As long as I’ve known Ashley—and it’s been the better part of 25 years—I’ve known a woman whose heart is for adoption. The desire to graft a child into her family is something I’ve long admired about my dear friend. But as her own two biological children got older, I wondered if she’d see her dream become reality. When does one trade the hope of a life that could be, for the sheer convenience of a life that is already? Ashley’s kids are amazing and they were growing older. If her family continued to pursue adoption, would that move the needle back too far I wondered? But then we met Luke. And boy was he darling. The journey that ensued has been nothing short of inspiring. And we realized that a new shoot can be grafted into any family tree, you just have to reach a little higher into those tall branches. Ashley, welcome to The Thersday Series this Mother’s Day month. Thank you for sharing Luke with all of us.
You already have two biological children, 14 and 12 years old. When did the thought of adoption begin to tug at your heart?
Adoption has been on my heart for as long as I can remember. When I was younger I could always picture my family with a beautiful mixture of kids. We actually started talking seriously about adoption when our older two were about 7 and 9. We explored foster care, thinking we might be able to adopt that way. We fostered for about two years, and while it was one of the most difficult and beautiful things we had ever done, we eventually knew that would not be our path to adopting a child. We explored private adoption and completed a home study to try to adopt domestically. Yet again, we hit a roadblock. We were not at a place in our lives where we wanted a baby. We were hoping for an older child and naively thought that would be easier! While I was spending a lot of time being sad and frustrated about what I perceived as a very disrupted process, God was mapping out a perfect timeline.
We saw our sweet Luke for the first time on Facebook. He was being hosted by a family in a neighboring town. After tracking down the family with some help of mutual friends, I got to speak with his host mother. We arranged to meet him and spend three days with him before he traveled back to China. It was a full year almost to the day before I would hold him again. The paperwork was insane and the waiting was torturous at times. We would speed through some things and then get held up during other steps. But again, God had a plan the whole time.
Tell us about the importance of Luke’s “Gotcha Day.”
Gotcha Day was extremely emotional. We had tried to prepare ourselves for Luke’s reaction. We sent letters, gifts, and pictures to him, but we still weren’t sure he would remember us or be happy about going home with us. In all honesty, it wasn’t the picture perfect meeting I had dreamt of. Luke was understandably very emotional, which in turn made me emotional; he clung to his foster mother. His tears didn’t last long, but I know it will be a long time before I can watch the video of those first moments. However, I am so thankful that he was loved and cared for in his orphanage. He loved the people there and they loved him. We knew that he was capable of attachment and our prayers became that he would shift that attachment to us. I am happy to report that he grafted beautifully into our family! He quickly caught on to “mama”, “baba”, “sister” and “brother.” He even took to his new, American name in no time. On the first night he was with us, Luke was already wrestling with his brother and teasing his sister.
Can you share something you’ve learned through the process of becoming a mother in a non-traditional way?
Becoming a mother in a non traditional way is a blessing I still can’t fully put into words. Carrying my biological children and giving birth to them was a miracle. Becoming Luke’s mom is also a miracle. We truly feel like God hand-selected him to be part of our family. There are so many days that I look at him and still can’t believe I get to be his mommy.
Out of a billion people in China, he was chosen to be with us.
It’s so amazing and humbling. I often find myself thinking of his birth mother and what circumstances led her to abandon him. I hope that somehow she can feel that he is being loved and cared for. Her pain and loss gave us our son, and I will never take that for granted.
What is one thing you wish people knew about adoption?
For so long we didn’t look at international adoption because of cost. We never imagined it would even be possible for us. I can honestly say that I have never felt God work in my life like I have over the past year. Every worry and fear we had was laid to rest as our community, family and friends rallied around us and helped us get Luke home. If we thought a door was closed and would get discouraged, something would happen and the door would be opened in an amazing and unexpected way. I also wish people knew that you can and will love your adopted child just like you do your biological children. From the moment Luke joined our family, he has been ours. Your heart just expands so much that it feels like it might explode, not unlike when you have babies in a traditional way!
Who keeps you company on your journey?
Gosh, so many people keep me company. My husband and kids for sure. This has truly been a family affair. We all traveled to China together and that was a wonderful, but trying two weeks. Since arriving back home, our family dynamic has changed. Fortunately, we are all pretty good at rolling with the punches and have taken the changes in stride. Luke’s personality has helped a lot. He keeps us laughing most of the time and has just meshed with us in an unbelievable way. Our extended family, family of friends and our church family has also been unbelievably supportive. I can’t even begin to recall the phone calls, text messages and visits over the last four months from so many dear to us just to check on Luke and make sure the rest of us were doing okay, too.
This journey has been the scariest, most wonderful experience. Luke experienced a lot of loss before he came to us, but out of that pain has come enormous joy. We are his forever and he is ours.
Reunion photos by Ashlyn Riley Photography. Family photos by Courtnie Coulson Photography.
Carol and Buddy Sosbe says
Enjoyed your story. Never met Luke, but I am sure glad you are our NEIGHbor.
Mary Techau says
Such a great story! Love that family!