Holding a baby at the orphanage in Huehuetenango


Just a quick note...

We've been asked over and over again how we've created such a ridiculously awesome life.

We've analyzed how it happened, and it's the basis of our book on Living Deliberately.


Life never turns out the way you think it will.

Greg and I had been married less than a year when we decided to adopt. We'd been 'trying' to get pregnant, but it hadn't happened yet, so we decided, "Why wait?"

Really, it was God's doing. Kyah was meant to be a part of our family. Just after our one year anniversary we submitted our adoption papers. Four months later she was born and joined our family at only five days old.

Eighteen months later her little brother was born. And then they just kept coming.

We'd always talked about adopting again, so that Kyah wasn't the 'only one'. That was the 'plan'. But life is what happens while you're busy making plans.

There never seemed to be a chance to adopt again. The babies just kept coming. We did look into adopting in the Dominican Republic. Greg talked about doing it in Belize.

But really, I'm ready to be done. At least that's what I've been telling Greg (and God) for quite some time now (in fact, before Atlas was born).

I love Atlas. He's so much fun, and has so much love to give me. Yet there's a three year gap between he and his older sister, and this time around, I've really begun to realize how much work babies are!

Sleepless nights, countless diaper changes. Feeding, dressing, bathing - you have to do everything for them. And traveling with babies - wow! I never remembered how challenging it is.

So although Greg still makes occasional "I think we should adopt again" comments, I've kept all thoughts of such nonsense out of my head.

Sometimes I wonder if God has different plans.

On a recent trip to Xela, we drove on to Huehuetenango to visit an orphanage - Fundacion Salvacion.

I've been to orphanages before. I know what to expect. But I'm still always shocked by the stories I hear:

  • Newborn babies being found in garbage dumpsters.
  • Mentally challenged women being raped, resulting in two or three unwanted children.
  • Prostitute mothers who drug their child so they won't wake up while she brings men home at night.
  • Children beat to the point of being bloody and bruised.
  • Little bellies going hungry without enough food to eat.
Comprehend for a moment what that actually means. Can you imagine anything like that happening to one of your children? It would be a life-altering tragedy.

I grew up somewhere between poor and middle class. Sometimes I felt that my life was 'tough' because funds were tight, and it seemed that we were at the 'low' end of the scale.

At times I felt deprived because we couldn't have the latest and greatest, or buy name-brand clothes. I remember one time we received a bag of hand-me-downs that had a pair of Guess Jeans just my size - except they were for boys. You could tell they were for boys, because the boys' Guess symbol had a green triangle, and the girls had red.

I REALLY wanted to have a pair of Guess Jeans, but I was too embarrassed to wear boys jeans. So I painted the triangle with red finger-nail polish. I think only a few people noticed.

That's the kind of things that consumed my thoughts - name-brand clothes, 'fitting in' and never 'being cool enough'. I wanted to be able to buy Discman's and the newest CD's. That's what my peers were concerned with. That was the world we knew. That's what mattered to me.

I didn't know how good I had it. I never experienced anything close to the stories of these kids.

Back at the orphanage in Huehue, we play with the children and hold babies.

I was holding this little girl (above), when Aaliyah (5) asked for a turn. I sat the baby on her lap and she held on tight.

After a few minutes, the baby's small, soft brown eyes looked up at me, and then around at each of the faces in the room, searching for one that was familiar. She was looking for 'mommy', the one recognizable face that you can always count on, the one 'sure thing' in the world.

All at once my heart broke with the forcible reminder that she has no mommy. I'm sure she recognizes the faces of the women who work there and care for her. But how could they ever replace 'mother' - the one person who holds you and cuddles you and kisses your 'owies' and tucks you in at night and reads you stories?

Despite what I thought I 'lacked' in coolness during my childhood, I had what counted most - a roof over my head, food to eat and a mom and dad that loved and taught me.

This sweet, innocent baby looks around in vain for that familiar face, and then she starts to cry. I pick her up and hold her close, trying in vain to comfort her. She whimpers and wails, longing for a person she doesn't even know, but instinctively craves.

My heart aches and tears well up in my eyes. My little children have me to look to everyday. Who does this little girl have?

Then powerfully the feeling comes, "I could be a mommy to a child like this. I have love to give. I could be there for a little one that otherwise would spend the rest of their life searching in vain for a face they might not find."

A frightening and soul-resonating thought.

Outside in the courtyard, I share my experience with my husband. I tell him about the pitiful plight of a baby without loving parents.

"Maybe we should adopt a baby," I say to him, but then the 'rational', 'logical' me retorts. "But I DON'T want to adopt a baby. They're so much work! And we're so busy already."

It's hard to be unselfish, to do more, to be more, to make a difference in the world. Those are no small orders. It's easy to stay comfortable and to 'take on less'.

For most of my life I lived in a little bubble, comfortable in my temperature controlled, pest-controlled, HOA regulated house in a suburbia neighborhood surrounded with people just like me. I thought about how I wanted to paint my living room, what decorations I should buy, if we could get a new car, and worried about my 'problems' - things like not having enough money to pay the mortgage or the car payments.

If I did hear about 'real' problems in the world - like starving children or sex-trafficking - I behaved like Scrooge, telling the Spirit of Christmas Present to 'cover' up Ignorance and Want. "I do not wish to see them."

The words of Tracy Kidder ring too true,

There are lots of miserable places [and situations] in the world. The way to live comfortably is to not think about them.”

That's why travel has rocked my world. It's gotten me out of my 'little corner of the earth' and has given me new images and ideas to think about. Traveling for the first time at the age of nineteen to Tijuana, Mexico actually shocked me, because I encountered poverty for the first time. I never knew there were places in the world like that. It wasn't until I began to travel with my own four children that I realized, most of the world is like that.

The world has a lot of ugliness and a lot of problems that need solving. I can't try to pretend they don't exist just because it makes me uncomfortable.

Only one of these children lives with parents who love him

I may not see the ugliness, or think about it, but it's still there. Someone's child is going hungry tonight, even if it's not yours. Some woman is being abused. Somebody's mother is sick.

Children starve. Babies are abandoned. Women are raped. Disease. Poverty. Illiteracy. Violence. This stuff really does happen.

In the words of the Spirit of Christmas Present,

Beware them, for they spell the downfall of you, and all who deny their existence.”

Travel has helped me learn to not close my eyes to the ugliness in the world, but to begin to look it squarely in the face.

Even looking at it in the face, it's still hard to 'do' something about it. And do I really want to anyway. It seems like an awfully big responsibility. And a whole lot of work. I have enough to worry about already. Like the bills. And my books. And raising my own kids. And what about my career?

But I don't have to be overwhelmed by all the 'bad' things in the world, and more importantly, of my own perceived inability (or desire) to 'do anything' about it. I may not know what to do, but at the very least, I can acknowledge that it exists.

I can open my eyes. I can give it some serious thought and allow my heart and soul to be touched by it. I can even shed a few tears.

I can't save this baby, or any other baby at this orphanage. Guatemalan law doesn't allow you to adopt a child you know. You can't make any requests (and you have to be a resident of Guatemala to adopt here).

But that doesn't mean I can't allow myself to be touched by these children and their tragic stories. I can still open my heart. I can allow myself to be 'disturbed'. Perhaps their story will influence my future decisions. Connecting with them creates a ripple effect that will influence the life of someone else, maybe a future child. I do my part by remaining open and willing to act if and when the time is right.

There's so much heartache, suffering and 'wrong' in the world that sometimes it seems too overwhelming.

But shutting our eyes to it doesn't make it go away. We can't help everyone. We can't fix everything. But we can open our eyes and our hearts and allow ourselves to be affected.

And if we wonder, "Why doesn't somebody do something about ________?' Well, you're somebody. Why don't you do it? Even if it helps just one person, it will matter to them. And maybe their children. And their children's children. It can make a difference.

Brooks Baumgartner had his perfect life planned out. He attended a prestigious university in California, graduated as Valedictorian, and had a career path all lined up.

Then he took a trip to Guatemala for spring break, and volunteered and Fundacion Salvacion. His heart was touched, "Jesus messed me up," he says.

Changing his life plans, he moved to Guatemala, and started MoreThanCompassion.org, giving everything he has to making sure these kids have a chance at life:

There's always a possibility for change. The more we allow ourselves to feel the pain and suffering of others.. the more we realize the true nature of the world we live in, and the more we see how interconnected our stories truly are. Then it is no longer about 'their' story, but about 'our' story."

We all have a contribution to make. We all have a story to tell.

How will 'our' story end? Will we adopt again? Will it be here in Guatemala? Never say never. Only God knows.

However 'our story' turns out, these children will be a part of it.

What will be your story?

This post is part of a series on Humanitarian Work:

PLEASE check out MoreThanCompassion.org, and get involved if you feel inspired to do so.




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21 Responses

  1. Cecelia Futch

    I am truly touched by your story. You inspire me to “live deliberately” every day. Blessings to you and your family, and thank you for sharing your world with us. Your children are truly blessed to have parents who live as deliberately as you and your husband do.


    • Rachel

      Thank you Cecelia, for reading. It’s because of you I write. Otherwise our journey would be silent – only for us to enjoy 🙂

  2. Marianne Cantwell

    “If we wonder, “Why doesn’t somebody do something about ________?’ Well, you’re somebody. Why don’t you do it?” Oooh… shivers. Seriously. Love this! Thank you for sharing. x

  3. Jen Kelly

    I love your post, Rachel! I wish we could just take all these sweet children home with us!
    Calvin and I are headed to Eagle’s Nest early tomorrow morning to work with the deaf orphans
    again. Sometimes I wonder how much I can help when there is so much sadness and need. If everyone
    just helps a few people along our journey of life, it makes a difference! God values and loves
    each soul on this earth. We can all change the world for the better- one person at a time.

  4. Lee

    That was beautiful. I know how the wanting to adopt but yet not wanting to take on more pendulum swings. It is an off and on conversation in our household. Like you, we shall see what the road ahead holds for us. I wouldn’t be surprised if we leave for a trip with three and come back with four.

  5. Claire

    If everyone just helps a few people along a journey of life, it makes a difference! Thanks for letting me stopped by.

  6. Melody

    That part about not wanting to mess up your comfortable life? That’s me. I have two kids, 5 and 10, who have become really good at taking care of themselves, fairly patient travelers, fun to do stuff with. It’s a great situation all around. And yet somehow I keep thinking about adopting or fostering, which would totally mess up my life! And that sucks! Yet you said it well: These kids don’t have a MOM. They’re already leading difficult lives that will, without intervention, continue to worsen. If I can help make someone’s life better, maybe that’s worth my giving up a tiny bit of comfort. Thanks for the post.

  7. Laura

    Guatemala closed down their adoptions because many poor people in that country were actually having babies and selling them to orphanages, they know there is a demand for babies in western, industrialized nations. I would never adopt a baby from third world countries, because it causes more problems in those countries with baby selling and child trafficking. Sadly, too many people believe its the right thing to do and they are “rescuing” a child.

    • Rachel


      You are right about why Guatemala closed their adoptions to the U.S. Adoption is still open, but for residents only. In situations like that, more problems are caused when someone’s intent is to make money by selling a child. But when there are children in orphanages with no parents to look after them, some of them need some ‘rescuing’. I would adopt from a developing country, but only if I was there, not trying to arrange it from the U.S.

    • DeannaGordon

      There are over 147 million Orphans worldwide. The small number of children that are available through corruption should not deter families from helping those in need.
      Abuse and neglect, child trafficking, sex trafficking, aids, all of these CREATE orphans, denying them the chance at a happy and healthy life is sad.
      It is not the CHILD’S fault and they should not be the ones to suffer because of an Adults poor choices. 
      Adoption is redemption, and every child deserves to grow up safe in a loving family.

  8. StephaniexHartnett

    This is such a beautiful story. We’re at the beginning of our journey into adoption, and we’re looking into providing a loving home to a child from a developing country. Any advice would be great x

    • Rachel Denning

      Thanks Stephanie,

      How great that you’re pursuing adoption. If we were to adopt again, we would travel to the country that we wanted to adopt from and live there until the adoption was completed, avoiding adoption agencies, etc.

      You can work directly with orphanages, etc. when you’re in country, and the adoptions are much less expensive that way. You would have to ensure that the company was open to adoption, and do a lot of research before you go. This might not work for you, but living in the DR for six months cost less than adopting our daughter through an agency in the United States… this is just what we would do 🙂

    • RachelDenning

      Thanks Stephanie,
      How great that you’re pursuing adoption. If we were to adopt again, we would travel to the country that we wanted to adopt from and live there until the adoption was completed, avoiding adoption agencies, etc.
      You can work directly with orphanages, etc. when you’re in country, and the adoptions are much less expensive that way. You would have to ensure that the company was open to adoption, and do a lot of research before you go. This might not work for you, but living in the DR for six months cost less than adopting our daughter through an agency in the United States… this is just what we would do

  9. Dr sherry

    Are you interested in adoption, but not sure where to begin?

    Our Center receives numerous inquiries daily from prospective adoptive parent(s) who desire information about the adoption process, as well as information about our services including domestic adoptions, open adoptions, and pregnant adoptions, etc.

    As some inquiries are from prospective adoptive parent(s) who are “considering” adoption, and others are from prospective adoptive parent(s) who are “actively pursuing” an adoption plan,contact us now on:[email protected] or call us on +2348071149328 or +447024087924.


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