Abiding Love - Cheryl's Adoption Journey

 Lyla, from 2014 to 2024
1/2 Lyla, from 2014 to 2024(photo: Provided by Clyde Xi )
Cheryl and her Chinese children
2/2Cheryl and her Chinese children(photo: Provided by Clyde Xi)
By Lucy Li, Clyde XiMay 13th, 2024

This is the story of an American mother who has dedicated over a decade of her life to taking care of her two adopted Chinese orphans. She has endured significant hardship, navigating her weary way through numerous medical facilities and government bureaucracies in order to seek treatment for her adoptees’ mental and physical health issues. Despite facing difficult financial situations, she has persevered through the strength of her faith, believing in God’s provision and finding a safe harbor of mercy and grace.

In the aftermath of a hurricane surrounding her home, Cheryl prays quietly, asking God to protect her and her family. The rain subsides, and the bright sunlight begins to break through the clouds in the evening sky. It is at this moment that fond memories of her life with her late husband start to flash back. Cheryl recounts her story of how she adopted and raised her children from China, a tale filled with bittersweetness.

(The following is Cheryl's account)

I was born in 1957 in New Jersey, the eldest of three sisters. When I was 13, my father abandoned us. Reluctantly, my mother moved in with my grandmother, taking me and my two sisters with her. With my mom working outside the home, I had to assume the responsibilities of taking care of my grandmother. It was a very difficult time, and my grandmother felt more like a mother to me. Despite the challenges, I excelled in high school. Since I enjoyed taking care of people, I aspired to work in the medical field. After graduating from high school, I attended a vocational school and became a medical assistant. I gained job experience in two clinics, dealing with electrocardiograms, chest X-rays, and more.

I got married at a young age, and my marriage was not a happy one, ending in divorce. I have a son from that marriage, who is now 41. He married a Korean woman, and although they live in New Jersey, we rarely visit each other. I attempted to maintain a relationship with my father, but sadly, it went nowhere. I haven't seen him since I was 20. He is 90 now and lives in Florida.

I met Jay in 1996, when I was 38, my second husband. He cared for me deeply and loved me very much. After we got married, we both wanted to have children. I became pregnant but suffered a miscarriage, which left me heartbroken. Later, I was diagnosed with cervical cancer. After surgery, doctors believed I couldn't conceive and bear children anymore. However, by God's grace, I gave birth to a daughter at the age of 42 and a son at 45. I almost lost my son due to a breech birth, but luckily, he grew to be a healthy baby. Jay was a hardworking husband and a good father as well.

We already had two children of our own, yet for years, we had dreamed of adopting orphaned children and providing them with a loving home. When I came across a little girl from Bao'an, China, on the Rainbow Baby website, both my husband and I were thrilled. We decided to pursue the adoption of this child. We completed the required home study and began gathering various documents. Jay worked extra hours to cover the adoption expenses. With great enthusiasm, we started planning to bring this child home.

On Christmas day in 2010, Jay fell ill while cutting down a Christmas tree. After seeing a doctor, he was diagnosed with a heart problem caused by a certain virus. Over the next eight months, we watched his condition deteriorate. On June 11, 2011, he had a fall. That night, he was in severe pain, prompting me to call an ambulance and rush him to the hospital. The next morning, Jay passed away in the hospital. My heart was shattered. My children were too young to fully understand the gravity of the situation, and my entire world collapsed.

The following months were the darkest periods of my life. For the sake of my children, I tried to pull myself together. Previously, my husband had been the pillar of our home, supporting us with his income so that I could be a stay-at-home mother. Now, I had to find a way to pay all the bills, manage the household by myself, and raise the children as a single parent. Fortunately, my mother provided me with a lot of support. Without her, I wouldn't have been able to get through this difficult time.

However, I didn't give up on the dream of adoption, which was my husband's dying wish. Due to his passing, the previous adoption application was no longer valid. I had to reapply as a widowed single mother. Eventually, my application was approved, and I was successfully matched with the girl from Bao'an. When I received approval for my trip to bring the child home, I learned that she had a brain tumor, and, sadly, she passed away in the orphanage the following month.

I will never forget that nightmarish phone call, with me crying over the phone together with my adoption agent and her Chinese colleague. We were supposed to bring her home, my husband and I, together, but now both he and the girl were taken away from me. What a tragedy! Thirteen years later, I still keep her photo in my wallet.

The China Center for Children's Welfare and Adoption (CCCWA) informed me that the adoption process had to be temporarily halted. I had to undergo counseling and evaluation with a psychologist. After several consultations and interviews, the psychologist came to understand why, despite experiencing so much heartache, I still insisted on continuing to adopt from China. Eventually, I regained approval and resumed my adoption process.

Shortly after, the agency recommended a girl from a Beijing orphanage who would become my second daughter, Lyla Wenjing. When I saw her video, I knew she was my daughter. My heart was filled with joy, and I wished to hold her in my arms immediately. Although at the time I still did not have her complete information and her conditions seemed worrisome enough, presenting numerous challenges to me, I had unwavering determination to adopt her.

My son and I went to China to meet Lyla. At our first meeting, she ran around, falling and hitting her head, kicking, and biting me like an uncontrollable little beast. Evidently, she suffered from various physical and mental illnesses that had not received any proper treatment. My tour guide also expressed his concern that this child might ruin my life. Over the next two weeks, I learned to change her diapers and feed this 6-year-old child, helplessly watching her roll on the floor, scream wildly, bite people, and even pick up and eat food from the floor. I cried out to God, asking, 'What should I do? Should I proceed or should I retreat?' My 8-year-old son consoled me, telling me, 'Mom, she's my sister, and we can take care of her!' During the 18-hour trip back to the United States, Lyla couldn't stay quiet and continued to scream and yell. My adoption friends reassured me, saying that once the child is home, things will gradually settle.

Twelve years have passed, and despite consulting numerous doctors and receiving countless treatments for her, every day is still a struggle. Nevertheless, my unconditional love for Lyla Wenjing remains the same. Next month, she will turn 18. Physically, she is a strong girl but unable to live independently, needing total care around the clock. Sometimes she becomes disoriented, like running outside without clothes on in the morning. She has intellectual disabilities and cannot read or write, attending a special class at school. After she leaves school at 2:30 pm, I have to keep a constant eye on her. Her diagnoses include autism, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). She has unpredictable mood swings and tends to become violent when angry, relying on medication to control seizures.

Despite the immense challenges of caring for Lyla, she remains a precious gift from God. From sunrise to sunset, I watch over her; she is always the first thought on my mind in the morning and the last before I sleep. I have never entertained the idea of giving up on her. Deep in my heart, I firmly believe that she was destined to be my daughter.

In 2015, three years after adopting Lyla, my friends recommended a 4-year-old boy from Guangxi, Landon DeXu, who had visual impairments and spina bifida. I wasn't sure if I could handle a second child after the challenges of adopting Lyla.

However, the moment I saw him on a video, my heart melted.

Despite not meeting the age requirements for adoption, I obtained approval after persistent efforts. Upon meeting him in Guangxi for the first time, Landon was like a cute little angel. Our hearts immediately bonded, and nothing could separate us anymore.

After bringing Landon home, we underwent some tests, revealing that he is almost completely blind. Although he can manage the basics of life, he will never be able to drive due to his visual impairment. In the United States, not being able to drive can be very restrictive to daily life.

Recently, he had a sudden seizure with frightening symptoms, leading to an emergency hospital visit. After numerous tests, EEG brainwave results showed abnormalities in his brain. He has started taking epilepsy medication and has to see a neurologist every few weeks. The recent diagnosis indicates that he experienced a stroke either in infancy or during prenatal development. Some children with this type of stroke can "recover" and lead relatively normal lives, while others, unfortunately, "deteriorate," and their disabilities become more severe. Our poor Landon is one of the unfortunate others.

This year, Landon DeXu turned 13. I assist him with his schoolwork at home. He is exceptionally bright, particularly in mathematics and reading, and he has a passion for science. He is my treasure, my little sunshine. I am grateful every single day for his presence with me.

As a single mother now at retirement age, this has been my daily routine for over a decade: taking care of the kids, managing endless household chores, and navigating various medical institutions to seek treatments for them. I always rise before sunrise and retire long after the sun goes down. My own physical health and self-care have become my last concern. It's challenging for others to imagine a life like mine.

After being widowed for eight years, in 2018, I fell in love again with my friend Joel. He had never been married and had no children. He was a gentle and kind person, treating our home like his own and loving my children as his own. Every morning before going to work, he would spend some time playing with Landon.

In 2020, one morning, despite feeling unwell, he insisted on going to work. While working, he experienced a heart attack and was rushed to the emergency room. I received the call while I was shopping, and my mind went blank. I left everything behind and drove to the hospital. Doctors placed a stent in his heart, believing he would recover. However, a week later, his condition showed no sign of improvement but worsened instead. He passed away. Once again, I lost a loved one.

Joel had provided us with considerable financial support during his lifetime. Now, I find myself alone in a helpless and difficult situation once more. I miss the brief but happy time I spent with Joel. It's hard to believe that he has been gone for four years.

Last year, my mother also passed away, leaving me without the only physical and emotional support I had. We used to talk every day, and now I often find myself crying alone because I miss her so much. I feel like a lone boat in a storm, tossed back and forth by the waves, struggling to support this fragile home.

The widow's social security payment from my late husband is our only source of income. While U.S. social security normally provides financial assistance for the living expenses of minor children, it doesn't apply to Lyla and Landon because I adopted them as a single parent. Since I have to stay home taking care of Lyla and Landon full-time, it is impossible for me to work outside. I live with my biological daughter and son, who have limited income and can barely get by themselves, making it difficult for them to help me. Our single-story house is almost 30 years old and needs repairs both inside and out. Recently, it was hit by a hurricane. During the storm, we huddled together, listening to the howling winds, and worrying that the roof might be blown off at any moment. After the hurricane, parts of the house were damaged, and with the help of social workers, some repairs were done. Recently, we've had a rodent infestation and encountered termites, incurring additional expenses. The carpets in the house are old, and the stove occasionally malfunctions, but currently, we do not have the financial means to update them. Every month, I go to the community food bank twice to receive free food, reducing expenses.

Recently, Landon was diagnosed with Achilles tendon contracture, requiring weekly physical therapy and the use of ankle braces, as well as the possibility of muscle-relaxant injections. Additionally, his neurologist recommends occupational therapy every week, which unfortunately, my insurance does not cover.

I have always dreamed of being a good mother and wife. Despite experiencing numerous personal tragedies, I have never given up on my vision of a beautiful life. I want to be there for my beautiful children from sunrise to sunset, through every season of life. Despite the difficulties and financial struggles, I have no regrets about my choice of adoption. When my husband passed away, he left a small life insurance policy, and I used that money for adoption expenses and donations to the orphanage in China. I firmly believe that God has never abandoned us. In times of trouble, I find solace in prayer, reciting Psalm 23: “The Lord is my shepherd; I lack nothing. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshes my soul.”

Clyde Xi, President of Village of the Stars, wrote:

"In the past year, Village of the Stars has supported over 20 adoptive families. Cheryl's story, however, resonates with me the most—it's both touching and revealing. Her unconditional love for the children deeply moves me, yet their continuous and enormous needs for support leave me feeling powerless. Once you get to know Cheryl well, you'll find she's a typical everyday American mom, often venting about life's hardships, bureaucratic injustices, and friends' indifference. Some might question her, saying, "Aren't all these troubles of your own making?" I admit, I've had my doubts too—whether adopting two disabled children was the wrong decision. I hear a voice reproaching me—"You might be more capable and resourceful than Cheryl, but would you be willing to adopt Wenjing and Dexu if I offered them to you?” The answer is no. I lack Cheryl's tender heart for orphans and her abiding love.

"Stories like Cheryl's adoption are incredibly inspiring because they are God's stories, shared with us to remind us of our responsibility to become part of the narrative and to lead it to its positive end.

"Lyla is turning 18 soon, and while she lacks the ability to live independently, she is legally an adult. Cheryl is applying for Social Security on her behalf while also seeking guardianship for Lyla. Mr. Steve Shen Qun from the Perfect Love Foundation covered the legal fees required for this process. Once approved, as part of the Social Security Disability program, the government will provide monthly payments to Cheryl for Lyla's care. When Lyla turns 21, she will attempt to enter a government-run group home managed by the New Jersey Department of Developmental Disabilities (DDD), with professional care. So, for the next three difficult years, how can we help Cheryl, provide her with support and encouragement?

"Village of the Stars developed a plan to support Cheryl for the next three years, providing her with a monthly assistance of $300. We initiated a fundraising campaign, and within just two days, we received nearly $8,000 in donations. Along with the match grant of Village of the Stars, we ensured the required $11,000 in funds."

Upon receiving the good news, Cheryl wrote:

"I feel like I'm in a dream. Thank you so very much from the bottom of my heart. I will put the money to good use, starting with setting up Landon for occupational therapy. Please convey my gratitude to the board and everyone in Village of the Stars involved for their love towards my family and for the continued prayers. Much love and blessings.” There are many families like Cheryl's that need your encouragement and support. If you are touched by their stories, please consider donating on our website.

Village of the Stars, acting as a bridge between the Chinese community and American adoptive families, is a registered nonprofit organization in the United States (501c3), and all donations are tax-deductible, with receipts provided. (Contact via email at villageofthestars@gmail.com or WeChat: ClydeXi.)

Some abandon, some adopt; some cause suffering, some redeem. In places of brokenness, some are picking up and restoring... Only the love of Jesus can heal the human heart.

"Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world." – James 1:27

- Translated by Ivy Zhen, Weiming Zhao

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