Noah – Medical Update and Transition Home

April 6th, 2016
Noah asked me to take this picture with the dogs as soon as he felt confident enough to get down with them

Noah asked me to take this picture with the dogs as soon as he felt confident enough to get down with them

Tucking Ivy in to sleep - she wasn't sure she wanted to sleep, but she wasn't given much of a choice!

Tucking Ivy in to sleep – she wasn’t sure she wanted to sleep, but she wasn’t given much of a choice!

More proof he's in a crazy family - Noah on the bottom under all his siblings and his grandma!

More proof he’s in a crazy family – Noah on the bottom under all his siblings and his grandma!

This has been sort of a crazy re-entry into life for us. The jet-lag has been no joke, and it’s been surprisingly consuming just to have Noah in the house with us and also to have so many doctors appointments and paperwork with insurance and things. Not that we weren’t expecting it, but somehow it still took us by surprise. Add to that that our basement decided to flood a couple days after we got back into town (thank the Lord it didn’t happen while we were in China!) which was a complication we really didn’t need, and a week and a half went by like lightening!

The first night Noah and Toby went to bed and tried to whisper to each other which is tough with very limited English. We could hear, “Good night, Toby.” “Good night, Noah.” “Toby. Toby! Toby!” “Yes, Noah?” “Um… good night, Toby.” “Good night, Noah.” “Okay. Toby! Toby!” “Yes, Noah?” “Um, good night, Toby.” etc. That lasted about 5 minutes and then they both passed out. 🙂

In the morning when they woke up, Toby told me Noah said, “I miss Chinese mother.” And Toby said, “I’m sorry, Noah” and Noah looked thoughtful and said, “I miss Chinese mother. I like American mother,” as though he was saying “I miss my Chinese mom but I also like my American mom.” This is actually so positive in our opinion. Clearly, it’s very normal for him to miss his foster parents, but we are so glad that he also likes us, and we want him to know that it’s fine for him to love two sets of parents. He also asked Nathan again if he could call his foster family, but we told him it was the middle of the night in China and he said, “Oh, yeah,” and dropped the subject. We are going to talk to our agency about how to handle this best. We have no problem with him being in contact with his foster family at some point, and would encourage it as long as it’s healthy (we assume so, but we only know his side of things), but we’ve been told that it’s best for him and his attachment to us to have no contact for several months, so we’re praying through all that.

Later, we went to get the dogs. We have two very friendly, very nice, very loud-when-they-meet-you-which-is-a-little-scary-for-children little schnauzers named Pepper and Ivy. Noah was quite nervous about them at first, but also fascinated. I think he really wanted dogs, but he hasn’t had much experience with them at all. They did really well. Noah was very nervous for an hour, then tried to interact very cautiously for another hour, and then he really warmed up to them. He asked us repeatedly on the first two days if they would bite him (he was bitten by a neighbor’s dog in China apparently) but he realized fairly quickly that they really are harmless and he loves them. He’s been tucking blankets around them on the couch, and he even wanted to help me give them a bath.

That was pretty hilarious, actually. We have a walk-in shower with a hand-held shower head that we use for that, so I had him roll his pants up and I rolled up mine and we were in this shower with two dogs running around trying to get away and shaking water all over us, and he was startled but laughing. He kept saying, “Dogs crazy! Crazy dogs shower! Dogs no like shower! Dogs crazy shower!” which I thought was pretty good for a kid who had 5 words in English 3 weeks earlier. He told everyone we came into contact with for the next 5 days that dogs don’t like showers and are crazy in the shower.

Sunday was Easter. It was so weird not to go to church on Easter, but we just knew it was too much for him, and we were all so jet-lagged. Nathan went by himself, and I stayed home with the kids and we told Noah it was a big holiday where we celebrate Jesus becoming alive again. He has no background at all with Christianity, and I have no idea what he thinks of any of it. I told him we were going to pray and thank Jesus for coming to the world and for saving us and for coming back to life and he said, “okay” and prayed right along with us. I’m not sure if he thinks this is an American thing or a Shaw thing, but we have time to explain more as he acquires language.

So many people have asked us how we are communicating. We have Google translate on our phones which we’ve used a lot (Noah now says, “Mom, my phone!” whenever he wants to tell me something because I kept saying to him, “Do you need my phone?” and now he thinks the name is “my phone.”) and also Noah has picked up an incredible amount of English and we have picked up a little Mandarin. It’s amazing how much you can communicate with facial expressions and gestures too. And we also have several friends who speak Mandarin as do our kids, so when someone is in the house who can talk to him, we take advantage and get the more complicated topics covered.

We’ve had some really tough behaviors since we’ve been back. Noah is definitely testing the boundaries of what is acceptable in our house, and I think he’s also used to being the only child, so a lot of how our house runs is foreign to him. He’s strong willed, so it can be discouraging sometimes, but we’ve also found that he has a sweet heart and learns quickly. He is very competitive and is apparently obsessed with Monopoly which doesn’t always bring out the best in him, but it’s been a good teaching tool for us about sportsmanship and treating people kindly whether it’s going well for you or not and it’s getting better. He can also change money like no one’s business. It’s harder emotionally than I thought it might be, but we also see so much hope and promise, and as I keep telling the kids, I don’t think we’ll recognize this in 3 months. He is changing so fast, and the more he can communicate, the less frustrated he is.

We’ve also spent many, many, many hours with doctors over the last week. Noah’s first appointment was cardiology. We were expecting a 30 minute get-you-established appointment, but it turned into 4.5 hours. They did his EKG and then we had a 90 minute echocardiogram. Holy cannoli. We watched the entire Big Hero 6 movie while they took pictures and measurements and watched his heart. The good news is that the cardiologist feels he is not in an emergency situation at this time. He cannot tell us whether surgery is possible until they do a heart cath on Noah (this will be a 24-48 hour stay at the hospital), but he said that nothing jumped out on the echo as a blocker either, so that is at least not bad news. He said that Noah has been living this long with his heart like this, and the doctor didn’t feel there would be any significant change in the next couple of months, so he wants to proceed through all the tests and we can look at the summer for open-heart surgery if surgery is still possible. This is good news because we were really hoping Noah could have a couple of months to transition and learn more language and trust us more – we just think it will be much less frightening for him that way.

The next day we saw the dentist and that was really terrible news. In fact, they are recommending that he have oral surgery at Children’s Hospital to take care of everything at once because it’s so bad that it would be too traumatic to do it outpatient. The only good news is that he won’t lose any permanent teeth. It’s also further complicated by his heart condition as they will not proceed with anything heart-related until his mouth is healthy. There’s a big risk of bacterial infection getting into the bloodstream and affecting the heart from dental issues, so it’s standard to wait until the mouth is healthy. He also needs specialized care for anesthesia because of his heart, so it looks like this will be another surgery. We don’t think he’s ever had dental care.

So to sum up surgery now, we need to get the dental surgery scheduled (which is usually a months-long wait, but since he is a cardio patient we are hoping to be expedited in the next couple of weeks), and after that is complete, we need to wait another 4-6 weeks for him to heal completely before they will do the heart cath. After that they will present everything to the surgical team and decide how to proceed, and if he can still have the heart surgery, they will schedule him for that anytime after the cath. If it happens, he will be in the hospital anywhere from 1-4 weeks. The surgery does not fix his heart, but it does make his system much more efficient which takes a lot of the load off the one pumping chamber he has, and this will extend his life expectancy significantly and also improve his quality of life, so we’re obviously hoping it can happen.

The next day he spent hours and hours at the international adoption clinic. They test for all kinds of things that a regular kid’s physical would not test, and it’s all specific to the country the kids are coming from. He was also seen by OT, PT, speech, psych, and given cognitive tests and a physical. It’s a crazy day. He did so well on all of this, and so far there are only a few minor issues that are all easily resolvable – just a few low levels on some things. We haven’t gotten everything back yet, but so far, other than his heart and his teeth, he looks very healthy.

He started school this week. We are taking him for a couple of hours in the morning or afternoon, and we are staying with him for now. In China, Noah told us he wanted to start school right away – he really likes school and was worried that he would be bored at home when his siblings went back. When we got here, though, he was very nervous about it. I can’t blame him – I would be too! But staying with him and doing it in smaller pieces has been good. So far he has liked it, and even though he is very worried about how little he understands, he has enjoyed having work to do. He even asked for more homework in math because he likes math!

We have told him we will stay with him as long as he needs us, and we also put Google translate on a tablet and the boy next to him has been given permission to use it as needed (Shout out, Cole! You’ve been a super help!). We’re not really expecting him to get a lot of content in the few weeks left, but we’re hoping it will help him get language, and he’s already met several kids. It will be nice for him to have a few friends before summer, especially if he’s stuck at home recovering for a while. The school has been fantastic and just told us to do whatever we thought was best for him and makes him most comfortable.

Watching him at doctors’ offices and at school, we can tell that he’s been tricked in the past – like he’s been told one thing to get him to comply, but then what he had been told was not what happened. Not sure by who, but when we tell him we won’t leave him, he doesn’t believe us and asks us over and over to stay and holds onto us. He thinks we are nice, but he hasn’t known us long enough to know he can trust us or that we will always tell him the truth. Already, though, after visiting the school just a few times and after going a few times, he is trusting us more and he is more relaxed when we go now. He still checks the plan with us like, “Go school, mother stay, home lunch,” etc, but he believes us when we tell him the plan now. This is so important, and it will be so good if he learns that he can trust us before his surgery. In China, when he asked about his upcoming surgery, I told him I would stay at the hospital with him and that I would not leave him, and he just looked like he didn’t believe me. I know he was alone a lot of the time when he was in the hospital as a little guy, and it just breaks my heart that he had to face that by himself. Hopefully he will be able to trust that it will be different this time, and if not, I know that it will be a bonding experience when we go through it and he sees that we did what we said and did not leave him. We’ve heard from several adoptive families that their behavior during their kids’ surgeries was really crucial to their child’s trust in them.

Couple of funny and/or sweet things from this past week:

When we leave, we routinely say something like, “Bye! Love you!” and he has started telling everyone he loves them when he leaves the house. So sweet. He also tells Toby he loves him every night when they go to bed, and has started saying it to the girls and us as well at random times.

He’s met several more family members this week including several cousins and aunts and uncles. My grandmother flew in from Florida and I didn’t even know how to tell him who she was (the words for family members in Chinese are much more specific than they are in English) and so I finally just lined myself up with my mom and grandmother and pointing at us said, “Your mother, your mother’s mother, your mother’s mother’s mother” and he just looked shocked and said, “What?! I – THREE mothers?! Whoa.” And all day after that he would mutter about three mothers and uncles and then exclaim, “I have BIG family!”

His ELL teacher told him that her dog has such long hair that she has to cut it with scissors so the dog can see. I told him I do the same thing when Pepper and Ivy get too much fur, and he was so concerned! He kept saying, “You, no scissors! Pepper and Ivy so cute! Dogs so cute!” and he pets them and tells them they are cute repeatedly now. He doesn’t want them to change. He has no idea how fluffy they get!

One day he was looking for a snack which has been a challenging area for us, and I finally asked if he liked popcorn and translated it for him. He lit up and said he did, but then said, “Crazy shopping mom (I’m crazy shopping mom now because I bought so much at the grocery store when we got home) no popcorn home.” He hadn’t seen any. But I told him I make it in a pot and that we already had some. He was fascinated – I don’t think he’d ever seen it made this way. He asked me so many times how it would work. I told him “1 minute, nothing. 2 minutes, pop-pop. 3 minutes, crazy pop-pop-pop-pop!!” with fantastic charades if I do say so myself and he was so excited to see this amazing thing! I put it on the burner and he said, “Mom! Deng yi deng!” which means “wait!” and he dove behind the kitchen island, held a book in front of his face and said with a huge grin, “Okay! I ready!” He loves to tease!

He and Toby had a falling out about monopoly and he was not very nice to Toby. We explained that he had made Toby sad and Noah was trying to figure out how to make it up to Toby. He said, “Sorry, Toby” and then thought a minute and using the translator, he said to him “My brother is really a very special child.” It was super sweet and I loved seeing him working to relate well to his siblings.

And as a final quote for this post, we were sitting at dinner, and Noah was telling us all silly things we must have gone to school for. He got to me and told me “mother go to school for chocolate!” I guess he’s really getting to know me well. 🙂

Hong Kong and Home!

March 28th, 2016
The street market near our hotel in Guangzhou

The street market near our hotel in Guangzhou

Disneyland Hong Kong!

Disneyland Hong Kong!

Happiest driver in the world

Happiest driver in the world

Brothers at dinner

Brothers at dinner

One of our last views before going into the clouds on the cable cars

One of our last views before going into the clouds on the cable cars

We are alive!

We are alive!

Our view of the village at the top - lol!

Our view of the village at the top – lol!

One fleeting glimpse of the Buddha

One fleeting glimpse of the Buddha

Hong Kong - best shot we got on a very dreary day

Hong Kong – best shot we got on a very dreary day

Kowloon Peninsula in Hong Kong

Kowloon Peninsula in Hong Kong

Siblings wet, cold, but still having fun

Siblings wet, cold, but still having fun

The famous brown envelope

The famous brown envelope

Noah meeting Lao Lao and our welcoming committee in the background

Noah meeting Lao Lao and our welcoming committee in the background

Signs on our garage when we got home

Signs on our garage when we got home

The end of the trip was really a whirlwind and then the jet-lag kicked in, so we’re sorry not to get a blog up sooner!

Our last day in Guangzhou was really low key until we got to the airport. Noah did have another really sad period that morning which we were kind of expecting at that point, and we just held him and let him cry it out and then played games together as a family. It’s going to be a long road with the grief, and we’re just going to do the best we can to love him through it and let him know that what he’s feeling is fine with us.

Our adoption guide had gotten us a very late checkout because our flight to Hong Kong was so late that night. The boys just hung out in the room – we were all so tired after the Safari Park (my Fitbit told me I went 10 miles yesterday, and Nathan carried Noah for a lot of it and in the rain, what a man!). The girls and I looked around right in the vicinity of our hotel and found the coolest local shopping streets where they got a few gifts for their friends and I bought such a pretty little teapot (for those who know me, I am addicted to tea) which I promptly dropped on the sidewalk and smashed to smithereens. Fortunately, it was only about $5 and they had one more, so I went back and tried not to feel too stupid telling the store owner that I hadn’t even made it three blocks home before destroying it. The second one made it safely to the States. I know you were worried. 🙂

It was still raining, so we gave up and went home. Spent the afternoon repacking everything (no laundry for 3 weeks for 6 people means we’re all doling out our last clean t-shirts very carefully) and headed to the airport. This flight was my only sadness with our travel plans. It was scheduled to leave at 10:15 pm and get to Hong Kong at 11:20 which is so late for the boys who are usually in bed by 9. But booking it that way saved us a ton of money on our return flights (complicated story, but true) so we decided to bite the bullet and do it anyway. Can’t say I want to go back through Guangzhou airport any time soon. We waited over an hour just to check our bags. Then another hour at security. Then customs and immigration and long walk to our gate. And then the flight was delayed for an hour. Then we got on the flight and they delayed it another 45 minutes. Oh my, the boys were dying. Then they told us there were storms and the weather was terrible – at one point we had turbulence so bad a woman screamed full voice in the row in front of us.

Well, we finally got into Hong Kong, had to do immigration, claim the bags, do customs, and then were on the opposite side of the airport from our hotel. Knowing we were getting in late, I had booked our hotel right at the airport and I was never so glad of anything in my life. Noah couldn’t walk anymore, so we put him on top of the baggage on the carts and pushed him which he thought was interesting enough that he didn’t object. By the time we got checked in and to our rooms it was 2am. So sad. Put everyone to bed and collapsed. At 7:30 Noah woke up and poked me and said in English, “Good morning! Um, I, um, okay. I, no good morning.” And he laid back down and slept another hour. 🙂

It rained the entire time we were in Hong Kong too. Everything I had planned to do there is outside, so that was a serious bummer. Nathan and I really didn’t know what to do – we had been told this time of year is usually sunny and low 80’s and we got rainy and low 60’s. We were cold and didn’t have many clothes left and had already been wet every day for a week.

The plan had been to see several sites on Lantau Island and Hong Kong Island on Wednesday and then go to Hong Kong Disneyland on Thursday before flying home on Friday. The weather looked slightly better and warmer on Wednesday, so even though we went to bed at 2 am, we decided to switch the days since we knew Disney would be outside the entire time. Nathan finally talked Noah into trying the stroller by giving Toby a ride with wheelies down the hallway of the hotel, and that proved to be an absolute life-saver.

We took a bus to a mall to a subway to the Disney line (so cute, Mickey ears on the trains and the prettiest train station I’ve ever seen) and headed in about 11 am. The cardinal rule of Disney is be early, but we were more concerned about sleep and bet that the park would be empty because of the weather. It wasn’t, but it wasn’t crowded either and we only waited in one line the entire day – everything else was less than 10 minutes or a walk on.

Noah had no idea what we were doing. He’s never seen any of this and that was the best part of the whole day for all of us. I sing a lot in Florida, and the kids have been to Disney many times over the years, and they were just thrilled to show it to Noah! He loved all the boy things – Mystic Manor (so cool! Why don’t we have this ride in the States?!) we did four times. He adored Buzz Lightyear. Best moment of the day for me was talking about Autopia – a little ride where the kids can drive cars around a track. I said, “Do you want to drive a car?” And he looked confused and said, “I drive? No, Father.” I said, “No, you can drive. Do you want to drive the car?” and he said, “I drive? No, Father drive.” We finally showed him a spot he could see a car and he lit up, and said, “I drive?! Okay!! Let’s go!!” He probably asked us 30 times in line (this was our one line) if he was really going to drive. Nathan was with him in the car and said he’d never seen a happier kid!

Headed home early and went to bed. This is the smallest Disney park in the world, so it was easy to get on everything we wanted to and still make it an early night. We had a great time, but we were all pretty sick of our ponchos and being wet.

The next day we let everyone sleep as long as they wanted. Honestly, I wished we were leaving today, but I have friends from Hong Kong, and I thought, “I cannot leave here and never set foot on Hong Kong Island!” The airport, our hotel, and Disneyland are all on Lantau Island, so technically we hadn’t even been to Hong Kong yet.

We went back on the bus to the mall with the subway and on the way we passed the cable cars for Ngong Ping 360. This is a cable car ride over the water and up the mountains to Po Lin Monastery and the largest seated Buddha in the world. Nathan estimated that we were at least 500 feet over the water for much of the 25 minute ride. This was something we had planned to do, but with the weather being so bad and so much colder than we expected, we thought we’d skip it. Once we saw it, though, Nathan, Toby, Rachel, and Noah all wanted to go. We decided to try it after all, even though Rinnah and I are afraid of heights. We just decided to be brave and take one for the team.

It was pretty terrifying, but a lot smoother than I expected which helped. They told us at the bottom that because of the weather “visibility may be somewhat limited.” That was a hilarious understatement, because about halfway up, we went into the cloud cover and saw nothing again which actually really helped me to pretend we weren’t doing what we were doing and not be afraid. Right at the beginning of the trip, Rinnah got scared enough that she had two tears, and Noah looked at her and said, “Rinnah? You okay?” and Nathan said she was scared and he said, “oh no” and sat next to her and held her hand. So sweet.

We got to the top and were still in a cloud – we literally couldn’t see the village leading to the monastery. We started laughing it was so ridiculous! And it was raining still, so we decided to grab lunch and see if any of it blew over. It did just enough that we could at least see the walkway. We walked toward it because we were thinking we didn’t come all this way to not see it! And it was raining and our ponchos were blowing sideways and it was so miserable it got funny! And we finally got to the monastery (which we couldn’t see) and found the steps to the Buddha (which we knew we were not going to be able to climb – it’s like 500 steps) so we just looked up and up and up the stairs and realized – the Buddha was in the cloud. LOL! What a disaster! Oh well. We headed back and at one point the mist blew by and I got one picture, but I have to say, it takes much of the sting out of it when you know that’s just a big statue anyway.

Headed back down which is much more terrifying – at one point our cable was at about a 30 degree angle heading straight for the water now in heavy wind and swaying. Rinnah and I knew our lives were ending. 🙂 But then we made it down and took the subway to Hong Kong.

We had planned to go to Victoria Peak where you can see the whole island. Well, you can if Victoria Peak is not in a cloud. Which of course it was. So we scrapped that, and also scrapped riding the trams because they were a long-ish walk and it was raining hard. But there was a covered walkway to the pier, so we walked over and took the Star Ferry to Kowloon Peninsula for about $2 total. This was really fun. When we got to the other side, we thought we’d see the Bruce Lee statue for a friend who’s really into Bruce Lee (shout out, Micah!) and found out that they had moved it about a 30 minute walk away because of construction. And still raining, so um, no thank you, and we took the ferry back.

At this point, you know what, we’ve now stepped on Kong Kong Island, seen Victoria Harbor, walked on Kowloon, and clearly Hong Kong does not want to be seen by Shaws. We know when to say when. So we headed back, got dinner and went to bed.

The next day was our trip home. Lots of people have asked if Noah was sad to leave China, but I think in his mind, he left home a couple of weeks ago, and this is just another flight. He’s very curious about our house and wanted to see pictures of his new home and school several times. I don’t think he has any idea the culture will be so different because he’s been in China with us this whole time and has never seen anything else.

Noah was a total trooper on the 15 hour flight. That is a seriously taxing thing and all the kids were awesome. In a miracle that morning, Noah’s oxygen levels were at 86%, by far and away the highest they’d been on the entire trip! Our cardiologist told us he needed to be over 85% to be totally comfortable on a plane, and I just think God was showing off. It was very cute watching my two boys watching Star Wars at the same time next to each other, one in English and one in Mandarin. We got to Dallas and immigration processed Noah’s famous brown envelope, and he became a citizen!! We should get the paperwork for that in a couple of months. Then his first American pizza and a second flight home. Everyone did great. And at home, such a sweet group of people came out to welcome us! Noah met his Lao Lao (my mom) and we went home.

In retrospect, it was the best possible decision we could have made to bring our other kids. It would be different if Noah was younger or in a different place health-wise, but this really gave our family nearly 3 weeks to bond away from everything else. Noah loves having siblings, and they were a huge part of why he is excited to come to our house. He didn’t have to have any anxiety about how his siblings would respond to him when he got home because he already knew. And our kids have a much greater sense of the culture he’s coming from and the wider world, and also the issues surrounding orphans.

Noah couldn’t go to sleep before he’d run through the house twice, but then we tucked him into the bed that’s been waiting for him since last summer. When I put Toby in the top bunk, he looked down at Noah, grinned at me, and said, “There’s nothing weird about this at all, is there mom?” Can’t believe we’re here, and that he’s here.

It’s a funny thing. I know this is permanent and this is my son, but now that the trip is over which has been my focus for so long, I’m finding that I need to get my brain around the fact that he’s here in our home. It’s almost like that was a little interlude, but now we need to figure out how this is working in the day to day.

I will blog more about how he’s adjusting when we’ve been home a couple of days. I also wanted to write a blog about the food on the trip because that’s interesting to me, and about the money aspects of adoption if that’s interesting – let me know.

For now, it’s just good to be in my house. It’s good to see that Noah and Toby can share a room and to hear, even the first night, them giggling together after the lights were out. It’s good to know that we will see doctors this week, and hopefully we will have a plan, something I’ve wanted for a long time. And it’s good to hug my new son and know that he likes it now.

Wrapping up in Guangzhou

March 21st, 2016
Noah and Rachel figuring out double pedaling technique on the paddle boats

Noah and Rachel figuring out double pedaling technique on the paddle boats

Sometimes even when the signs are translated it's not much of a help

Sometimes even when the signs are translated it’s not much of a help

Noah's first time in a pool

Noah’s first time in a pool

Doing another statue on Shamian Island - apparently Nathan is falling behind

Doing another statue on Shamian Island – apparently Nathan is falling behind

Gorgeous Shamian Island

Gorgeous Shamian Island

The family at Pearl River

The family at Pearl River

Attending Palm Sunday service at Shamian Christian Church

Attending Palm Sunday service at Shamian Christian Church

Kirk Cameron is everywhere!

Kirk Cameron is everywhere!

Just a cool shot - that's one intense bear!

Just a cool shot – that’s one intense bear!

The reason we braved the Safari Park in the rain

The reason we braved the Safari Park in the rain

One of the many white tigers - some of the few left in the world

One of the many white tigers – some of the few left in the world

Well, it’s hard to believe, but we’re almost done with our time here in Guangzhou. This was our longest stop of the trip and since we’re here for the completion of all the official steps that need to be taken in China, we haven’t been seeing many big sites, but it’s still been plenty for us. The whole family is getting tired and we’re ready to come home soon.

We got so many messages after my last post from people letting us know that they are praying for Noah and his homesickness, and I just thank you all so much! We can feel it. Absolutely. I just keep thinking that there’s no way this trip would be going the way it has been without all that prayer and the hand of God on Noah. Noah may not know it yet, but God has great plans for him!

I wrote last time about Friday night and Noah’s grief about his foster family. After that terrible dinner, he cried himself to sleep. It really was a pretty devastating night for me – it’s so hard to watch a child who never asked for any of this or did anything to deserve it go through such grief. We know he has no future in China. He will not get the medical care he needs here, and his foster parents are older and are not allowed to keep him by law after he turns 14 anyway. Our adopting him is his best chance for a full life. But it just breaks my heart that this is the best that it can be for him because this is so hard. The world is so broken from sin, and I hate the pain that goes along with that – I long for the coming of Christ.

But today, we have blessings. When I was first praying about Noah way back at the beginning, and I was so scared of his medical condition, the one thing I kept feeling the Holy Spirit whisper to my heart was, “Don’t say no to a blessing.” And you know what? I already know Noah will be a blessing. The lessons we are learning from this are blessings. Seeing God provide for what we need, watching Him smooth the way, and feeling His love while we’re doing it are blessings.

The last three days have been blessings. Noah seems more comfortable, and he hasn’t had the same intensity of grief although I know it will surely come again, as all grief does. But now, Noah is having fun, and he’s having a lot of new experiences!

As I said, Friday was tough. And we had to wait in our hotel on Saturday until almost one in the afternoon until we got the all clear on Noah’s TB test just in case there was a problem and we had to go back for x-rays. So we just bummed around in the room and played cards and games and had a very low key morning. It’s been raining the entire time we’ve been here.

By the afternoon, I was feeling pretty stir crazy. I love my family, but 6 people in one hotel room for an entire day was not going to happen if I had a vote. We decided to walk across the street to a park and see what we could find. Noah did not want to go at all, but we talked him into it and he went very reluctantly. When we got there, the first thing we saw were paddle boats. We asked if he wanted to go, and he looked amazed. I don’t think he had any idea what they were.

Later, we found out through our translator that he was worried we would sink (the paddle boats did look about as old as the Terracotta Warriors, I have to say), but he thought it was hilarious that you could move a boat with bike pedals! He actually went a little nuts. He never wanted to stop pedaling or take a break, and it was almost a problem because he really doesn’t have any stamina. But looking at his face and hearing him giggle, that was totally worth it! It started raining really hard while we were on the boat which he thought was doubly funny and it got so misty we had a hard time even seeing the dock. We returned the boat and ended up having to just go home because we forgot our umbrellas, but that was fine with Noah – he’d already done the coolest thing in the park.

When we got back, of course it stopped raining. Our other kids were really hoping to go to the pool, but every time we’ve asked Noah if he wants to go swimming, he answers, “No! No swimming! I no swimming!” The whole time we’ve been here, I’ve only seen people swimming laps. We finally wondered if he thought he had to be able to swim laps or something, so we told him it was shallow and we were just going to play in the water, not swim. He looked amazed again and then shouted, “Let’s go!”

We realized later he’d never been in a pool. He’s never ridden a bike either (or a subway, or a plane until last week, or apparently a paddle boat), but that’s a different post. He got in and immediately tried to swim like Toby and swallowed a bunch of water and it almost killed it right there. But then Nathan said, “Monkey!” and he got on Nathan’s back. We were throwing a koosh ball, and I don’t think Noah’s ever had that much fun. He never stopped laughing or yelling “Rinnah! Rachel! Toby!” telling everyone who they should throw to next or who he was throwing to. It was quite a transformation.

The next day we went to Shamian Island to go to the only English/Mandarin language service in Guangzhou. We all think it should be called the Mandarin-with-a-little-English-thrown-in service but we’re still so glad we went. It’s so moving for me when I hear people worshiping God in different languages in different countries – it makes me think of heaven. The minute they started singing I started crying. Christianity costs people something here. It’s not an easy thing to be a Christian, and it moves me.

After church we stopped at the tiny Christian bookstore there to get Noah a Mandarin Bible. They do not sell them in bookstores in China. And who do you think was on the shelf? Kirk Cameron. He’s everywhere! Our translator, Molly, wanted me to tell her about him because he was so famous he was even in China! Then we did a little shopping in the area and went to a regular bookstore to try to get Noah a few more Mandarin books. We had lunch out with Molly, and all during lunch Noah was saying, “Home! Swimming!” So cute. So we headed back and went swimming again, and by the end, he was even trying to stand on his own a little.

This morning we had our appointment at the US Consulate for Noah’s immigration hearing and visa application. It seemed to all go well. We should get everything back tomorrow that Noah needs to leave the country. Then the final step will be when our plane lands in Dallas – he will be processed by immigration there and should immediately become a US citizen. After that, we still have other paperwork to do, but it’s comparatively minor and all handled in the States.

It was still raining today. It’s just been raining and raining. We were supposed to go to the Safari Park, and we were really up in the air – to cancel or not to cancel? Our girls and Toby really wanted to see the pandas, so we finally decided to try it even in the rain. Noah was not happy at all about this. I was asking God to please help us have a good day together (it’s very stressful when he’s unhappy because we can’t communicate very well, and we really want him to have a good time, but also know that families do things together and for each other), and wouldn’t you know, Noah figured out zoos were cool about 15 minutes in, and the rain even stopped for about three quarters of our time there. God has been so sweet to us this whole time! The pandas were amazing, as were the white tigers which are so endangered. We were frankly amazed at this zoo
– it’s huge and just has an incredible number of animals!

Tomorrow is a down day for us, and Nathan is so happy about that after carrying Noah for 47 miles through the zoo! We will just get ourselves packed up, and then we fly to Hong Kong later tomorrow night. That’s our last stop before coming home Friday. Can’t believe we’re almost there!

Please keep praying for our little guy!

March 18th, 2016
Pit number one of the Terracotta Warriors, the first found and the largest, about the size of two football fields

Pit number one of the Terracotta Warriors, the first found and the largest, about the size of two football fields

Some of the warriors up close

Some of the warriors up close

How they look when they are first uncovered - they've only reconstructed about 1000 of the estimated 8000

How they look when they are first uncovered – they’ve only reconstructed about 1000 of the estimated 8000

A section they are working on now

A section they are working on now

Our family at the Shaanxi History Museum

Our family at the Shaanxi History Museum

Our kids having fun with the statues in the park

Our kids having fun with the statues in the park

Our family at the Wild Goose Pagoda

Our family at the Wild Goose Pagoda

The entrance to the Wild Good Pagoda - look at the size of the burner next to the women!

The entrance to the Wild Good Pagoda – look at the size of the burner next to the women!

The incense burning outside one of the idol's halls.

The incense burning outside one of the idol’s halls.

Beautiful view from the Pagoda

Beautiful view from the Pagoda

Just one example of the amazing artwork on all the lintels - this is found on every roofline and ceiling of historical buildings - stunning

Just one example of the amazing artwork on all the lintels – this is found on every roofline and ceiling of historical buildings – stunning

A street scene, but check out the overhead lines!!!

A street scene, but check out the overhead lines!!!

We continue to have insane smog - this is on the freeway with my camera automatically compensating - we all have sore throats all the time

We continue to have insane smog – this is on the freeway with my camera automatically compensating – we all have sore throats all the time

Well, I’m sitting here in a hotel in Guangzhou, and things continue to be up and down but I have to say that I really admire my new son. While most of the time things have been great, we had that difficult time in the Forbidden City, and then Noah was expressing more and more sadness about his foster family. When we got to Xi’an, he immediately asked our new translator, Sherry, if she could call his foster parents, and also talked to her a lot about home, saying things like “at home, it’s lunch time now,” or “at home, my parents would make this for dinner” etc. He was acting out some and several times seemed borderline angry or defiant.

When we got to Xi’an, Sherry took us immediately from the train station to see the City Wall, which we didn’t know was on the schedule until we got there, and we really wished she hadn’t. Everyone was tired from our all day train trip, and Noah was just exhausted. On the wall, he just decided he wasn’t listening to us anymore. He tried to run away, not really to leave us, but just to be where we couldn’t control him. I suppose the only upside of his heart condition is that he can’t go very far. We had kind of a show down on the wall, and I had to go get him and definitely be the parent. We’ve been trying just to love on him as much as possible while we’re in this transition time, so that wasn’t where I wanted to be at all, but for his safety, he can’t be running away from us.

We finally got to the hotel and got dinner, and he really seemed to rally. After a good night’s sleep, he was like a different boy. With all of our experience with sensory issues, I’m just realizing again how important it is that we keep him as physically comfortable as possible. We can’t do much about his grief except to show him as often as we can that we care, but it’s much easier to deal with grief when you’re not also hungry or cold or exhausted.

The next day we went to see the Terracotta Warriors which was the main reason we came to Xi’an. It’s absolutely amazing. Noah told Sherry that he wasn’t interested in history, but he seemed to find this pretty interesting, and it had no significant stairs which we’re learning makes him very happy.

The short story is that Emperor Qin was the first emperor to unify China and the warriors are from about 200 BC. Many rulers were buried with terracotta warriors which were meant to be their army in the afterlife, but these are significant because there are so many (8000) and the only ones to be life-sized. The army is his actual army, and every single one is different and modeled after a real person. It’s astounding. It took 700,000 slaves 40 years to build, and when the emperor died, they were all killed so no one could give away the location. Emperor Qin was apparently very cruel and four years after he died, one of his generals (who apparently knew the location) broke into the underground tomb and had his army smash and destroy all the warriors because he didn’t want the same emperor to rule in the afterlife. They were discovered in the 1970’s when a local farmer was digging a well in his field and dug up a hat. So now, as they uncover them, they are trying to piece them all back together – it’s like the most insane puzzle ever.

We had a good morning together, and even better, a free afternoon. We played Uno and watched a Chinese game show, and read books and generally chilled out. One fun thing, we have no idea where he heard it, but Noah’s starting singing “We are family!” by Sister Sledge all the time – hilarious! And he always does it pointing to us. 🙂 We had some great “Chinese hamburgers” which are nothing like American hamburgers from a street vendor Sherry suggested and then had an early night.

The next day Sherry took us to the Shaanxi History Museum and then the Wild Goose Pagoda which is the Buddhist Temple built about 1500 years ago by the first Buddhist monk to popularize Buddhism in China. We had a good time together, and Noah was having fun with us. The Buddhist temple was beautiful but hard to see – I had wanted the kids to see this because I know the first time I went to one it gave me a new perspective and also such compassion for the people there. I want everyone to know the truth of Jesus, and seeing people bowing and praying to statues who can’t hear or answer them fills my heart with such a desire to share the Truth that has changed my life. It was eye-opening for our children.

We went to lunch at a local place with Sherry which was great and then had another lazy afternoon. We went back to the same “hamburger stand” which totally tickled the lady running it. We are still very notable here, the only Caucasians we’ve seen except for a few other tourists at the Terracotta Warriors, and we could tell she felt flattered that we had come back even if we got the boring basic sandwiches because we had no idea what any of the condiments were and since this place is known for super spicy food, we didn’t want to melt our faces off.

Noah showed me a picture of his foster parents that night and told me, “Father, mother.” He was trying not to cry, and I gave him a hug hoping it would be okay with him. He didn’t participate, but he seemed glad I hugged him anyway, so we just stood there for a few minutes and he let me hold him and then he put the photo album away and asked to play Uno.

The next day we flew to Guangzhou. Noah has never been on a plane, and he was very nervous. He thought it would be like a roller coaster. We told him it was like the train and he looked like he thought we were crazy. We told him, no really, it’s like the train except your ears might hurt a little, and he looked like he was being too polite to tell us that he thought we were nuts.

When we got to the airport, he was clearly nervous waiting at the gate, and he didn’t even want to look at the plane, but he marched right on. He’s got some serious chutzpah, this kid. He seemed much more comfortable when he saw it looked like the train. After the take off, he was totally fine – realized it was a lot like the train and just relaxed. We could also tell this wasn’t a US flight because it was about two and half hours long and they fed us a chicken and rice entree, a snack bag of seaweed crackers, a pickled radish chicken salad, a bun, and a giant piece of cake, along with two other things we were never able to identify. Glad we didn’t pick up lunch before the flight!

This morning we had his medical clearance. He had to take more pictures for his medical and his visa, get a general screen to make sure he has no infectious diseases, see an ENT, have a vision screen (looks like more glasses in our future), get a height and weight, and then do a blood draw for his TB test. He was a trooper and didn’t bat an eye about the whole thing. I told him he was brave about the blood draw and he said he’d had to do that many times and never cried. I was just thinking how much more he’s going to have to go through when he gets to the States, and it makes me sad for him, but also happy they can help. We saw several other adoptive families there, and there are also several staying at our hotel this time because everyone has to finalize in Guangzhou, but he is by far the oldest kid we’ve seen being adopted.

We had a great afternoon playing together. He was laughing so hard several times that he couldn’t breathe. He tackles us all, gives us all kisses now, is perfectly content to be hugged or touched, and talked about school at home and the dogs. It was a great afternoon. And then tonight at dinner he just started to cry. It was like the more he tried to stop, the more he cried. And our translation software doesn’t work very well outside of the hotel because we need wifi, and he couldn’t tell us, and couldn’t tell us, and Nathan said one more time, “Can you try?” and he just looked at us and burst out, “I miss Chinese mother! I miss Chinese mother!” and just sobbed. It absolutely broke my heart.

He let us both hug him and comfort him. It’s an interesting thing because I would think he would want to reject us, but he doesn’t – he seems to genuinely like us and I know he loves the kids and all the fun. He doesn’t blame us or think we’re “taking him away.” He’s been well prepared and knows this is how it is. But he is really homesick and he loves his foster parents. Again, I really admire him because he seems to just be able to acknowledge his feelings and be very open to us at the same time. He’s such a brave kid. I already love him, and I am so extremely sorry that he has to go through what he has to go through. I know in my head that it’s so much better for him and his attachment to us in the long run that he was loved well and so attached to his foster family, but it makes the now hard.

He’s snuggled up against Nathan right now playing a game on Nathan’s phone, and he’s smiling and laughing. He’s such a special kid. Please keep praying for him, for God to comfort his heart and continue making him brave, and for us as we finish all this up and bring him home. I say it often, but it’s so true – we are so grateful for your prayers and can feel them every moment.

One week in…

March 15th, 2016
Soldiers at Tiananmen Square

Soldiers at Tiananmen Square

Inside the Forbidden City

Inside the Forbidden City

While Noah was crying, our other kids started praying for him right in the Forbidden City - incredibly sweet for me to see

While Noah was crying, our other kids started praying for him right in the Forbidden City – incredibly sweet for me to see

One of the homes in the Hutong - this one is about 600 years old and still being used

One of the homes in the Hutong – this one is about 600 years old and still being used

Rinnah, Noah, and Toby in the rickshaw

Rinnah, Noah, and Toby in the rickshaw

The amazing moto act - you can still see the other 3 motos driving inside!

The amazing moto act – you can still see the other 3 motos driving inside!

Our family at the Temple of Heaven

Our family at the Temple of Heaven

One of my favorites - the boys walking into the Summer Palace

One of my favorites – the boys walking into the Summer Palace

In the Summer Palace

In the Summer Palace

Waterside at the Summer Palace

Waterside at the Summer Palace

Monkey! When Noah told Baba he loved him

Monkey! When Noah told Baba he loved him

Kids on the cable car up to the Great Wall

Kids on the cable car up to the Great Wall

One view of the Great Wall

One view of the Great Wall

Kids doing O-H-I-O on the Great Wall

Kids doing O-H-I-O on the Great Wall

Today marks one week that we’ve had Noah with us. Now we are just waiting for Noah’s passport so we can move on to the next step. Since we have this time, we decided to take the train back to Beijing and see some of the famous sites there and then later we will also go to Xian and do the same thing before heading down to Guangzhou and completing all the paperwork Noah needs to come to the States.

We continue to be amazed at how well it’s going. It hasn’t been perfect and we did have some tough moments in Beijing, but it’s just been so much better than we thought it might be and we have been thanking God and know that it’s all the prayers!

After a long travel day getting here and getting lost in the Beijing train station and realizing that Beijing traffic would add an hour minimum to every trip we took, we checked into our hotel. These rooms are about half the size of the ones we had in Jinan (just like hotel rooms in NYC!), but it’s a real relief to be somewhere for four nights in a row.

Our first day we saw Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City first. I was fascinated to see these, but there is a lot of walking. We brought Noah a stroller not knowing if he would be willing to use it, and the answer is, no he is not. He told our translator here, Alison, that everyone would think he was a baby, and really, I can’t blame him. If I was nine, I wouldn’t want to be in a stroller either. Add to that that the floor is 600 years old and that you have to climb up and down staircases to get through each hall and courtyard and I don’t know if our stroller would have helped anyway.

Nathan has been giving him piggy back rides and if he wants one he now says, “Monkey!” as in, I’m a monkey, let me climb on your back. Nathan carried him a lot, but really, this is a huge place and not particularly interesting for a nine year old. We also had dressed him warmly for an American, but this is about half the clothing he was used to which was totally our mistake. He was cold and tired and hungry and right in the middle of the Forbidden City, he was just suddenly overwhelmed. He was crying and mad and didn’t want to move and so we just stood there with him for close to an hour while Alison talked to him and we had no idea what either of them were saying and we just tried to rub his back and comfort him.

In retrospect and after talking to Alison, I don’t think he even really knew why he was so upset. I think it was all just suddenly too much and sometimes you just need to cry. Everything in his whole life has changed instantly and completely, and he didn’t want to be there and he didn’t want
to be so tired and cold and be with these people who are perfectly nice, but not his people yet, people he can’t even talk to.

Alison finally talked him into continuing and we moved a lot faster (which, let’s face it, means I tried to stop taking pictures every two seconds) and we had a snack and made it through.

Our next stop was a short Hutong tour (Hutong are the traditional Chinese neighborhoods right in the middle of the big modern cities – the one we were in was about 600 years old) and Alison has us do it on rickshaws. This was perfect because Noah thought that was super fun and rallied and enjoyed himself. We all did – this was a beautiful part of our time and one of my favorite things we saw.

When we were done, we asked Alison if we might be able to see some Chinese acrobats and if Noah would like that – she asked him and he was so excited! He told her he’d always wanted to do that, so we went to a short show that afternoon. We would describe it like the minor leagues to Cirque Du Soleil – they must get a lot of performers from places like that. Everyone’s favorite act was the moto driver in the steel ball. We thought he was amazing and then they added another. Then another, and another until there were 6 guys on motos in there! Terrifying and super impressive.

The next day we went to see the Temple of Heaven and the Summer Palace. Temple of Heaven had a wonderful park outside where people were doing Tai Chi and playing cards and dancing and we watched a man playing an erhu for quite some time who played so beautifully – it was like a little festival all the time. The Summer Palace was also beautiful, and we’d put twice as many clothes on Noah today and it was amazing how much it helped – he seemed to have a great time the whole time.

That night he was riding on Nathan’s back home from dinner and he said, kind of in a singing voice, “Father! I love you!” It was so out of the blue, Nathan looked startled and he said to him, “Wo ai ni?” saying “I love you” in Mandarin to see if that was what he meant, and he just said, “Yea!!” like, of course, didn’t you hear me? Then he said it to me too. We both had tears in our eyes, it was so unexpected! And of course, we don’t know if he’s just trying out phrases he knows or wants to hear it (and of course we told him we loved him too!) or what, but it was a beautiful moment.

Today we went to the Great Wall and were able to go to a location that has a cable car so we could ride up. Even with that there was a lot of climbing and Nathan carried Noah a lot. It’s funny – he has all the energy of a nine year old boy, and he really wants to run and climb and he’s always moving, but his body just shuts down. He has two minutes of fast walking, 45 seconds of running, or about 6 steps in him and then he has to stop. If we can fix his heart, though, I don’t think we’ll ever catch him again. He kept watching Toby running and saying “Oh, my gosh!” and I know he wanted to be doing it with him.

We didn’t stay very long because Noah was discouraged by all the walking and stairs, but we were all very happy to have done it. It really is an amazing thing to see!

We’re all very surprised and amazed at how much English Noah is already picking up. He is one smart cookie. I can tell he’s starting to think ahead now too – he’s thinking about his new home and tonight he said, “I have two dogs” to me in English. He was asking about our dogs at home and thinking that through. He’s also figured out the passwords to everyone’s devices but one. 🙂 And tonight we saw a bookstore and I thought we’d just check and see if there was anything he might like to read and he was so excited about all the books! He found a Kung Fu Panda book and a superhero series and started kissing them which we took as a subtle sign that he might enjoy those. Got them for him and he read the first one non-stop for an hour and finished the whole thing before we told him it was time for bed. I ran back out tonight and got a few more in the series to keep in my bag for long flights, etc. Looks like we’ve got another reader on our hands!

Today we had a very long train ride to Xian. Averaged between 250-300 kph on the bullet train. Again, I am so struck by the smog – even when we’re in the middle of the countryside, it’s so thick you can only clearly see things within about 100 yards, and it’s as if the world disappears 4 or 5 city blocks out. Noah literally read out loud to himself in Chinese for at least four hours – just like Toby (minus the out loud part)! We’re enjoying seeing everything, and we’re soaking it in, but I’m also thinking, “Xian is the last city before we can go to Guangzhou and start checking off more legal stuff!” I am anxious to get Noah home and to the doctors and start trying to get this little guy some answers.

Updated prayer request: It took forever to get a good enough connection to post this. Since then, Noah is really missing his foster family. He’s been looking at his pictures a lot and he asked our translator last night to call his foster parents. This morning at breakfast he said, “I like noodles, I like dumplings. I like Qingdao (his home town).” Please pray for him and his comfort – we are new and exciting right now, and as that wears off and he realizes this is permanent, I know he will be grieving. Thank you!

The Honeymoon continues…

March 10th, 2016
Look at the amazing Legos they've built!

Look at the amazing Legos they’ve built!

We taught him Uno and now he kills us all

We taught him Uno and now he is obsessed!

The famous red hand stamp makes it official - he's now our son!

The famous red hand stamp makes it official – he’s now our son!

Getting gifts at the going away party at his orphanage

Getting gifts at the going away party at his orphanage

The pagoda and pier in the harbor at Qingdao, Noah's home city

The pagoda and pier in the harbor at Qingdao, Noah’s home city

We've already learned that Noah loves Kung Fu Panda, so you know this was super exciting when we saw it on the way to dinner!

We’ve already learned that Noah loves Kung Fu Panda, so you know this was super exciting when we saw it on the way to dinner!

Some of the people who stopped and asked for a picture with the American family

Some of the people who stopped and asked for a picture with the American family

Beauty meets smog - those buildings in the background are not that far away

Beauty meets smog – those buildings in the background are not that far away

We're seeing hilarious English on T-shirts - this is a good example, but we wish we'd caught our favorite on camera - the girl walking down the street with the shirt saying ACNE in huge letters.

We’re seeing hilarious English on T-shirts – this is a good example, but we wish we’d caught our favorite on camera – the girl walking down the street with the shirt saying ACNE in huge letters.

 A shot down the side street of a Hutong neighborhood

A shot down the side street of a Hutong neighborhood

Daming Lake in Jinan - beautiful in spite of the smog

Daming Lake in Jinan – beautiful in spite of the smog

One of many bridal couples we saw out getting pictures

One of many bridal couples we saw out getting pictures

Well, it’s been several days, and all I have to say is the honeymoon continues. It’s really funny – all of the kids have come to me and said something along the lines of “I can’t believe we’ve only had Noah with us for two days! I can’t remember what it was like before!” And really, I’m not quite there in that I do remember, but I have to say, he is fitting in better and happier than I ever thought he could be.

I could tell he didn’t sleep much that first night (and I could tell because I didn’t sleep much
either!) but he woke up happy and we had a lazy first morning getting breakfast and packing up because we knew it would be a very long afternoon. Our adoption had already been pushed back a day and then we were supposed to go this morning, but we got word that another worker needed in the process had to push us back to the afternoon.

Adoption day was crazy. And kind of a nightmare. But we got it all done, and that’s what counts. We left right on time, and drove about an hour to get signatures notarized, then drove an hour back to register the adoption where we found another worker had gone into a meeting with her supervisor and was unavailable. We waited about 2 hours for her and finally registered the adoption, but that put us into rush hour, and that meant we weren’t able to drive the hour needed to get to the passport office and file before they closed. John told us we would have to stay another night in Jinan and do it in the morning, but I was getting really concerned – it takes 11 days to get a passport, and if we can’t get it, everything, our US consulate appointment, Noah’s visa, everything would be pushed back and that meant changing our returns, which costs tons of money and affects the kids’ school, Nathan’s work, everything. John said they would try to do it on time, but still. We started praying right there in the van and John’s phone rang – one of the men at the passport office talked 3 colleagues into staying an extra hour and a half just to process Noah’s passport because he likes John. Seriously! So kind!

So we rushed across town (as much as you can rush in rush hour) and had to run up the steps to the passport building. Nathan caught up with Noah after the first eight or nine steps and carried him, but I was still alarmed to see that with that, his whole face went pale and blue and he started weaving – I was sure he was going to pass out. He wasn’t even phased – I think this happens to him all the time and he’s very used to the feeling – but it sure scared me. We are learning lots of things about him these couple of days and some of the most obvious ones are that he’s not going to let much stop him, and also that he doesn’t have much choice because he really is very sick.

After registering the passport, we still had to drive another hour to the train station (this city is enormous, and crazy populated and we just seem to keep crossing the whole thing). We thought we were going to have a wait for the train, but John got us on an earlier one to try to get us in in time to sleep so we ended up running with all our bags through the station trying to make the train. And of course, now we know Noah cannot run. Absolutely cannot. He can do a fast walk for about 2 minutes and then he is just done. So we’re trying to get everyone there, down multiple flights of steps with all our luggage, Nathan’s running back and forth grabbing bags, trying to keep the kids with us all while I’m trying to get Noah to the train and we finally leap on, have everyone and all our stuff and heave a huge sigh of relief – can’t even believe we made it! So stressful. And then the train is delayed. For about 30 minutes. And we could have walked and gotten a snack and used the potties. But anyway, we’re on the train. We got in so late and checked in and John left and we got up to the room and realized there’s this kind of horrible chemical smell, but we know no one can talk to us and it’s so late and so in the end we decide to just hope we won’t die, put the kids in the better room and go to sleep. It was that kind of day.

This morning we went to see Noah’s orphanage. Noah lived there until his first surgery and was at the hospital and at the orphanage off and on until he was 3 and has been living with his foster family ever since. He goes back to the orphanage often for health checks and paperwork and things, and it was incredibly touching to see how much they cared about him and how comfortable he was with everyone there.

We thought they were just going to give us a tour, but when we got there, they had organized a going away party for him! They had a cake and a huge sign for him and many of the workers came including his baby nanny and the foster care coordinator and the director of the orphanage. There were also a few of the other children there, and I actually recognized one of the older boys from our agency’s wait list – it made me so sad because he looked so very hopeless and resigned, and I know that it’s very rare for an older boy to be adopted, especially with health needs. I’ve been praying for him and the other waiting kids from our agency, and will be thrilled if I see him matched. They thanked us again and again and told us how happy they were for Noah, and what a wonderful chance it was for him to have a stable family.

They also gave us essentially gold – someone there had taken an incredible amount of time putting together not one but 3 photo albums of Noah’s whole life with captions and everything. It was amazing! I cried – I had been hoping for a few pictures, maybe one from each year as I had heard some people got and trying not to have my hopes too high, and this was more than I’d ever hoped for! And it showed such love. I know that his life was not easy, but he was loved here.

Frankly, it was the nicest orphanage I’ve ever seen and the people there seemed to genuinely to care for and love the kids. And for that, I am so thankful, and so grateful to them for what they’ve done for my son and for the other kids in their care. But even then, it is still an orphanage. They had shown us the room Noah lived in until he was two, and it was a small, clean, bright room with 20 cribs. There were babies lying there and when they cried someone came (which doesn’t happen at all in many orphanages) but it might take a while and the babies were going to spend most of their time alone in their crib. It’s just the way it is. Babies do not belong in orphanages. Children do not belong there. I know in my heart that every one of the workers in that orphanage would agree with me – they couldn’t have responded to our coming the way they did if they didn’t.

After that we left and went to see Noah’s “finding spot” – the place where they found him as a baby. His police report was very specific, so I was able to stand there, and to take pictures if he wants them someday. Standing there was surreal – I was thinking how cold it would have been that time of year, and how desperate you must be to walk away from your baby. I can’t say more about that – it’s too hard.

We spent the rest of the afternoon looking around the city, but Noah was getting a little sad. He recognized many of the places as places he’d been with his foster parents. So we went back to the hotel and got dinner and just decided to watch a movie and cuddle together.

Two funny things. One, we went out to dinner and as soon as we had walked a couple of blocks we realized it was too cold and windy to go very far and Noah was really dragging after the long day so we just picked a restaurant at random that was close. We spent at least 20 minutes with the kindest, most patient waiter who was attempting to use translation software on his phone that wasn’t working at all trying to figure out our order. We finally thought we had it, but he still had some question that I clearly wasn’t getting, and wasn’t getting, when Noah made some comment under his breath. The waiter looked at him in disbelief when he realized he spoke Mandarin after all this trouble and they had this exchange which we didn’t understand at all, but given the body language we’re pretty sure it went like this,

Waiter: Are you kidding me?! You speak Chinese?!
Noah: Yep!
Waiter: This whole time I’ve been struggling to talk to them. Is this your family?
Noah: Yep!
Waiter: Then what is going on?! Why aren’t you helping me?!
Noah: I can’t talk to them either!
Waiter: (sighed and muttered in English) Whatever.

We all died laughing, and the waiter even smiled.

Second, we now know Noah loves to sing. This is very good in our family, but he’s started singing all kinds of random English phrases which is absolutely hilarious. So he’ll be walking around singing, “Hhhheeeeelllllpppp meeeeee! Yellow and blue!!!! Oh yea, wow, wow, wow!!!! Go to schooooooool!!!!!” I find it very endearing how much he’s trying to learn English, and the singing is just cracking me up! This morning he woke up singing in Chinese, but at least it was a phrase we knew – he was singing “Chi fan, chi fan, chi fan” which means, “I’m hungry, I’m hungry, I’m hungry” over and over and since we could relate, we took him to breakfast. 🙂

First Day With Noah

March 7th, 2016
Lego is a great ice breaker for new siblings!

Lego is a great ice breaker for new siblings!

Out of focus, but high five from dad for a game of tic tac toe won!

Out of focus, but high five from dad for a game of tic tac toe won!

At our first dinner together - Toby is quite a bit taller, but they were about the same sitting down, and Noah liked that - kept measuring himself again Toby

At our first dinner together – Toby is quite a bit taller, but they were about the same sitting down, and Noah liked that – kept measuring himself again Toby

New ge ge (big brother) and di di (little brother) drawing silly pictures on the magna doodle

New ge ge (big brother) and di di (little brother) drawing silly pictures on the magna doodle

We got safely into Beijing Saturday night China time, spent the night and then took a bullet train to Jinan, the capital of Shandong Province where Noah is from. We have to adopt him here, and so we met him here. There was a delay because someone in the civil service office was out of town, so we had to wait an extra day here. That was hard, but we have been told it likely won’t affect our paperwork (which is very important as our entire schedule, plane tickets, etc. are all already set and paid for based on the first schedule), but we figure God’s got the timing. In the end it was probably good, because the extra day really helped all of us adjust our body clocks and that was important because we needed it tonight!

How do I say how it went? God was so good to us and all the prayers for Noah’s fear and feeling of safety seem to have been answered! He looked sort of shell-shocked when he got to our room, and really looked like he wasn’t even sure what was happening, but he wasn’t scared. He didn’t want much to do with us at the beginning. He said I didn’t look quite like my picture and that Nathan was very tall. He stayed very close to John, our translator, at the beginning and was trying not to cry a few times, but overall he was amazingly calm and brave. He seemed to warm up fairly quickly and was very interested in the letters we brought from our Chinese friends Fanny, Cindy, and FeiXiang and seemed very happy to know that there were people in his new hometown who could talk to him right away. He wanted to hear about his school and the hospital and was nervous about surgery. He also told us he is very excited about our dogs and that he would have siblings because “it would never be boring alone stuff” at our house.

Then we showed him one of the small Lego sets we brought for him, and he immediately said he wanted to put it together with ge ge (his older brother) and then seemed really happy that the girls wanted to do it too. The four of them put it together on the bed next to us while we did paperwork. The adoption worker with him was very nervous for him, and wanted to make sure that we understood not to tax his heart, and for sure, we’ve already seen that if he walks too fast or climbs stairs his lips turn blue. This is a problem because he’s also clearly a boy and has places to go! When we are walking with him, he wants to get there! Our cardiologist in the States has told us that we can’t hurt him – his body will simply stop and rest if he’s overtaxed himself and it won’t harm his heart – but it still makes his caretakers here nervous. It makes us nervous too, and we’re taking it slow and happy we brought a stroller for him.

We had to walk to a photographer and have official pictures taken for his adoption paperwork tomorrow. Then we were done, and everyone left. We showed him how to play Uno, and he seemed a little concerned that he didn’t understand but was almost immediately teasing everyone, and saying, “Yea!” every time someone played a Draw 2 or Draw 4 on someone else. He wanted to play a number of times and seemed to really like it. We went to dinner and that went well, stopped at the supermarket to buy water and he was willing to hold my hand when we crossed the street.

Back at the hotel we played one more game of Uno and watched a little bit of Robin Hood and then everyone took showers. Rachel showed him how to play Temple Run on her kindle and now the whole family knows how to say “jump!” and “duck!” in Mandarin. We told him it was time to take a shower and brush his teeth and he did great and didn’t even seem to think it was too weird. We put him to bed next to Toby and they both went right to sleep.

I don’t think it’s possible that it could have gone any better. I know we are in what adoption people call “the honeymoon phase” and I know at some point he will start grieving. His foster family wrote us a heartbreaking letter and told us what a blessing he’d been to them for 7 years – I can’t even imagine. They were very good to him, and the only family he’s known and he just left them this morning. He was clearly trying to be good and fit in with us and even be a little silly.

We think the the biggest problem is going to be communication. He’d obviously smart and wants to talk and tell us lots of stuff, and we’re all frustrated that he can’t and that we can’t. But he was already saying a few numbers and colors when we were playing Uno and a few phrases he’d obviously learned in English class like “Go to school!” whenever we’d say “Let’s go.”

I don’t really know what I’m feeling tonight. I wish we could talk to him, but I’m so thankful that he at least doesn’t seem scared of us at all. Scared of the US, sure. Scared about surgery, definitely. But not scared of us, and that is a tremendous answer to prayer.

I will blog more later about China when there’s time and space for it and it’s easier to get pictures up. Some very interesting experiences for us, especially as in this city of 8 million people, Caucasians are rare enough that everyone was stopping, staring, sometimes following us, taking pictures and video of us, and even asking if they could pose for pictures with our family. It was pretty uncomfortable but also kind of funny, especially the woman who tracked us from the adjoining aisle through the entire grocery store staring without ceasing over the shelves as if covering up the lower two thirds of her made her invisible to us. The octopus on a stick. The smog that makes your eyes water as soon as you step outside and means many people routinely wear masks. The incredible beauty and contrast we’ve already seen between the ultra modern and the ancient butting right up against each other. We’ve only been here a few days, and it’s already been an amazing experience. But right now, I’m about done emotionally, and so we’ll go to bed and adopt Noah tomorrow and see what the day brings.

Please keep praying for us! This is going to be a big transition, but we’re all happy to have a new di di (little brother) in the family!

Last Day BC (Before China)

March 3rd, 2016
Noah, here we come

Noah, here we come

What a strange feeling. How to sum up what you’re thinking on your last day in the States before traveling to China to meet your new son? Terrifying. Exhausting. So excited! Teary about everything. So. Much. To. Do.

So, I’m just taking a second to reflect. One year ago today, literally, on March 3rd, 2015 my husband was having his normal quiet time when he says he felt gut-punched by this in John 21: “Jesus said, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’ He answered, ‘Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.’ Jesus said, ‘Take care of my sheep.’” Nathan said it was like he’d never read it before. Like God just leveled him and said, “Nathan, if you love me, take care of my sheep.” He got up and told me we needed to look at adoption right now.

Let me back up a bit. I’ve been doing this ministry of speaking and music for about 10 years now. Almost from the beginning we have partnered with different groups advocating for children in need. Children in poverty. Children in trafficking. Orphans. God has placed that burden on both of our hearts, and Nathan and I have had some incredible opportunities to travel around the world and see how these kids are really living. We’ve seen what needs to be done and what can happen when Jesus’ people step out in faith and love people radically, not just with words, but with actions and in truth (1 John 3:18).

My heart’s been open for a long time to adoption, but Nathan wasn’t there, and I knew we needed to be in agreement. We worked to get kids sponsored and sponsor a lot of kids ourselves. Then, in November of 2014, we went to Nicaragua with Compassion and when we came home, Nathan said, “I think it’s time we talked about adoption seriously.”

Then I was the one with cold feet. What, now? Our kids were 16, 13, and 10. Our life was busy but frankly easier. The kids are very independent. We love our time with them and are very close. What if we mess this up? Why mess with a good thing? Let’s be real – I was afraid.

2 Tim. 1:7 “For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline.”

I told Nathan we should pray about it. And we did. And felt we were supposed to look into it, but when I got to all the paperwork, all the hoopla, all the MONEY, holy cannoli, I can’t do this! And I was afraid.

2 Tim. 1:7 “For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline.”

Then came March 3rd. Nathan came and told me he was just feeling this burden – we couldn’t wait. Of course, now we know that it’s because of Noah – they were doing his paperwork to list him again in November, right when we were in Nicaragua talking about adopting, and the Chinese government had given our agency only until May to find him a family. After that, they were going to pull his file because the chance of him being matched was too low to justify the paperwork. His time was running out.

We prayed and there was such a peace, because God reminded me that I’m not the one who’s going to do it – He is. We started praying right them for our child, that He would bring us exactly who He had for our family and that we would know it.

All along Nathan and I knew we were interested in adopting a child who would have a harder time being placed. We have older children – we aren’t afraid of that. When we’re in other countries, we’re often playing with older kids who don’t speak our language, and they are great. We knew we wanted to look at older kids. I was afraid of major medical, but I decided to leave that in God’s hands. He knew who He had for us.

About a month later we had an agency and they had sent me to look at a few waiting children in Uganda. They have their waiting children listed on a page that is alphabetical by country, so I had to scroll through China to get to Uganda. I was scrolling, and I felt the Holy Spirit whisper to my heart, “Stop. Look at that boy.”

I stopped and saw Noah for the first time. Of course, at the time I didn’t know Noah was my son, but I read his description and thought if someone had written a description of my son, Toby, that would have been it. He was two years younger than Toby, he loves legos and reading and school and soccer. Only one scary thing – he had a bad heart.

We decided to pray about him and moved on. I was not feeling like I wanted to deal with his heart. Three days later I was on a site that has over 3000 waiting kids and again, I was scrolling when I heard the Holy Spirit whisper to my heart, “Stop. Look at that boy.” I did, and I was halfway through the description before I realized this was the same boy, it was just a different picture.

Well, that was it really. We asked for his file and started praying about it seriously. At the time, we were told his heart had been fixed and he would just be a little less active than other boys. We got matched officially. And then the next day a cardiologist sat us down and told us how serious it was. It’s very serious. Not at all what we were thinking. And it felt like a death sentence for one of our kids. We were devastated, and went home, but Nathan said to me, “How could we ever live with ourselves if we said no to this boy?” and he was absolutely right. And my immediate thought was clearly from the Lord. It was this: Our job here is not to live a long time. Our job here is to know Jesus. And if we could help this boy know Jesus, we would be giving him eternal life, whether his life here is long or short. So we said yes.

That was last May. We were matched about two weeks before Noah’s deadline. It’s been a long year. Lots of waiting. Lots of praying. Praying that it won’t be too late for him to have surgery as the wait goes on and on, praying that he’ll know immediately that we are safe and love him, praying that he’ll be able to love us back, praying that he’ll know Jesus.

And now, suddenly, here we are. We leave tomorrow. We fly literally to the other side of the world, sleep one night and take a train and then poof, we’re there! He’s there. It’s unbelievable. Pretty soon I can stop imagining how it will be because I will know. Pretty soon I’ll know what size he wears and how active he can be and what he likes to eat, how his hair feels when I ruffle it, whether he’s a hugging kid or more of a high-fiver. These are all things we’ll know. In just a few days he’ll legally be our son. I can start talking about “the boys” because Toby will have a brother. Crazy stuff, that.

This year has been a lesson for me. A lesson in patience. A lesson in trusting God. A lesson in serving and being willing even when my heart doesn’t feel willing. A lesson in being brave. A lesson that God can make you brave even when you know you are a coward. And a reminder over and over and over that this is a precious child of God who is valuable! He is and will be a blessing.

Psalm 127:3 “Children are a heritage from the Lord, offspring a reward from him.”

We are going thousands and thousands of miles for one little boy with an imperfect heart. Jesus literally came down from heaven for you and me, and he did it even though our imperfections can’t even be numbered.

He loves these kids. They didn’t ask to be orphans. They are a blessing and they are His. And we love Jesus, so yes, we will take care of one more of His sheep. And I know we will be blessed doing it.

Last events to Bring Noah Home

February 21st, 2016
Setting up at Beautiful Savior

Setting up at Beautiful Savior

My husband's awkward angle from the side at Bethel  :)

My husband’s awkward angle from the side at Bethel :)

This past week has been busy. We’re definitely in a hurry up and wait kind of place with the adoption – paperwork needed yesterday, and then nothing for several days. Waiting and waiting until appointments confirm and then a flurry of travel planning. But this past week I also did several events which were a lot of work and also a blessing!

Last weekend I went and shared about our adoption at my old church during their Sunday services. There are so many people there whom we love, and they’ve been so supportive of this ministry over the years, we just wanted to keep them in the loop. I sang a new song I wrote recently for Noah too, and that was very well received. They had a time of prayer for us too which was very sweet.

Then yesterday was a marathon of a day. I went to Beautiful Savior Church up in Powell about 20 minutes north of my house and did a women’s conference on the book of Esther. We had such a great time and had many kids sponsored which always says so much about a church’s heart, I think. They were great to work with and Esther is one of my favorites, so it was a wonderful morning!

Then I headed home, ate something, changed and packed again and then headed out to Bethel Church about 15 minutes south of my house. Bethel graciously offered to host us for a benefit concert for our adoption we called “Bring Noah Home.” They are a wonderful church, and we’ve had ties with them literally throughout my entire life. The pastor there now, Jerry, met the Lord in my dad’s Young Life club, and when he introduced me he said, “I’ve known Jennifer since before she was born.” Lol! It was a wonderful night, and again, we have just been blown away by the care and prayers people have given us and the support for Noah – it was amazing. We appreciate you so much, Bethel!

And then this morning I got up and thought, “Wait, that’s it. That’s my last event as a mom of three.” Our next big thing is to go get Noah. It’s a little shocking! But I can’t wait to meet him!

Awesome Michigan Weekend and ADOPTED!

February 5th, 2016
The women at Rothbury Community Church in Michigan

The women at Rothbury Community Church in Michigan

At Saranac Community Church in MI

At Saranac Community Church in MI

Originally, we had hoped to be going to get Noah at Christmas time. Because of that, I hadn’t booked any events after December 15th, just not knowing what our schedule would be. Then, because of paperwork delays and then Chinese New Year, etc., etc., it soon became clear that we were more likely to be going in March.

This is hard because people plan their events out farther, and it’s been really tough not knowing when we were going to be out of the country! Well, when we realized we were going to be around, I started praying that God would open some doors so I wasn’t just twiddling my thumbs for two months, and also because we were realizing that it would be really helpful if we could raise some more money for our adoption. Almost immediately Rothbury Church asked me if I could still come up and do their women’s dinner, and then the next day Saranac Church asked if I would come up and tell our story at their church just an hour away! Pretty awesome how God works.

I ended up taking my daughter, Rinnah, with me on the weekend and we went a day early and checked out both Hope College and Calvin College. I still can’t believe we are doing this. She’s a junior, so we’re planning ahead, but it’s hard to imagine her leaving home – I love that girl! We had a great time together too. And it was fun for me personally to go back to Hope. That’s where I went for undergrad, where I met my husband, and most significantly, where I first understood the grace of God. Rinnah and I were sitting in chapel, this place where I played my recitals and sang in the choir with my husband-then-boyfriend and I was there with my beautiful daughter who loves Jesus listening to all these college kids in a standing room only chapel singing their hearts out to the Lord, and I was just overwhelmed – how could God bless me any more? And how well I know how little I deserve it. He is so good to me!

The next night at Rothbury was so fun – just lovely ladies and fun to work with them! Several of them had heard me teach at a retreat up there several years ago, which is hilarious because that retreat was the first and only time in my whole career that I lost my voice! God must have been moving, though, because they wanted me to come back! We had a great night together!

Then I headed down to Saranac, a church that I would describe as “small but mighty!” Seriously, I’ve been there several times, and they are a small country church with the biggest hearts ever! They specifically wanted to support our adoption of Noah, and I was so touched by that. So fun to get to hang out with my friend, Tina, too – she organized the event and every time I’m there, she’s such a blessing. Overall a great weekend!

Then, last night I did a women’s conference with my friend, Melissa Spoelstra at her church, Encounter, here in Columbus. I was talking to Melissa about ideas for my couple of months unexpectedly home, and she said, “Let’s put something together!” Melissa is also a speaker and author, so we did an event called “Adopted” and she taught on all of us being adopted by God, and I gave a concert and told our story about Noah. Their church was just so generous to us! They are in a space they have to re-set every time and a huge group of men came out and set everything up just for us and then tore it all down again, and they did it all just to help Noah get home. We were so blessed! These couple of months are reminding me how truly blessed I am to get to know so many amazing people of God! They have made us feel so loved! Sadly, I apparently forgot my camera that night!