Surviving, Learning, Laughing: Winning the Lottery of Life

A message from Jane Ballback, post adoption guest blogger:  My daughter Stacee is guest blogging today! This post is a priceless gift to me from Stacee and was a complete surprise. Thank you for sharing this gift with me by reading on….

by Stacee Ballback


Whenever anybody asks me to explain how my last name is Ballback, why I can’t speak a word of Korean, or how I have two very Caucasian parents when I am very clearly Asian, my answer is always the same, “I was adopted.” The keyword here is “was.”

I never realized that I answered their questions in the past tense until I started noticing that other fellow adoptees answered the same questions, “I am adopted.” It made me realize that being adopted never felt like a state of being for me or like an all-encompassing aspect of my life. Instead, it felt like a single moment early in my life with a definite starting and ending point that happened and then was over. I don’t think that being an adopted child is so easy for everyone; I think some people are forever haunted by their adoption and it stays with them as a reminder throughout their lives that they were unwanted and unloved. I don’t see myself as unloved because I was given up; I see it as an ultimate act of sacrifice and love on my birth mother’s behalf because she wanted a better life for me then she could have provided me with.

A lot of people ask me how old I was and how I felt when my parents first told me that I was adopted, and in all honesty, I can’t remember where, when, what or how they told me. I think part of this lack of a traumatic “ah-ha” moment is due to the fact that I do not look anything like either of my parents. I think when I was young and before I could really understand adoption, I was searching for ways that my mother and I were alike. I remember walking through a parking lot with her on our usual In-n-Out and grocery shopping Sundays (a tradition I still enjoy to this day) and telling her that we looked alike because we both had dark hair. For me, finding out where I came from was more of a gradual discovery process that my parents eased me into, as opposed to a single shocking moment of realization that some adopted children may experience.

But I really think the main reason for this distress-free process is mostly a testament to the wonderful and natural job my parents did of raising me and communicating with me about where I came from. I never felt like I didn’t belong right where I was, and I hardly felt the need to search for my birth parents because I had already been planted in such a warm and loving family. When I was younger, I think my adoption troubled me. I wanted to know who my birth mother was, and I wanted to know why she had given me up.  As I got older and more capable of comprehending everything, I realized that being adopted was the best thing that could have ever happened to me.

I’m not trying to say that being adopted has not impacted me or that it is an insignificant aspect of my life in anyway, I’m only trying to emphasize that I do not see being adopted as who I am, but rather a part of who I am. I am very content and well assimilated into the American ‘cheeseburger and French fries’ way of life I grew up knowing, and I have my family to thank for this. Of course my adoption plays a large role in the person I am today and probably has a more significant role on a subconscious level, but I think that I am just very happy and grateful for the hand that I was dealt and the perfect childhood I was blessed with from my family. I don’t view my adoption as a dark cloud over my life or a taboo topic, because I grew up with parents that talked openly about it with me and constantly told me they were the luckiest parents in the world. In reality though, my brothers and I are the lucky ones, after all we basically won the lottery of life.

***I want to disclose that my mom didn’t ask me to write this. I wrote it because I’ve spent a lot of time at home this summer watching and listening to her passion and enthusiasm for telling our story.

I wrote it for her and my dad because I know how much they treasure my brothers and me. They both do so much for us that I wanted to do something meaningful for them and I know that writing this will mean more than any material gift I could ever give to them.


Visit Jane’s post adoption blog here



Graced by his Legacy

Adoptees from around the country come to Eugene, Oregon to celebrate the 80th birthday of Dr. David Kim

by Susan Soonkeum Cox, Vice President of Policy and External Affairs

Saturday, September 22, 2011. Approximately 300 people gathered in Eugene to celebrate the 80th birthday of Dr. David H. Kim. Many of the guests were first generation adoptees coming from around the country. Some call themselves the “first wavers,” indicating they were the first wave of children who came to the U.S. to their adoptive families.

I first met David Kim in Korea when I was 4 years old. He remembers that I was a little girl with a round face, sad eyes and hair that had been dyed coal black to make me look more Korean. My hair was in the process of growing out, and David recalls that the grow-outs “looked like there was a saucer on [my] head.”

I knew David before I knew my mother and father. It was David who helped to fill in the blanks of my history that began in Korea, a history that was unknown to me. When I was growing up, I saw David a number of times, and his warm and generous personality was always a comfort to me.

One of the most important blessings of my years at Holt has been to work with David, a wonderful teacher, mentor and friend. His vision and commitment are contagious, and it’s an honor to follow as he has led through adversity, challenges and victories on behalf of children.

Much of what I believe about adoption and advocacy I learned from David. I’ve listened to him talk with passion about the needs of children and our responsibility to respond – and to respond with urgency. I’ve often heard David say, “If children have to wait until adults and governments agree on what should be done, the children will have white whiskers. They can’t wait.”

David has pioneered motherland tours, heritage camps and the commitment to acknowledge the importance of culture and heritage for adoptees. He was a powerful and forceful advocate during the drafting of the Hague Convention on adoption, teaching that the life-long issues of adoption should be considered a priority.

I am not alone in my regard for David Kim. Over the years, he has personally touched the lives of many of us. For those adoptees who have not had the good fortune to know David personally, you should know that your life has been graced by his life, by his efforts on your behalf. In a small way, we are all a legacy to the devotion and compassion of this extraordinary man.

Happy Birthday, David Kim.

Taking the Next Step




Born 12/26/06

by Ashli Keyser, Managing Editor

“There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear”—1 John 4:18


Fear can hold us back from many things. It can keep us from applying for that job. Keep us from getting on that airplane, or auditioning for that school play.

Fear and worry can also go hand in hand in the adoption process. What if I don’t bond with my child right away? What if they don’t bond with me? What if something goes wrong?

It was fear, at first, that kept the Wilson family from taking a closer look, and taking the next step to their daughter, Tamara.

“Tamara’s bio on the Waiting Child photolisting seemed a little scary at first,” says Kari Wilson. “I initially passed her by, thinking she was just too ‘involved’ for our family.”

Months later, the Wilson family decided to take that next step when they came across their future daughter’s photo in Holt’s magazine. “She had medical problems — Cerebral Palsy, spastic diplegia and possible cognitive deficit — but she also had a sparkle in her eye and a little spunk in her posture. It was enough to move us into action to find out more.”

And the rest, they say, is history.

“What was revealed through Tamara’s videos and pictures, and monthly reports helped us to understand her medical conditions and lowered the ‘fear factor’ in the adoption process,” says Kari. “She was another one of God’s wonderful creations. How could we have passed her by?”

Tamara came home from India in 2008. “She will always have some physical challenges, but she is a sharp child with a lot of determination and spunk. It will serve her well in the future.” Says Kari.

God wanted Tamara to be with the Wilson family. He didn’t allow initial, and reasonable, fears to come between Tamara and the Wilsons. He cast out the fears and made room for love. God gave the Wilsons peace to move forward, and they are so happy they did.

I wonder how many people have read 4-year-old Hayden’s Waiting Child bio. And I wonder how many people have thought that his conditions are just “too involved.” It’s understandable. Reading words like “Cerebral Palsy” can be scary.

But there’s much more to Hayden than a simple 220-word description. He might require a closer look. Lisa Lowery, Holt adoption services coordinator for northeast Asia, who met him last year, certainly agrees. Continue reading “Taking the Next Step”

I Am Adopted

A Holt-Korea adoptee answers the question, “What’s interesting about me?”


by David VanArsdale

David with his parents, James and Rebekah, and sister, Stephanie

When you’re a traveler, you meet “interesting” people. I put that word in quotes, because if you’ve been backpacking before, you know that “interesting” can mean just about anything.  During my recent journey through Southeast Asia, I would sometimes wonder, “What’s interesting about me?” Compared to some of the characters I met, I didn’t think I was that special.  I met a minimalist traveler; he only owned 40 things and all of them were in his backpack.  I met a celiac traveler; he was on a mission to show how easy it is to travel, even if you’re allergic to wheat. I met a crazy traveler; he had thrown a grenade at a cow in Cambodia.  And then there was plain, old me — “Hi, I’m David and I’m from the U.S.”. Not that cool.  But what I’ve come to realize is that you don’t need to have “a thing.” Traveling is personal.  We all travel for our own reasons, even if we’re not aware of them at the time. And that’s why I’m writing this article — to tell you why this trip was an especially interesting trip for me.  I was adopted from Seoul and this was my first time back in Asia. And that is kind of a big deal.

As a Korean adoptee, there have been times when I didn’t feel like I belonged in America.  This sense of belonging is something I’ve thought about my entire life — as do most adopted children. That said, it would help to cover my background.

In 1985, I was adopted when I was 4 months old by my loving parents. Continue reading “I Am Adopted”

Is Kyle in your future?

Kyle, born June 28, 2009 in China, is this week’s waiting child.

by Robin Munro, Senior Writer

Before you became a “grown up,” how did you envision your future?

Did you see yourself with two kids, one kid, no kids?  A daughter and a son?  Two daughters?  Three boys? Did you imagine a life of adventure, solo and free, or a life of domestic bliss, surrounded by family?

At some point, did your plans change?

Maybe you changed.  Maybe your circumstances changed.  Either way, it can be hard to let go of the future you envisioned for yourself.  But when you do, you might be pleasantly surprised by the future that awaits you.

When adoptive parents Diane and Troy Sturgeon let go of the dream daughter they always envisioned, they finally found their happy ending – in Aiden.

“After close to 15 years of waiting, we had certain expectations,” Diane wrote in an article for the summer 2011 Holt magazine.  “We’d waited this long, we wanted the ‘perfect,’ healthy baby girl – shiny black hair in pig tails, a Cupid’s-bow mouth, and dark, almond-shaped eyes.  Well, we DID get our perfect child, the perfect child for us.  That child just happens to be a boy and happens to have some special needs.”

The Sturgeons’ story is typical of many adoptive families in recent years.  They hear upsetting statistics about girls abandoned in China, and approach Holt hoping to adopt a little girl.  Their minds are set.  They want a girl. Then they learn some surprising facts.  They learn that just as many boys wait for families in China.  That because so many families want girls, boys actually wait longer — in EVERY country.  They learn that many of these boys have special needs.  And that what’s considered “special needs” can be as minor as a birthmark or missing fingers.

They also learn that it now takes an average of five years to adopt a healthy, infant girl from China.

Gradually, and sometimes sorrowfully, they let go of the “perfect, healthy baby girl” they always imagined.  And they open their hearts to the perfect child they never even knew their future held.

“Aiden is an amazing child with a gentle soul and a beautiful sense of humor,” writes Diane.  He also has complete hearing loss in his right ear.  “But what childhood,” she astutely asks, “is completely free from surprises or struggles?”

Meet Kyle*.

Kyle turned 2 on June 28th.  At just one month old, Kyle was found by policemen, determined abandoned, and sent to live in an orphanage in China.  He had pneumonia, and abnormal motion of his right limbs.  With nurturing care, he recovered from the pneumonia.  But a CT scan showed abnormal softening of his brain.  The doctor diagnosed Kyle with hemiplegia – or paralysis of the muscles on the right side of his body – and recommended rehabilitative training.

With rehabilitation, Kyle has overcome many of his early struggles.  His most recent child report states that his physical growth and development is now on par with his peers!

Kyle is a cuddly little guy with big, round, curious eyes and an extroverted personality.  He now lives with a foster family, to whom he’s grown very attached.  He loves to explore, actively responds when people engage him, and takes quick notice of changes in his surroundings.  He likes music and games, brightly colored toys that make noise, and imitating sounds and words.  He is especially happy when others pick him up and hold him.

Kyle also happens to be a boy and he happens to have some special needs.  But for one hopeful family, he might just be the perfect child they never knew their future held — and they the perfect family for Kyle!

This spirited toddler would do best in a family that has the resources for any medical care he may need and is open to some unknowns.

For more information about Kyle, please contact Erin Mower at

*name changed

26 Miles for Ethiopia…..

Kari Wilson, mother of 3 children adopted through Holt, will run in the Omaha marathon on September 25th with her son, Nick, raising funds to help maintain Holt’s program in Ethiopia.  Read the Wilson family’s adoption story below, and show your support for the marathon runners by helping them reach their goal of $10,000!….click here to help.


by Kari Wilson

Our adoption journey started shortly after the birth of our third child in 2002. I had this feeling that our family wasn’t complete and felt God tugging at my heart to look into adoption. I brought the idea up to my husband, Pat. He just chuckled and thought I was joking.

A few years passed, and I went on a short-term mission trip to Russia. That trip made a profound impact on my life and really changed the course of our future. After a lot of prayer, I presented the idea to Pat again and this time he said yes. God had been working on his heart also.

We began the adoption process for Russia with another agency. After four months of working on our dossier, we felt discouraged and felt as if the doors were closing. Perhaps adoption was not in our future. One day, during a casual conversation with a stranger, I was told about Holt International. Out of curiosity, I checked their website and found the Waiting Child program. As I browsed through the photos of children waiting for homes, I clicked on a small boy from South Korea who had been diagnosed with spina bifida and hypospadias with chordee. This little guy was smiling from ear to ear. I immediately showed Pat and he agreed that this little boy looked like a “Wilson.”

We are both physical therapists and knew based on his developmental level that his first diagnosis was not accurate. We called to request his medical records and history. Two days later it arrived. With much anticipation, I sat down to read it. I began to cry, realizing that God had shut the doors on our earlier adoption attempt because our son was waiting for us in Korea.

We soon found out, from a neurosurgeon, that he did not have spina bifida but rather a small, soft tissue defect at the base of his spine. We were comfortable with his second diagnosis because one of our biological children also had it.

We began to tell friends of our switch to South Korea. As I described our new son to one of our friends, she began to fill in my sentences as if she already new him. Soon she was crying and explaining to me that her good friend, Christina, had sent her a picture of this same little boy, asking if she knew of someone to adopt him. Christina was also a physical therapist and knew he was healthier than his diagnosis indicated. A few days later I received a card from Christina. It read…

“I cannot express to you how happy I am that Brandon will be coming home. I fell in love with him from the first moment I saw his picture. Each night I prayed that he would find his forever family. I showed his picture to many families I thought might consider another child. I watched his picture on the Waiting Child photolisting, hoping it would read ‘I have a family!’ I nicknamed him “sunshine boy.” What a blessing it is that he will be joining such a wonderful family. I feel incredibly fortunate that he will be coming to Omaha. I will get to meet him, hold him and watch him grow. (I thought I’d be lucky just to exchange emails with his new family.) I’m so excited that you will experience the miracle of adoption!”

I knew that this could only have been orchestrated by God. Not only were we given a new son, but also we gained a dear friend.

Six months later, in Seoul, South Korea, we were holding our son. What a miracle it was!

Three months after Brandon arrived home our older kids ambushed us. They said, “It’s so unfair that Allie is the only girl. We really need another girl in this family.” Continue reading “26 Miles for Ethiopia…..”

Laura Needs a Family NOW!


UPDATE: An eligible family has been identified for Laura and her file has been transferred to Madison Adoption Associates.  Thank you for your overwhelming and compassionate response.  Please contact Madison with any further inquiries about Laura.

Calling all families, from all agencies…

Laura* is now 13, and only has four months to find a family before she turns that pivotal age for orphaned and abandoned children in China.  Once she reaches 14 next January, she will become ineligible for international adoption.

Laura’s story is not typical of abandoned girls in China, most of which begin with a carefully bundled baby found on a roadside.  Laura only came into care recently, at 12 years old – leaving her a very short window of time to find a family.

Directors at Laura’s orphanage are now asking us to help find her a loving home – before it’s too late.

Because of this short timeframe, only these families are eligible to adopt Laura: families who have dossiers already logged in with the CCCWA in China, or families who have adopted from China within the past year.

If Laura’s story touches your heart, and your family meets these criteria – whatever your agency – please contact Holt’s China team as soon as possible.  We will work with the central authority in China to help transfer her referral to your agency.

When she first came into orphanage care, Laura kept mostly to herself.  Although shy and timid, her caregivers observed her to be quite thoughtful and self-possessed.  Gradually, she became more outgoing with both the children and the caregivers – or “aunts and sisters.”

“I have made a lot of friends since I got here, including my best friend,” Laura writes.  “The sisters and aunts are very nice to me.”  The sisters sometimes bring the children to their homes, where they play and have snacks.  They teach the girls to draw and write, and practice songs and dances.

Laura’s caregivers also told her all about international adoption.  Earlier this month, Laura wrote, “The sisters told me many orphans were adopted by nice families in the past.  I also hope I will have a happy home.”

The sisters and aunts describe Laura as “very honest and clever.”  She is a quick learner and a good student, loves to read and can even say a few simple phrases in English.

Her caregivers have also noticed another outstanding quality in Laura.

She “usually gives much love and care to the younger sisters and brothers,” they write.  “When she sees that younger sisters and brothers are not happy, she will take her snacks to share with them, and comfort them to make them happy.”  Laura’s spirit is so resilient, her will so strong, that she is not only concerned about herself and her own happiness, but about those around her as well.

All children deserve a happy home – whether they’re born into one, or find one later in life.  Let us hope and pray and do all we can to ensure Laura’s journey ends in a loving family… and a happy home.

For more information about Laura, please contact Marissa Leuallen at

* name changed


What Grandma Would Have Loved……

UPDATE: As of April 2012, Jason has a family! Congratulations Jason!!

Birthday:  February 3, 2007

Northeast Asia


by Ashli Keyser, managing editor

Two days separate the birthday of one beloved woman, and one special little boy –Holt’s waiting child of the Week, Jason. This year, we hope to honor Bertha “Grandma” Holt on her birthday, by finding a family for Jason on his.

February 5th, 2007. We remembered Bertha “Grandma” Holt on what would have been her 104th birthday. Two days prior to this special day, a special boy named Jason was born in Northeast Asia.

Grandma loved every child, but she had a special place in her heart for children with special needs. She once said, “All children are beautiful when they are loved.” This quote has since become a hallmark of this organization. It’s what keeps us going even when finding a home for a child becomes difficult or seems impossible. We fight for the child. We honor Grandma Holt on her birthday every year because without her love and willingness to fight for all of God’s children – children, like Jason, wouldn’t have the hope of one day having a family of their own.

Jason has Down syndrome. He needs a family who is comfortable with his diagnosis and can provide him with any therapies or medical care that he may need. What he needs most is the love of a family.

Last week, I contacted Grandma’s daughter, Molly Holt, and asked her about Jason. “I’m so glad you are trying to find a family for this little fellow,” she wrote. “He is happy and healthy, runs around and is the center of attention. I hope he finds a family soon! He is loved by everyone.”


Grandma Holt no doubt would have loved Jason too.

She would have loved his smile. She would have loved giving him hugs, just as much as he loves giving them.  Grandma would have loved reading him his favorite stories, and singing him “The Three Bears” — his favorite song.  She would have loved Jason’s beautiful spirit, the one that shines through ever time he laughs – which is often, according to his caregivers.

Grandma would have loved Jason. And she would have fought to find him a family — just as her daughter, Molly, and the rest of the organization fights for him today.

In 6 months, Jason will turn 5. Two days later, Holt, once again, will honor the life of Grandma Holt— a woman who made it possible for all of God’s Waiting Children to have homes of their own. What better way to honor the life of this extraordinary woman on her birthday, than for Jason to find a family on his.

We have 6 months to give Jason the best birthday present he could ask for.

And what a beautiful birthday present that would be for Grandma.

For Jason to have a family, that’s what Grandma would have loved most of all.

To learn more about Jason, click here or contact Erin Mower at








Go, Team Holt!

Ten Holt supporters need YOUR support as they run for the children in Ethiopia.  Holt adoptive mom and member of Team Holt Cathy Morin shares her story below.

I look forward to the Holt marathon every year!  This will be my fourth year as a member of Team Holt.

I learned about Holt International through some good friends who adopted two beautiful children. When I started looking into adoption, I knew that Holt was the agency for me. On April 3, 2008, about one year after starting my adoption journey, my son Jack came home and was delivered into my arms on what turned out to be the best day of my life – the day I officially became a mom. I remember so many things about that day, and every day since then with my little guy has been a joy.

As a participant on the Holt team, I am spreading the word about an amazing agency and raising donations to help the agency continue its vital work around the world.

I will be running the 10K portion of the Omaha marathon this year. My goal is to raise $400 for Holt’s Ethiopia program. Will you help me? Any donation amount is appreciated, and 100% of the donation goes directly towards maintaining and growing Holt’s Ethiopia program.

Thank you,

Cathy Morin

Help Cathy reach her goal! Click here to support Cathy and the rest of the marathon runners!…..


The Tiger Mother Got It Wrong

These families are getting it right.

For the past four years, Chris Zhen has served as a program assistant for Holt’s projects in Guangzhou, China.  As more and more older children join adoptive families overseas, Chris has played an integral role in helping them prepare for the transition from orphanage life in China to family life in the U.S.  Six months ago, he came to the U.S. for an internship at Holt’s headquarters in Eugene, Oregon – giving him a rich opportunity for training, and also to see adopted children now living with their families.  He most recently visited two girls – one 11, the other 14 – and their families in Los Angeles.  Here, he shares his observations about their progress navigating a new culture and a new family — as well as his opinion of Amy Chua, the so-called “Tiger Mother.”

Quinn, 11, made a poster to welcome Chris to L.A.

This was my first trip to L.A., which is the largest city that I’ve ever seen from a plane.  In this city, I would be visiting two girls adopted from the same orphanage in China, where they started their friendship many years before.  I met Chuan Mei and Quinn over a year ago, while assisting with a program to help older children prepare for adoption to the U.S.  Since that time, both Chuan Mei and Quinn have come home to their families in California.  The girls stay in good touch by calling and visiting each other often.

I was invited to L.A. to attend Chuan Mei’s 14th birthday party, but first, I would meet up with Quinn and her family.  When I arrived, Quinn’s mom, Beth, picked me up at the airport.  Her three adopted daughters, including Quinn, were sitting in the back of the car. Quinn was almost silent all the way home, since she was reading a book. I asked her only one question in Cantonese: “Do you want me to call you Bai Yun Qing in Cantonese, or Quinn in English?” Bai Yu Qing is Quinn’s original Chinese name, given to her by the orphanage. She said she didn’t know.  Beth smiled and admitted Quinn was still her “I-don’t-know girl,” as her usual response to most questions is still, “I have no idea” or “I don’t know” – even when the question comes from me.  (This surprised me, as Quinn and I have gotten to know each other pretty well over the past year and a half.)

Quinn’s hesitation to say what she thinks partly boils down to her personality, but it also has a lot to do with growing up in an institution, and growing up in China.

Continue reading “The Tiger Mother Got It Wrong”