I first met Lee Dyck at a men’s retreat. I had been asked to lead a retreat for the men of his church and over the course of the weekend he told me about Emma, the daughter who had just been adopted into his family. That was a couple of years ago now, but just recently our paths crossed and I asked him how Emma was doing. As he filled me in I realized that I wanted to do a full interview with him. He had his wife Anna were kind enough to do that. Read it and be encouraged!
Tell me about yourself and your family.
My wife Anna and I have been married for 16 years, we have four children: Nathan 14, Corina 9, Emma 4 and Cameron 2. I am a pastor at First Baptist Church in Arnprior, just outside of Ottawa.
Did you plan to adopt and then decide to adopt a child with Down syndrome? Or right from the beginning was your desire to adopt and your desire to adopt a special needs child one and the same?
I had just graduated seminary and was serving a church in Edmonton. At the time we had two healthy children, our youngest was 2 and finally becoming a little more independent. We had a church who loved us, our housing was provided, life was comfortable. One night my wife and I listened to John Piper preach a sermon called Predestined for Adoption which really opened our eyes to the beauty of adoption. Around this time God had also really given us a passion for the sanctity of human life. Anna was volunteering as a peer counselor at the local Pregnancy Care Center but we felt God calling us out of our comfort zone to do something more. We knew He was calling us to adopt and we knew we wanted to adopt where there was a need. We began exploring that a bit not knowing exactly where God was leading us until we learned the startling reality that 80-90% of babies diagnosed with Down syndrome during pregnancy were being terminated. After realizing that, there was no turning back for us. We both had had people in our lives with Down syndrome that we loved dearly and were overjoyed at the thought of welcoming a child with Down syndrome into our family. Still there were friends and family worried about the stress this would put on our family and we ourselves knew that it would be challenging . And yet we also knew that God calls us to step out in faith and pursue the hard things in life for His glory and that His grace would be sufficient to meet all our needs.
How did it happen that you came to adopt Emma?
Not knowing where to begin we went to a private agency and let them know we were specifically looking to adopt a baby with Down syndrome. We were told that they really only saw healthy newborns and our best option would be to go through Alberta Children’s Services as they dealt more with the special needs cases. So we began the long process of paperwork, training, home study, etc. only to find out they really didn’t see babies with Down syndrome either. We followed through though trusting this was where God was leading. Once we became an approved home through A.C.S. we began contacting all the different private agencies just to get our name out there. We followed up on different leads we had heard about but nothing happened for three years. It was during this time, as we began to question our decision, wondering if we were making any progress, that the Lord taught us about the need to wait on Him. As it turned out, God used this time to have us create awareness of the issue in our church and community as well as being interviewed for an article in a national magazine. In the end, we received our phone call from that first private agency we met with. In God’s providence they had decided to keep our names on file, “just in case.”
Can you tell me what it was like bringing Emma home and integrating her into your family?
Those early days were some of the most challenging either of us have ever faced yet also the most fulfilling. Emma was born 8 weeks premature at 31/2 pounds with a significant heart defect that would require open heart surgery sooner than later. She spent her first 4 months in the hospital in and out of NICU. In fact, there were some times we weren’t even sure if she was going to make it which in turn led us to an even greater need to trust God and give everything over in prayer.
In terms of integrating her into our family, I know a lot of prospective adoptive parents (including us) wonder if they will be able to love their adoptive child the same as a biological child. Though I have to say, this was not an issue for us as we all instantly fell in love with her. There is absolutely no difference in the love we have for her and our biological children. It was a little difficult for Nathan and Corina to bond with her at first as she spent so much time in the hospital but we did the best we could by bringing them in regularly to visit her. We made sure they held her as much as possible despite all the tubes and wires as we wanted to ensure that they were comfortable with this aspect of things as she likely would be bringing some of those tubes home with her.
We still remember the day we finally brought her home and how proud and excited we all were. Because of everything her brother and sister had seen her go through, they are still to this day her biggest fans, encouragers and protectors. Aside from the medical equipment that came home with her and the extra medical appointments she needed it was just like bringing home any newborn - lots of feedings and diapers!
What have been some of the greatest blessings and greatest challenges that come with adoption?
There is no denying that answering the call to adopt has been challenging. There is of course all the financial and administrative work that is involved as well as the emotional roller-coaster that came with it. Frustration with the pace of progress, worrying about how we would be able to balance the time needed to care for a special needs child, the impact it would have on our children, the stress it would put on our marriage and more all seemed to be issues we needed to take to God in prayer. And yet the Lord graciously took what we saw as negative challenges and used them as a means for blessing and growth, pushing us to step out in faith and a greater dependence. Rather than producing resentment in our children it has taught them about compassion and grace, and the added stress on our marriage has caused us to grow closer and become more servant minded. Still, one of the greatest blessing has been to learn, in a very practical way, the wonder of our adoption in Christ. How God the Father chose to bring us into His family at such a great cost to Himself!
What have been some of the greatest blessings and greatest challenges that have come with a special needs child?
God has used Emma in incredible ways to touch the hearts of everyone she meets. I have to say one of the greatest blessings has been seeing how she has impacted the lives of our older two children, Nathan and Corina. They have walked the journey with us from the moment we decided to adopt, through Emma’s first 4 months in the hospital with open heart surgery, till now and every step in between. They understand and appreciate our reasons for adopting a baby with Down syndrome and because of it have very strong convictions for the sanctity of human life.
In fact, this past week had to have been one of our proudest moments of Nathan. After that article came out regarding ‘after birth abortions’ Nathan courageously stood up and spoke out against it and abortion in general on his Facebook page. To us, we were thrilled to see Nathan thinking beyond himself at this young age and brave enough to stand up in front of his peers for something so controversial. Nathan has a very compassionate heart and seems to be drawn to others who have special needs. We know the Lord has been working in his heart through Emma.
Corina is presently being home schooled and gets a first hand view of life with special needs. She loves to observe when Emma’s therapists come for a visit and is very involved in working with Emma on her therapy homework. She often talks about adopting one day and we can’t help but think that perhaps the Lord is preparing her to work with special needs kids one day. She also, like Nathan, has such a beautiful compassionate heart.
Emma forces each one us to see life through a different lens. She reminds us daily of what is truly important in life. It has been an incredible time for each one of us to learn to trust in God’s wisdom and sovereignty, especially during the times of suffering Emma has gone through.
Besides the obvious challenges we have faced with her medical issues (open heart surgery, ongoing heart issues, stomach surgery, feeding tube, etc.) it is a lot of work. She does require extra care. Some days can be taxing, especially for my wife. She is an incredible mother and I know that she sees it as such an honor and privilege to serve Emma and thus serve Christ daily (Matt 25:40). One quote that she has recently shared with me that really encourages her when she notices the wear and tear the stress of Emma’s medical issues have had on her is by Rachel Jankovic: “Our bodies are tools, not treasures. You should not spend your days trying to preserve your body in its eighteen-year-old form. Let it be used. By the time you die, you want to have a very dinged and dinted body. Motherhood uses your body in the way that God designed it to be used. Those are the right kind of damages.” (from Loving the Little Years)
In the end, God has used what the world sees as a weak and undesirable life to teach us so much about Himself. He has graciously shown us the rich blessings that come with extending mercy and care for those in need. He has reminded us that He often uses the most unlikely of heroes to reveal His glory.