What orphans really need

"Orphans don't need stuff. Orphans need families."

I first heard that line in an campaign video for an adoption grant organization called Show Hope.

My reaction to that message was sort of meh at first. I didn't not like it, but I didn't think it was a great thing to say either. Orphans actually do need stuff like food, shelter, medical care and stimulating activities like games and toys. However, recently I have begun to understand that message in a whole new way.

It started when friends of mine who are adopting posted pictures of their new playroom on facebook and made a joke that they had a lot to "compete" with because their children's orphanage had a great playroom. I could totally relate! I even wrote in my first post about meeting Arie that the playroom where we met Arie was like a child's dream world. Toys galore.
First trip: playing in a corner of one of the playrooms
Outside there was a fantastic playground. Actually, there were more like 5 or 6 playgrounds on the orphanage property with playhouses, swings, merry-go-rounds, sandboxes, trikes, and every outdoor toy you could imagine.

When we heard a little about Arie's personality and development from his nanny and the orphanage's psychologist, we learned that he even had a variety of those stimulating activities like music class and weekly individual speech therapy.

Visiting him in Moscow, we saw that he was always dressed warmly and neatly. When we were home, his pediatrician surmised that he had received very good nutrition and at least adequate healthcare.

As an orphan, our little guy had all the "stuff" he could need. He actually had more things than we would ever be able to give him. Our playroom has barely a tenth of what we saw in the orphanage. Outside he has a trike and one ride on toy. We definitely do not have a playground or six in our backyard. Sometimes I still wonder if he misses having a half dozen little friends around, morning, day and night, to play with. On our days home alone, he still asks me if any of his little buddies are coming over.

Yet, there's some things I can't forget like the way his body flopped out and away when I picked him up and tried to carry him on my hip. He did not know how to be held. The way he rolled over if I tried to rub his back to get him to sleep. The way he pushed my hand away if I ran my fingers through his hair. Once, in Moscow, we sat him up on a chair at the dinner table and, scared for some reason, his little body froze and he just tipped right over and fell on the floor. He did not catch himself like you would expect- just frozen with blank eyes, fell over. I cannot forget the vacant look in his eyes when we took him to the hospital in Moscow for his visa exam. Or the way he whimpered quietly in my lap sucking his thumb and trying desperately, I imagine, to turn inward and soothe himself. And all the while, I- his mama- trying to draw him out and be the comfort I knew he couldn't find in his little baby soul.
On our gotcha day- you can see how his body leans out and away. 
On this video- taken as we left the orphanage- you can see how anxious he is, yet he doesn't know to cry or cuddle or anything for comfort: 

John and I noticed with an uncomfortable sense of disturbance that when our visits with Arie were over in the orphanage, a nanny would come by the door of our room or the edge of the playground and simply but sharply call his name. Without a millisecond of protest or hesitation, he would stand up and go. With robot-like obedience he would fall into line with the other children and walk away. For months he did the same with us. We brought him home into a Michigan November and it wasn't until the following summer- over 6 months later- that he felt secure enough to have a temper tantrum. Three years old at the beach one evening, we told him it was time to pack up and leave when he threw his little body down on the dry sand and cried. John and I stood by, watching with arms around each other and enormous smiles on our faces. Our hearts crying, "Finally!"

Orphans don't need stuff. Orphans need families.

Orphans need families who will love them, unconditionally. Families who will be safe and secure. Families who won't go away if they kick and scream and who will keep on hugging and touching and giving affection until it is finally received. Families who will teach little ones how to be held on their hips and who will teach big ones what it means to trust. Orphans need families who will help them heal their wounds and who will stand up for them and walk beside them forever.

The truth is, stuff is nothing without family. Children can never learn- even from the shiniest toys or the highest slide or the best music class- what it means to give and receive love.

Without love, we have nothing.

This weekend John and I committed our Saturday morning to the monstrous task of raking all our leaves. As we worked, Arie stomped around singing silly songs and- too often- trying to sneak away into the garage. He is secure enough to be "naughty" and we love it. He "helped" me rake by asking me to stop every few minutes so he could pick out the leaves stuck in my rake's claw. He is confidant and valued enough to offer "help" and serve us. When the wind blew fiercely in his face, he ran to us crying, "It's cold!" and asked to be scooped up in our arms. He is attached enough to ask for help.

His favorite of all: he scrunched his little fingers around bunches of leaves, throwing them in the air yelling, "I make POPCORN!!!"

He is loved enough to be a silly three-year-old boy. And- effortlessly- happy.

Today I am humbly offering you the opportunity to get to know a couple like John and me who are soon going to give another orphan what she really needs: a family. Meet one of my sponsors Michelle  with her husband Stephen and their two-year-old son Ezra. I've asked Michelle to say a bit about herself and her family's journey to adoption:

Adoption is special to my heart first because I am a birthmother; I placed my first child for adoption almost 8 years ago. It was a painful but positive experience for me. My husband was a friend at the time and even visited me in the hospital. We decided to adopt internationally two years ago after we had our son; I realized that every orphan without the blessing of a family is like Ezra without us, and it broke my heart.

We started to adopt from Uganda and made our way through the process until we were put on the waiting list at an orphanage. Then the process stalled completely. We started talking about what we should do, since we didn't decide to adopt so we could sit on a list for years. I started looking up waiting children and found a little girl about 8 months younger than Ezra, living in an orphanage in the Congo. After much prayer (and some tears), we decided to try to adopt her. We just updated our homestudy and are assembling our dossier now. We hope to travel around Mother's Day, but you know international adoption; there is just no telling at this point when we will be able to bring her home.

Like the Burdens, my husband and I are in ministry (though we're campus missionaries), so we've had to be creative with fundraising. I sell the kind of jewelry that I love (here) and want to wear, and every cent goes toward adopting our little girl.

*******CONTEST NOW CLOSED! Thank you for your participation! ***********

Now here comes the fun part: Michelle is giving away one of her beautiful designs for FREE! To enter the giveaway, leave a comment on this post and tell me what piece you like best (here's the link to her shop), follow her blog, or like her Facebook page: Bringing Home Little H. (All links will open new windows.) Each action will get you one entry into the draw, so that's up to three entries per person. Winner will be chosen via random.org and announced Thursday November 14. Check back to this post to see if you are the winner! 

And not that you ever need a good reason to help bring an orphan into a family, but 'tis the season for Christmas gift buying! Happy contest entering, happy shopping and thank you for bringing this little girl home. 

WINNER UPDATE: Moriah Piers! Congratulations! Please send a private message to Michelle via her facebook page to claim your prize. Thank you everyone for your comments and support! 



  1. I love the bronzed betty bracelett!

  2. The amber beaded bracelet is beautiful! Jillian, my husband and I are pursuing adoption as expats living in China. Your blog is so inspirational. I love hearing about all the milestones and developments of Arie, you and John. Thanks so much for being an encouragement to me, even though you don't know anything about me.

    1. You are so, so welcome! I feel so humbled to read your comment Danae. I think it is so cool that you are doing your adoption that way- do you follow "domestic" guidelines to adopt then, or international?

    2. Loving the freedom necklace! =)

    3. Loving the freedom necklace! =)

  3. Another wonderful post, Jillian!! You remind me that I often get caught up in providing too much "stuff" for my kid and forget to focus on just being *with* him. You are a wonderful inspiration!

    And the malachite leaf earrings are gorgeous. :)

  4. Love the leaf earrings and this family's journey!

  5. Wow! I love your blog. I don't often have time to comment, but I read every word. I found out about your little blessing from close family friends, Ed and Mir. I love seeing the toddler side of adoption
    We just adopted an infant boy and, like you, are enjoying every moment of out parenting journey. He's cooing away beside me as I type this...better go feed him :)
    I love the hammered hoop earings. Thanks for the giveaway!

  6. What a beautiful post like always. Your son is adorable. It's hard to pick just one piece of jewelry but if I have to I would say the freedom necklace. My family and I are all bird lovers and it reminds me of them.

  7. I can't decide between the storming necklace or the freedom necklace. Both adorable!

  8. I just love the freedom necklace! So beautiful!

  9. Oh my. That freedom necklace is just too gorgeous!

  10. Anonymous11/13/2013

    I love the hammered hoop earrings!
    (Laura G from facebook)

  11. I love the azurite wing earrings!

    Thanks for the post! It's truly given me a lot to think about.

  12. Thank you for this fun giveaway and sharing your friend with us...I can't wait to learn more about her and her growing family! I "liked" her Facebook page and I am now following her blog. Oh and her jewelry...it's a toss up...I love the feather earrings and the arrowhead necklace!

  13. Oops. Leaf not feather:)

  14. I love the freedom necklace.

  15. I like the leaf earrings, they are so delicate and so beautiful. I also liked her FB page but couldn't figure out how to follow her blog without having a Google+ account.

    And Jillian, this post made me smile. I love the pictures of you and Arie playing in the leaves, they are so precious. You have a true way with words and you always encourage. Thank you.

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  17. Anonymous11/14/2013

    oh fun! I like the amber beaded bracelet! Julie Leeson


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