has been negative. He has seen a doctor and his team from the National Institute of Health. This man's specialty is rare genetic muscle diseases. Now, our little guy's blood is being studied by a group of researchers. Will they ever have an identified gene or a name for his asymmetrical muscle weakness, his high palette, his weak neck?  Does it matter?

This is all made more complicated, or course, because we have no family genetic history to give clues. The one thing they have said is that he appears to have a myopathy rather a dystrophy. In other words, his muscle tone will probably not deteriorate, nor will it improve.

How do you explain this to a smart little seven year old? What does he tell his friends when they wonder why he can't run with them? What is reasonable to expect from him at home in terms of chores and self-care? How do we challenge him to do all that he can but also be reasonable in our expectations?

He has come so far since he joined our family. When we first came home together from China, he would stay in the same spot for hours. Now he is all over the house. He loves to race around the driveway on his little tricycle. He can walk quite a long way before he needs a break. He has gained some height and some weight, though he is still a tiny, skinny little peanut. His language is truly amazing to everyone. He has a very bright mind.

I am reminded as I watch him that we live in a fallen world where sin has impacted everything. At the same time, I am daily reminded of grace. The grace of Christ in our lives shines forth from those little eyes (one more open than the other). He has a family. We belong together. We will make as many trips to Denver to the Children's Hospital as we need to. We can use our handicapped tag and stroller and put bandaids on skinned knees. And the rest of the time...most of the time...we will just enjoy each other and the life that we share. As he learns more about Jesus and his special design for his body, we trust that we will have the wisdom to handle the other questions and challenges.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Moriah Mei

There as been so much focus around our house on Joshua and Isaac that I wanted to stop for a second and think about one of our other kiddos.

Moriah's name means "seen by YAHWEH" and comes from Genesis 22, where Abraham is asked to sacrifice his son Isaac in the mountains of Moriah. When God provides the ram, Abraham names the place, "The Lord will provide."

Before Moriah was any more than an idea in our minds, the Lord gave us this name for her. Now she has been home for four and a half years and we continue to be amazed at this little one that the Lord has  given to us and how He continues to provide for her and for us.

I am sometimes asked about Moriah's special needs. The reality is that there is quite a long list. But if you interact with her for any length of time, you are likely to forget that she has any issues at all. She is bubbly, funny, affectionate, bossy (especially with Isaac), creative and tender hearted. She loves to think about God and focuses on the truth that He is always with us and will never leave us.

Double Trouble!

I'll never forget the day we saw her picture and information for the first time. Her name, Zheng Mei, seemed so small and her little eyes pierced our hearts. When we received her file, it indicated that she had a small thumb, hole in her heart and cerebral atrophy. We didn't know what that last one meant, but moved forward truly believing that this was the little girl we had waited for.

Such a sweet little face!

The day she came to us in China, I had Andy come in the bathroom where I was giving her a bath and take a look at her back. There was a big bump on her spine that just didn't look right to me. After a long string of medical tests and appointments after we got home we discovered that she has VATER association (also known as VACTRL). The acronym refers to the different parts of the body that can be affected. In her case, her spine (kypho-scoliosis), her little thumb and her heart (which has pretty much healed on its own.) Another revelation to us was that the "brain atrophy"which we had kind of dismissed was in fact probably the result of being shaken. Another year and a half would go by before we would discover that Moriah is completely deaf in her right ear. Quite a long list of issues for a little girl.

Some of our first moments....I look happy, Moriah's not sure what just happened.

This is the "don't take my picture" face.

Moriah has spent a great deal of time in PT, OT and speech. She had surgery to implant a BAHA device to help her hear. She may still need spine surgery, though we are still in a wait and see mode. Her learning is not as fast as some kids, but she is spunky and determined and she doesn't give up easily. Her gross motor development has been slow, but she can now run and can almost skip. I have come to expect that her pace may be slower than others, but she will move forward in her own time. Her teacher told me recently that she hears Moriah trying to keep some of the boys in her class on track by whispering to them what they should or should not be doing. She has become passionate about art, to the point that two of my end tables are now decorated with her original artwork scratched into the surface. (Perhaps scratching your name into the surface isn't the best way to escape detection...just a thought.)

This is "Ok, you can take my picture, but I'll do a cheesy smile" face.

Happy smile after a trip to that magical place.

My two daughters in a Hutong in Beijing
Moriah and Kimberly share a special bond as the only girls in this bunch of boys. They have such a sweet friendship despite the ten years difference in their ages.

God saw this precious little girl, left by her parents on the steps of a hospital in Zhengzhou, China for reasons we'll never know. From there to the orphanage, to a Chinese family for foster care, back to the orphanage, to Swallow's Nest (an American-run foster home) and finally to us. (All in 19 months!) Such a small and insignificant person in the scheme of the world, but seen by God. Loved by God. Provided for by God. Given to us as a precious treasure.

Gotcha Day #4!