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Coach Chapman's Blog

Sorry about not having a blog post lately. Hooboy, it’s been crazy. You would think the school year ending would be easier than the beginning of school, but I am not so sure anymore. Between my school, the girls school, summer swimming, exams, applying to another school for Jayne (wait, what?!?), spring garage cleaning, oil changes, artwork to finish, daughter finishing her last class of college, yard-work, fences falling down, teaching BA swim camp, hiring young coaches to coach for me this summer, paperwork (I hate paperwork), hauling equipment to and from various pools for one thing or another, writing our ‘story’ for Dr. Joyce Hill’s new book, and well, you get the picture, life can be crazy. You’ve all been there with similar busy-ness. I just want to slow down…just for a minute.

Even though this is a blog primarily about Fahlin’s journey, Jayne is on one of her own as well. Jayne’s special needs trump just about everything you have ever seen or heard. They are plentiful. Yet, she is doing remarkably well. While she may never be a straight A student, her teachers and support personnel think the world of her and care about her deeply. We know this to be true by the way they responded when they heard she was accepted into Currey Ingram, a school whose specific mission is to help those children who have learning differences for one reason or another, or in Jayne’s case multiple reasons or another. One teacher in particular cried. Tears of both happiness and sadness. She doesn’t want to lose Jayne. She has seen the immense amount of progress she has made and has grown quite attached to Jayne. But, not to worry just yet, Currey Ingram is expensive. We haven’t quite figured out that part just yet; let alone logistics. It is all in God’s hands.

So, summer is about to begin. Our first month will be a whirlwind of swim meets. After that, we are planning on seeing the kids. I miss the kids (the big ones). As for Fahlin, hopefully she will remember how to swim. She jumped in my lessons last night and totally forgot everything we taught her last summer. She immediately sank to the bottom and one of my young assistants had to grab her. Not a good start to class. She eventually floated, then kicked a lap or two on a noodle. That was about it. Out of gas. We never really like to push her little heart too hard. So, she knocked off for the night and walked around all big and bad with a towel wrapped around her like the big girls. Oh Fahlly Fahl, what does the summer hold?

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Jayne and Fahlin

A Chapman Family Story

By: Jim and Yolanda Chapman

 

Jayne

It was June of 2006. I remember because I was leading a Show Hope Foundation trip of teenagers to China and to Hope Foster home in Beijing. I had known of Robin and Joyce Hill and had met them briefly, but at that time, only as an introduction. Of course, little did I know that the trip of 2006 was the trip where I would meet a very sick little un-named baby that would turn our lives upside down…again. I will explain.

In 2001, we had adopted our daughter, Izzy and four years later, through a series of supernatural events we adopted another daughter, Lydia.  The two daughters, Izzy and Lydia brought our total children count to six. We were finished. Done. No more children.

But during those trips, something happened in my heart. Not only did my wife and I fall deeply in love with those two little girls, but also fall in love with China and the Chinese people as well.

So that brings me back to the 2006 trip. It was much like any other trip, see the sights, work with babies, see more sights, play with more babies, eta some cuisine, go back to the orphanage, shop, play, work. The most impactful day of the trip was the last night we were in Beijing before heading back to the states. I was in Robin’s office, chatting, when a nurse brought in a baby. A very sick baby. She was pathetic. When they handed her to me, they told me that she had just recently arrived (from the Xinjiang Province in western China near Mongolia) and didn’t really know any details as to how she even got to Beijing. But what was known was that she near death, very sick, in need of numerous procedures and surgeries. She had no sponsor. I was overcome with emotion. A student took our picture. It still hangs on our refrigerator as a reminder. I reached into my pocket and pulled out every penny I had, Chinese and U.S and said, “Here, let me help.” I became her sponsor. It was then that I was able to give this little girl her American name. I had always liked ‘Jane.’ My wife never liked the name. She wouldn’t let any of our other four daughters be named ‘Jane’ so I decided to name ‘Jane’ ‘Jayne,’ with a ‘y’ to make it a little more fancy. Little did I know that four and a half years from that moment, Jayne would become our daughter.

I remember the email from Dr. Joyce vividly. The area from which Jayne came in western China was not known for adoptions. Jayne’s original orphanage had done the necessary paperwork and despite the many, many special medical needs that would typically prevent a child like Jayne from even being approved for adoption, she was able to be placed on the ‘special needs list.’ We could hear the surprise in Joyce’s email as she asked us to pray for Jayne and pray that she would find a family. We now know that was Joyce’s way of telling us, “She is already adopted and YOU are going to be her parents.”

I remember calling my sister, and told her that Jayne had been placed on the special needs list and that she was eligible to be adopted, something we have prayed for all along “Why don’t you guys adopt Jayne? After all, you named her!” And there you have it. First, an email from Joyce, then a phone call from Mary Beth, and voila, Jayne was ours. To be clear, it did not happen exactly like that, we did go through proper channels by contacting our agency, which in turn found her on the registry. We started our home study and next thing we knew, we were off to Beijing.

At first, she was a sad, brokenhearted little girl. She was scared and her future uncertain. Our future was uncertain. She was born with imperforate anus, brain damage, epilepsy, one kidney and a couple holes in her heart, all of which were fixed under the supervision of Dr. Joyce Hill, for that we are eternally grateful. We were concerned with how her bowels would function, how her brain would work missing a portion, if she would have seizures or not, how active she could or could not be, especially with one kidney; if she would be able to transition to understanding and speaking English. Making a long story short And after having been home a little while my wife received a call from one of the world’s most renown neurologists (whom my sister Mary Beth had met at a fundraising event some time before). He had looked at her medical files, tests, MRI’s, etc., and he asked two questions: 1. “Was she in a wheelchair?” She was not, she ran, hopped jumped, skipped and had learned how to swim. And 2. “Does she speak?” Yes, in fact she was transitioning from Chinese, which she had spoken the first four years of her life, to English just fine, thank you. He simply said, and I am paraphrasing, “Alrighty then, that’s good, according to her records she should be doing neither. She’s good to go!”

 

Fahlin

Fahlin was born in 2009, April Fool’s day to be exact. Maria’s Big House of Hope in Luoyang, China had just opened. At the time it was a huge six story building painted blue with white clouds all over it. While the details of how Fahlin came to be at the Big House, she was one of the ‘Original 8’ children who arrived at Maria’s. She was a very, very sick little girl. Having been diagnosed with a non-operable congenital heart disease her prognosis was bleak at best. She was not expected to live past one. And on top of that, she was purple. Her lips, fingers, tongue, gums, and skin were all bluish-purple. Her body was working overtime to provide oxygen to its cells. Life was a struggle.

I happened to be there on a mission trip, painting large white flowers with an orange center and one blue petal on the side of the Big House. Though I was not allowed on the palliative care floor where she was, I went up anyway to hold babies. I don’t remember much from that day, other than the overwhelming feeling helplessness that swept over me.

That was 2009. We adopted Fahlin five years later. Obviously, during those five years, Fahlin defied every bleak prognosis and survived. Year after year. She was bluish-purple because of her lack of circulation. She could barely do any physical activity because she would easily get winded. Amazingly, she grew up. She got to move out of palliative care and eventually ended up on the first floor where she became the ‘big sister’ to a room full of babies and toddlers.

So how did she come to live with us? Here’s what happened. Once again, my sister Mary Beth and her husband Steven were involved. It was July of 2014 and they had just returned from China. As the Founders of Show Hope, they will often go over to check on everything. We had just sat down at dinner when Yolanda asked Mary Beth, “I’ve got to ask, how’s Fahlin?”

She looked at Steven and said, “I swear I did not say anything.” Turning to Yolanda, she said, “Why are you asking about her?”

Yolanda responded, “I don’t know, God has put her name on my heart the past three or four months.”

At that point Mary Beth began to share with us how she and Steven had watched as Fahlin’s friend Jude was united with his new family. They watched as Fahlin stood there broken hearted with tears in her eyes as her last friend climbed into a vehicle with his new family, realizing that she did not have a family. She was the last of the ‘Original 8’ babies that were the first children to reside at Maria’s Big House. Seven had been adopted, and Fahlin remained. It was at that moment when my sister asked the Show Hope medical staff why Fahlin couldn’t be adopted.

Something to effect of, “If we could find the right family, knowing full well that it would most likely be a palliative care situation, we think she could be,” was the response.

At this point, we committed to finding her a family, and, as Yolanda put it that night, “If no one else will adopt her, we will.” She looked at me knowing full well I would totally be in, of course.

She was five years old at this point. When she turned six, she possibly would have to return to the state run orphanage and leave everything behind. Dr. Joyce and my sister, and the staff doctor at Maria’s all agreed, she must not return to the state orphanage. And just like that the Fahlin ball was rolling. I think we set a record as to how fast we could get paperwork done. God set a record as well for his ‘door openings,’ which were happening at a fast and furious pace, and about seven months later in February of 2015, my wife and I along with my sister Mary Beth and her road manager, David Trask were headed to China. The amount of red tape we able to circumvent truly stretched all the way to China and back.

While Fahlin truly wanted a forever family, the initial transition was extremely difficult. She was still a very sick little girl. She was very scared. Who were these people? Where am I? She had so many questions. She understood she had what she had always wanted, a family, but now was pretty uncertain what all of that meant. She took to me pretty well, but did not seem too interested in her new Mom. We had been through this before and understood that patience and time would solve this, but it was still difficult.

With her specific heart condition, air travel was dangerous. Our doctors told us at first that she would not be able to fly. After considerable research and consultations with our pediatrician and then with the heart doctors at Vanderbilt University, it was decided that she could fly if she were connected to oxygen. The fear was he could go into heart failure at altitude. We were very concerned, of course. The Chinese government even forbade us from flying with oxygen while in China. We had to take the train everywhere, from the orphanage, to the consulate in Guangzhou and even private cars to Hong Kong from where we were to fly home. It wasn’t until later, after we had gotten home, that we found out from our cardiac team at Vanderbilt that even though we had flown with her attached to oxygen, she literally could have suffered a massive heart attack on the plane. Flying was, it turned out, was indeed that dangerous.

[We had known this and as a precaution, had made alternative plans to train her from Beijing, through Russia, through Europe to England, then hop on the Queen Mary and sail to New York where Uncle Steve would be waiting with his bus to truck her on down to Music City. This would have taken nearly a month and we were not sure there was any less risk, in fact even thought the stress of that trip might even be too much for her little body]

During one of a series of tests at Vanderbilt, echocardiograms, MRI’s, heart catheterizations, etc., etc., they had found that her blood was as thick as molasses. Having gotten that under control with blood thinners, and during one of her heart cath procedures, the doctors placed a stent in her right pulmonary artery, which would allow for better blood flow, followed by the placement of a shunt between the aorta and a very tiny left pulmonary artery, again in hopes of increasing blood flow and even growing a new pulmonary artery. Our little purple girl has made remarkable progress and, thanks to the stents and shunt, gradually turned pink. The team of doctors has since given us encouraging news that they could in fact save Fahlin’s life and offer her hope for bright future. They have mapped out a plan that they are confident will give Fahlin a new lease on life. What was once a hopeless cause with a one percent survival rate, suddenly was now an optimistic prognosis that with a couple of specific heart surgeries performed by one of the leading pediatric heart surgeons in the world, she has been given a 97% chance of getting a college education and living a productive life. Fahlin is definitely a trooper, and continues to defy the odds.

Jayne and Fahlin: What’s next?

So that is where we are. Jayne turned eleven on May 7th; Fahlin turned 8 on April 1st. Two little girls whose humble beginnings to their lives offered zero hope for any type of quality life. In fact, the only thing certain in their lives was uncertainty. But here we are, all these years later. These same two little girls have been through a lot. Their little bodies bear the battle scars of rough beginning to life and serve as reminder to us of everything they’ve been through. It was a very real possibility that God had called us to adopt two little girls who very well could have died in our arms. But now they have a family. They are thriving. The two of them have now have six brothers and sisters who dearly love them, an extended family of Aunts and Uncles and Brothers and Sisters-in-Laws and grandparents who are all committed to caring for these girls. While there are still many obstacles still to overcome, both short and long term, these two ‘fighters’ who have become fast friends have a lot of life ahead of them to live. God must have something big planned for these two, Jayne and Fahlin, because at this point they are simply, “Walking, talking, heart-still-beating Miracles,” with a capital ‘M.’

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Grandson Nash is in town for a week. How does this effect Fahlin? Hooo boy, a LOT! The dynamic between those two is, well, a study in psychology to be sure. First of all, if you ask Fahlin if she likes her nephew, she will tell you an emphatic “No!” [Excuse me while I go change a poopy diaper.] We are not sure why, but this trip I decided to watch closely and observe.

The very first thing Nash did when he saw Fahlin was to walk up behind her, reach out with both hands, grab two full locks of hair and yank! Hard! At that moment he screaming and wailing commenced, and the battle was on. Every time Nash would come close to Fahlin, she would cry, or yell, or scream. She would get up and run to a new spot yelling, “No, no Nash!” Or, “Stay away!” Or even, “I don’t like him!”

Hmmm? So I continued to observe. And what did I find? A little girl who was not quite as innocent as she seemed. When he would walk by where she was sitting and catch her off guard, she would knock him down with a subtle push. One time he was on the opposite end of the couch and as he crawled closer to her she turned around and nudged him off the couch with a thud. She would give him the cold shoulder and even turn her nose up at him.

And so the battle raged. Hair pulls here, knock downs there. Meanness and ugliness on Fahlin’s part, retaliation on Nash’s part. Until last night. For some reason, Nash wanted to follow Fahlin around. She did not like that. So we told him to “Get her!” he took off, she screamed and took off as well, terrified of what the little monster might do once he captured her. Around and around they went, terrifying screams and giggles mixed between the two of them. Finally, down the hall they went, Fahlin in the lead, monster baby right behind. Fahlin ran into the downstairs bedroom with Nash right behind. The door slammed! Right onto Nash’s head and arms and body. The terrifying ordeal had come to a climax with violent end and the monster baby lying on the floor crying after having been smashed by the door, which Fahlin had slammed into his face. Well, it looked and sounded much worse than it turned out to be. Didn’t even leave a mark.

Epilogue:

Later that evening, Fahlin turned the tables. After putting all the terrifying moments with Nash behind her, she began to play with Nash. They ran, and played, played and ran. This morning when they woke up, they were big buds. Still are as of this moment. Ah, kids. Go figure.

The end? I think not…to be continued…

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Esther 4:14b “…Yet who knows whether you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” As my wife and I navigate through these uncertain times with Fahlin, and Jayne for that matter, both of whom have severe medical needs as you well know, there are moments when we look at each other and remind ourselves that this is our calling and now is the time God has placed us where we are, in this timeframe of the world’s history; to be here for these children regardless of the difficulties we encounter along the way. This is our time.

Case in point: Fahlin is hard. Cute on the outside. Cute to everyone else, but hard. Every now and then she goes into this mean spirited, hateful mood where she will not have anything to do with her Dad. This has nothing to do with my picking on her, that is self-inflicted and purposeful on my part. This is different. It is very hateful and hurtful…that is if I were tempted to allow it to hurt. I know for certain she loves her family and her Dad. I looked at my wife and she looked at me last night. We were both thinking, “What’s up with this?”  She even remarked, “I don’t know why she does this Honey.” She still calls me honey.

It prompted us to have a very serious conversation about Fahlin being ‘hard.’ I told her something like, “You know, if this were kid number one or two, I might feel different, but since she is number eight and since we have been put in this position to be her caretakers, this does not offend me at all. In fact, if anything, it makes me want to love her even more.”

Yolanda simply said, “She is hard.” We do not know what brings this on. Almost certainly it has something to do with China, her condition, her early life, her care…everything we don’t know. On the other hand, we want to help. We’ve been called to help and this is where we are at this very moment, for such a time as this.

The best thing for me to come out of all of this is that I have finally; we have finally realized that this does not seem to affect us the way things like this affected us when we were younger parents. We don’t get mad. We don’t get flustered. We don’t over-react. We actually love better. Love stronger. Pray harder. Hmmm, maybe we are finally developing wisdom? Jim Chapman being wise is not usually a phrase that is used to describe Jim Chapman.  It’s kind of weird, but, after all these years, maybe it’s finally clicking. And maybe this is the piece, or should I say, peace we have needed all along that will us navigate this road ahead with Fahlin. She is hard.

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