By Kim Sturgeon
Our adoption journey began in a women’s Bible study group at my church with a prayer request shared for Kujtim, a 2-year old Albanian boy in need of a forever family. Kujtim was given up by his birth parents shortly after birth and placed in an orphanage. He was born with hydrocephalus, which resulted in significant physical and cognitive impairments. Sadly, this meant that it would be very difficult for Kujtim to be placed in an adoptive family.
Upon hearing Kujtim’s story, I felt God asking my husband and me to pursue his adoption. I can’t say that it was because we had been praying about or pursuing adoption at the time. In fact, we already had a busy family with four young boys. But the calling was undeniable. God’s Word calls us to care for the widows and orphans, and I felt God calling us to pursue Kujtim. I shared what I was feeling with my husband, and he agreed to pray about it along with me. We also invited our house church to pray with us.
It was shortly thereafter that we attended an adoption information meeting at Bethany Christian Services in Grand Rapids, Michigan. By that time, it was evident to both my husband and me that God was asking us to work towards Kujtim’s adoption into our family. As we began taking each step, it became even more clear to us that God was going before us and providing what we needed for the journey.
There were many reasons to doubt and question our decision. First, we had never cared for a child with special needs, let alone one with considerable physical and cognitive impairments. Additionally, international adoptions are very expensive. But we saw God provide in miraculous ways with each step we took in complete faith and reliance on his provision. Friends stepped up and gave generously to support the adoption. My husband worked for a large, privately-owned company that offered an adoption benefit to help support families through the process. The employer also gave my husband the flexibility to take an extended vacation—using earned vacation time to cover the six weeks in Albania required to finalize the adoption. Our house church and friends donated items to sell at a local flea market, raising several thousand dollars. Our adoption agency, Bethany Christian Services, also had designated funds to help support the adoption of children with special needs.
We began the adoption journey in February 2003. Four short months later, the six of us were on a plane to Albania to complete Kujtim’s adoption and bring him home. Six weeks later—and with many more miraculous interventions along the way—we were back in Michigan as a family of seven.
Soon after, the whirlwind adventure of the entire adoption experience settled into daily life. We faced some of the unique challenges that accompany having a child with special needs. We made the decision that I would stay home at first to support the additional needs Kujtim had—including therapy appointments and additional physical therapy at home. Additionally, Kujtim required time and attention to bond with us as his parents. While I was thankful to be able to stay home, it did create a significant financial burden for our family.
Fast forward several years and Kujtim is now 18 years old and one of the most joy-filled individuals you could hope to meet! Cognitively, he is still significantly delayed. He doesn’t read or write and must have constant supervision and care support. He began walking independently at the age of 7, defying the expectations of his medical team. With the encouragement and support of many people—including teachers, therapists, physicians, friends and our family—Kujtim has surpassed all of our expectations!
Some states, such as Colorado, have financial benefits to help support parents who need to stay home to care for a family member with significant needs. The Colorado Home Care Allowance is a cash assistance program for elderly, low income, and/or disabled Colorado residents that helps residents stay in their home. The assistance can be used in a variety of ways, including paying a caregiver. Michigan, where we live, does not have such a benefit. This means that families who need two incomes have to scramble to piece together a care team of friends and family members, work opposite shifts or pay someone to care for their child at a considerable expense.
Additionally, quality, specialized care is difficult to find. A federal policy that supports families with special care requirements by allowing one family member to stay home and be compensated would alleviate some of the stress associated with caring for loved ones with significant needs.
There have been challenges along the way and even times when we have questioned God's choice in choosing our family to raise Kujtim. There are days of complete exhaustion and frustration. We deal with feelings of inadequacy. We sometimes wonder whether Kujtim would have had more opportunities with a family that was more equipped financially or could give him even more one-on-one attention. To this day, we are still constantly juggling our work schedules to make sure someone is home for Kujtim when his school bus arrives. But, we cannot imagine our family without our son. God’s hand was in every step of his placement in our family, and His hand is with us through all the highs and lows of working out what it takes to care for him. Some days God’s hand is lifting us up out of moments of despair, and other days we are lifting ours in praise for a new accomplishment that has been attained.
At the beginning of this story, I shared that God’s Word is clear when it comes to caring for widows and orphans. While I believe this call is for all of us as believers in Christ, I also believe that how God calls each of us to live into this call is different. In our case, it was very clear that God had a plan to expand our family through adopting a child who would require a lifetime of special care. God may be calling you to provide for the needs of an elderly neighbor who lost her husband, or to walk alongside a family who is caring for a loved one and could use some extra support. Whatever this may look like for you, know that God will meet you in every next step. And, let’s look at ways that we can support sound policies that allow families—including those with special care needs—to experience a healthy balance of work, rest, and care as God intended.
Kim Sturgeon and her husband, Tim, are the proud parents of five grown boys and now two beautiful granddaughters. Kim’s family knows firsthand the difference that supportive employers and public policy can make in promoting a healthy, balanced work and family life, and particularly when raising a child with special needs. Kim enjoys every opportunity she gets to share her family’s adoption journey with the hope that it will encourage others who may be looking to grow their family through adoption.
Do you have a story to tell?
Stories are important: they can direct research, inform policy, and create community. If something in Peter’s story resonated with you, we want to know. Your story will not be shared, but a member of the Time to Care team will reach out to start a conversation.