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First months home

Tuesday, December 5th, 2017

Ethan’s first time on a train with his already beloved Dad on the way to Hong Kong

First time on Winnie the Pooh – their eyes were huge! Loved sitting behind them.

Ethan thought Iron Man was the best thing ever!! Really fun ride.

Who cares if it’s 105 degrees when your Dad is giving you a ride?

Headed to the international clinic for their 5 hour appointment and thinking they are looking pretty hip in their sunglasses.

First s’mores – they were skeptical and then they were in love.

First days at school. Math is comforting because the numbers don’t change.

Some of their amazing early Lego creations.

First time in a tree – they thought it was amazing and just a little scary.

Anna brought this home and made my week – we have come so far from those tough, tough days in China.

Tons of fun with Rinnah at college!

Rinnah the birthday girl with all her sibs.

Our Moon Festival cookies.

Ethan learned to ride the bike by himself in 8 minutes!!

Noah the birthday boy.

First trick-or-treating.

Working hard with our Chinese tutor, Angie, on our Chinese school homework.

Anna the birthday girl with my mom.

Ethan the birthday boy with Nathan and being photobombed by his brother, Toby.

Our new family picture.

Family dumpling party on Thanksgiving morning.

Our cross-cultural Thanksgiving dinner – turkey, steamed sweet potatoes, steamed buns, apple bread, pork dumplings, bean sprouts, corn, stuffing, mashed potatoes, butternut squash, cranberry sauce, and the requisite green bean casserole smack in the middle.

Enjoying siblings.

Christmas decorating for the first time.

Caught a family shot, a very rare opportunity!

It’s safe to say that I don’t remember a time in the last decade that I have been this overwhelmed with all that is happening. So much of it good, quite a lot of it hard, and we are getting to place where I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. I’m sad I wasn’t able to keep up with my blog as I wished I had a better record of these first few months, but there simply hasn’t been time. Putting some thoughts, some FB posts, and a lot of pictures here just to record what has happened.

My last post we were heading to Hong Kong on our last stop before bringing our new children home. We added this extra day just to show them Disney at Noah’s request – he had loved going there on his way home and wanted to share it. We took the speed train there, and then two subways which we somehow managed to change without losing any baggage or children – we each had a death grip on someone, and I swear my heart rate didn’t return to normal until we were off the subway an hour. We were exhausted and then waited another hour for a bus that refused to allow us to board with our luggage and a driver who was incredibly mean about it – not our favorite memory of Hong Kong. We finally split up to take two taxis which was also nerve wracking but we all made it and checked into our last hotel.

We spent the next day at Disney and it was a fun day. The kids have never seen anything like it, and you would expect them to be so excited, but they were more nervous. However, after the first couple of rides, they were starting to warm up, and after the Iron Man ride for Ethan (he got off yelling, “again, again, again!”) and It’s a Small World for Anna (who literally danced in line the entire time we waited she was so excited) the tide turned, and we really had fun the rest of the day. We went back to the hotel and packed up for the long plane ride home.

We got to Newark fine, and the kids did remarkably well for their first plane ride ever, especially considering it was 16 hours long! We had seats together in the center all the way in the back of the place, but at least we were together which was a massive improvement over our flight in. I was in a row with Ethan and Noah, and Nathan sat behind me with Toby and Anna, and Rinnah and Rachel were in the third row with one poor lady who got stuck in the middle of our family. Everyone slept a little, ate a little (why is airplane food so bad?! Why? Why?!) and we made it. Immigration was different here than when we were in Dallas with Noah – they separated me and the new kids and sent us to a “special office” with no info on where we were going or how long it would take which made everyone nervous. But we were the only ones in there and it took less than 15 minutes to process Ethan and Anna as the newest citizens of the US. We joined the rest of the family who had been waiting out in the terminal and headed for our flight home. Sadly, we were delayed several times, but we did eventually get out. Some of the people who had planned to meet us weren’t able to because it was so late, but a few stalwart friends stuck it out for us and it was so good to see them and be home!

This was a really hard trip. When we went to get Noah, it was hard, and he was scared and grieving and we were scared and trying to figure out how to help him, etc, but he’d also been well prepared, and we had no issues with the adoption or anything. We really had a very smooth trip, and a lot of time to sight-see and enjoy things and he was in a place to be able to do that and it felt really bonding overall for our family. This trip felt like the whole adoption process had before it – more of a fight. It was so hot, the things with Anna were so emotionally difficult, we had problems with multiple parts of the process that were very frightening and exhausting, and it was just incredibly stressful. I am so grateful it’s over. Honestly, I feel a little like I have PTSD from the process, and I’m not sure why it has to be so hard. I mean, some parts of it are just going to be hard, there’s no getting around it, but it seems like we had so many hard things that don’t need to be that way. And it makes me sad for the kiddos who are not going to adopted because they’ve made the process so difficult. I don’t really want to talk to any government entities for a while. There’s a whole year still at least of paperwork before we’re truly done with everything, but at least the big stuff is over, they are here, and they are ours.

The week after we got home we had to hit the ground running. Toby started middle school literally a day and a half after getting home. Noah and Rachel started two days later. Rinnah left to start college a week after that (talk about a one-two punch for mom emotionally). And Ethan and Anna had their big appointments at the international clinic and the dentist and Anna had a huge intake for the cleft team at the hospital, all while we were dealing with pretty crushing jet lag. I felt sick for about two weeks! But somehow we got through it all. I’ve been struggling with being mad at our agency – if we hadn’t had all the setbacks with wrong info, etc, we would have been home many weeks earlier and not had this crazy transition.

We also realized that we were going to have to send Ethan and Anna to school pretty quickly if we wanted to be able to go with them and help them – Nathan had to go back to work, and there was no way for me to be two places at once. Nathan actually put off going back to work an extra week because we couldn’t figure out any other way to transition them. He ended up going with Ethan and I went with Anna for a week and a half, and then I did a half day with each of them for another week and a half or so. American school is just light years different from Chinese school, not to mention that neither of them spoke English, so that was really important. The first day I only took Anna for half a day, and when we left, she cried. I thought it was the stress, but it turned out, she was having fun and didn’t want to leave! Even though that was much earlier than I thought we’d send them and there were definitely ups and downs, they both really love school and I’m so glad we were able to get it done the way we wanted to. And shout out to our school – they have again just bent over backwards to help us do whatever we needed to to help the kids feel safe and comfortable, and that is definitely not always the response of schools.

Quotes from FB from Anna’s start to school:

Spent the day with first graders helping Anna adjust. Here are some of my favorite 6 year old questions:

(When we were 2 minutes late) “Did you come here straight from China?”

“So, if you’re her mom, why didn’t you just teach her to speak English?”

“Are your other kids from England?” (uh, come again?)

And my favorite, asked by 4, count ’em, 4 different kids at different times all while looking straight at me:

“So, are you Chinese?”

We also had to start the kids almost immediately in Chinese school just because of how the semesters run. We were afraid if we waited, Anna especially would just lose too much. It’s very important to us that the kids maintain their language. It’s such a gift to be bi-lingual, and also such an important part of their history, culture, and identity. And when we take them back to China someday, we’d really like them to be able to talk to the foster parents if we are able to visit them!

So, by one month home, we had a pretty good handle on the new kids’ medical situations, they were transitioned into school and doing pretty well, and they both knew all the Chinese words we knew and had picked up enough English that we were limping along pretty well as far as communication goes. It has been an incredible blessing to have Noah able to translate when things were hard – he doesn’t like to do it as it’s stressful for him, so we try not to ask much, but he’s a real trooper about it and I’ve been so proud of him and his desire to be a good big brother, something he was intimidated by.

We’ve also come a long way with our relationships. Anna’s and mine started off really rocky, but she is very attached to me now. As she’s gotten more language, she’s also expressing a lot of sadness about China and missing her foster family there (it is not like foster care in the US, they would not have been allowed to adopt her) and I am so glad we are still in contact with her family. They love her very much and are always happy to hear how she is doing, and it’s very comforting for her to know that we know how to find them and that they are happy she has a permanent family with us. We try to be open to talk about anything, and I really stress that it is fine for her to love both of us and that we also really appreciate and care about her foster family.

Ethan has been slower to warm up to me – he loves, loves, loves Nathan! So, while it’s not that he doesn’t like me, I think he just wanted all Nathan at first. He was so excited to have a dad! But I am so happy that he really has been opening up, and we’re doing well now. He’s much more guarded in his feelings, and keeps things to himself, so it’s a privilege when he shares himself with you. He’s started being more open to affection and expressing himself more, and I’m just really looking forward to getting to know him. We love them both so much already.

In October we went to Taylor to visit Rinnah for her birthday. It was so good to see her! I’ve really been struggling with her leaving for school – I love her dearly and have missed her so much. She’s been really homesick too, especially with the new kiddos here, and it’s been hard to hear her sad. But that is also turning around as she makes friends, and I do think her school is a perfect fit for her. We also celebrated Moon Festival with her while we were there, and brought moon cakes and made moon cookies, etc. The kids all brought their scooters and we trekked all over campus – it was so fun!

We also had Toby’s birthday and Noah’s birthday and Ethan taught himself to ride a bike in eight minutes (no joke!). I also headed to Nashville for my first time away to record the vocals for my new album – I’ll write about that in a separate post. We also tried to explain Halloween and had our first trick or treat.

A hilarious conversation with Anna who was trying to wrap her mind around this bizarre American holiday:

Anna: So, Anna princess.
Me: Yes, you wear your princess dress.
Anna: My go house, say “Tree, oh tree!”
Me: (giggling because it’s like arbor day) Yep, say “Trick or treat!”
Anna: Okay, my say “tree, oh tree!” Then they candy. In my… um… pillow? (this is clearly getting weirder and weirder)
Me: We will bring a pillowcase for the candy. Yes, they put candy in the pillowcase.
Anna: And my say “thank you.”
Me: Yep. You got it!
Anna: Okaaay, mama. (In a very, if-you-say-so, where-the-heck-have-I-ended-up, Americans-are-very-strange way.)

Finally, in November I headed back to Nashville to shoot music videos for the new album, we had Anna’s birthday and Ethan’s birthday just days apart, and we celebrated a very Chinese and American Thanksgiving. The kids both struggled a lot with anxiety just before their birthdays, just like Noah did last year. Because they’ve never had a birthday celebration, it’s like they have this intense worry that what if it isn’t the way they dreamed it would be? Or what if we forget them or don’t celebrate them the way we do every other family member? It’s was pretty intense leading up to the days, but getting through it helped so much. We had some massive behind-the-scenes drama getting Ethan’s presents that he never knew about (long God story, but He sure showed up and so did my family!) and it was just amazing to watch Ethan realize that yes, he was going to have a birthday celebration just like everyone else. These are the things that build trust and bond the family and make the kids realize that they do belong here and they are loved.

So, this has been one of the most challenging seasons I’ve been through for so many reasons. One, emotionally it’s just been tough. The kids are grieving and anxious and don’t know how things will be or work, so that is all hands on deck all the time. The time pressure has also been intense. There’s so much more work just with the fact of six kids, and also with the new album. Getting them into school and praying and hoping that they will be comfortable and accepted there, and just the work that needed to happen to get them settled. Sitting with the kids every night for an hour until they fall asleep because they are still so scared at night and in the dark. Making sure we have food they will eat so we have one less stress for them. The adjustment by our whole family to two new people, personalities, problems with communication, all of it. It’s been hard, and I feel like we’ve climbed a mountain.

But with that said, I feel like the worst of it is behind us. We have adjusted. They are getting more English every day. They are genuinely happy at school and have made good friends. They have learned to like many foods here. They are connecting and attaching to our family and we love them.

Now we are looking forward to Anna’s foster sister, Quinn, being adopted by our friends the Moses’ in January. We can’t wait to meet her and reunite the girls! We are looking forward to Ethan and Anna’s first Christmas and sharing the truth of Jesus with them. We are looking forward to having Rinnah home for several weeks of school break. And we are just looking forward to more normalcy and having some time just to be a family and solidify those bonds!

Adoption Trip #5 – A God Appointment for Anna and Ethan’s Orphanage

Tuesday, August 8th, 2017

Toby at the pearl market – so bizarre to see these walls with giant bags of pearls just sitting out – crazy!

Toby, Rachel, and Rinnah on Shamian Island

Part of our neighborhood

Heading over the bridge to Safari Park

Eventually the new kids will understand our weird obsession with mimicking random statues

Pandas were on the move today, even in the heat!

Bird’s eye view from the skyride at Safari Park

At the entrance to Ethan’s orphanage

Corridor to the medical wing

The playground in the courtyard of the children’s wing

Ethan with some of his teachers and workers

A peek into one of the kid rooms

The amazing lunch with the red bean & pork floss bun aka cinnamon roll front and center

Some of the local people we talked to who tried to help us find District 2

What’s left of District 2 looking toward the new District 1

Cordelia looking at what we finally realized was all that was left of Ethan’s finding spot

Sunday morning I went with the girls and Toby to the pearl market and Shamian Island. This was something our guide had arranged for all of us, but since last night was late and Ethan was struggling (and Nathan has zero interest in shopping!) we decided he would stay home with the younger three and have a very chill morning, and I would take the other kids to buy their souvenirs for their friends.

I’m so glad that other kids didn’t come, because this really was just hours of shopping, and most of it very touristy. We didn’t get a lot, but the kids did find the little things they were looking for, and I got Ethan a small carved dragon (his Chinese name means dragon) and Anna a little jade necklace as a keepsake.

Then we headed home and they went back to the pool. Neither of them show any fear at all. That in itself is a little scary – they have no sense of danger. I think they will both be swimming before we know it, as long as we can keep them alive long enough for them to learn to swim!

That night Nathan and I ran out to get takeout for dinner and have another pj evening. We hit the bakery for bread, the fruit store for (you guessed it!) fruit, and the 7-11 for water and yogurt for breakfast, and then went to our go-to place this trip, Noodles, the restaurant nearest our hotel. We ran into Molly, our guide from our trip with Noah and I was so glad to see her! We had loved her last time and wanted to have her again, but she was out of town our first week.

She immediately asked after Noah, and I invited her to stop by and see him, and she did! It was so sweet. But more than that, I think God arranged it. This whole time since our visit to Anna’s orphanage and the horror of my taking her away from her foster mother, Anna has pretty much shunned me. It’s been very hard on my heart. I have seen little cracks where she’ll sort of forget she’s mad at me and smile or something, but then she’ll remember and just shut me down. She’ll draw a picture and show it to Rinnah and Rachel and Baba very excitedly, and then pointedly stare me down and hold it behind her, absolutely letting me know that she doesn’t want to show me. It’s been hard.

Well, Molly ended up talking to Anna for over half an hour. Anna told Molly she doesn’t need me, she already has a mom (talking about her foster mother). And Molly said, “Yes, you have a China mom who will always love you and her job was to take good care of you until your forever mom came. And now this mom is your forever mom! She will always love you and take care of you for the rest of your life! You can always love your China mom, but you can love this mom too because she will always be your mom. She is your forever mom!” It was so sweet. And Ethan was listening to it all, and Noah even came up and said, “She is saying all nice things to Anna, she’s saying all good things.” We don’t think anyone had actually told Anna what adoption was. I think she knew that “getting a family” was a good thing at the orphanage, but it was very vague. When I had to take her from her foster mom, it was scary, and suddenly she didn’t know if she was safe. She wasn’t sure if she’d been kidnapped or what. And so Molly, who has years of experience helping adoptive families, explained the whole thing.

It was a turning point, and all night after that, I watched Anna turning that over in her mind. That night when I put her to bed, she had the most profound grief I’d seen. She was literally wailing and screaming that she wanted her foster mom, and it went on for so long that she eventually just wore herself out and fell asleep. I laid with her the whole time, and she didn’t acknowledge me, but she didn’t reject me either.

The next morning was our consulate appointment, and things were just different. When I got her up in the morning, she smiled at me. It was just a little, but it was a start. She still preferred Nathan, but Ethan is absolutely attached to Nathan and asking him to piggyback him everywhere, so when I tried to carry her, she let me.

We went to the consulate in the scorching heat with one other family we have really enjoyed getting to know, and everything with our case went smoothly. There was another family there who had been unable to get a passport for their child because the child’s provincial police computer system had crashed, and I felt so bad for them. They can’t leave without a passport, and it was really leaving them in a bind. Because of this, though, all of us there had to wait a long time. The kids were doing okay, but we got up very early, and they are showing it. I am realizing again how many things can go wrong with this process, and we are so fortunate that even with adopting two, things have for the most part gone smoothly with the paperwork.

We headed straight home to pick up the other kids – we left them together at the hotel because there’s no reason for them to go to the consulate – and then we headed to Safari Park. I didn’t know if this was a good idea. I really can’t describe the heat. It’s intense, and it’s also incredibly humid, so it’s like walking around in a sauna. You’re instantly drenched. We don’t even care what we look like anymore, we’re just surviving. And given how tired the kids already were, we thought this might be a very stupid idea. But again, we’re hoping they have some good memories of the trip, and Ethan has never been to a zoo before. He kept asking us, “Tiger?” and we would tell him, yes, we will see a tiger. “Panda?” Yes, a panda too! “Elephant?!” Yes, an elephant! Any animal name he could think of from his English class, he was asking us!

It really is an incredible zoo, and we only saw a bit of it, but it was so fun to watch them see it! At the beginning is a tram ride you can take through several exhibits, and Ethan’s face was absolutely priceless. He was over the moon! Every time we saw a new animal he would point it out and his eyes would get huge and if he knew it in English, he would yell it! He’s been trying really hard to use any English he knows. Reminds me very much of our trip with Noah.

After we got off, we bought everyone some food. Noah really doesn’t do well in the heat with his heart, so we were trying everything we could to keep him in decent comfort. We had a cooling towel for him (and all of us, saved our lives that day!) and a little handheld fan, and were really pushing water. He needed calories, though, and wasn’t feeling great already, so we shared some chicken and then got everyone ice cream as a treat.

Have I mentioned that many Chinese people think cold foods are very unhealthy? With Noah’s heart, they kept telling me that if I fed him cold foods, it would kill him. Somehow, though, we forget this, and it wasn’t until I handed Anna an ice cream cone that I realized she had no idea what it was or what to do with it. She’d never had one before.

I showed her how to eat it (I’m really selfless and giving and had to take several bites to show her adequately, of course) and she very tentatively took a bite. She was shocked at the temperature for about half a second and then she went to town. I have never seen so much ice cream on one person’s face. It was 100 degrees, so it was melting almost while we were watching and I went through a whole pack of Kleenex trying to save that girl’s shirt, but it was worth it. She thought it was the best thing ever!

One very interesting and encouraging thing for me today was that we’d put Anna in a stroller, and she kept asking that I push it. She didn’t want anyone else. And I left her in the shade with Rinnah and ran over to help Nathan carry the ice cream cones, and Rinnah said she kept asking for me and was worried until she saw me. This is really good. She spent the day showing me things too, and asking to be with me – it’s a big change and very welcome.

We got through maybe 20 percent of the park but it was absolutely teeming with people on summer break and so, so hot that I was feeling claustrophic. We went to see the pandas because that’s really something you come to China to see, and then we rode the new skyride. It was so neat, and took us over the whole park in a giant triangle – we saw so many animals, and the kids thought it was incredibly cool! They also weren’t scared at all which was interesting, because it’s pretty high up, but it was enclosed and we were all together in the car, so that seemed to make it fine.

By this time we were all melting and it was time to meet our driver. I was getting a headache and Anna had not had nearly enough water – we kept offering it but couldn’t get her to drink. We were happy we were heading back.

By the time we got home, I felt pretty awful and was getting a migraine. Nathan ran out for food (Noodles again! We are now regulars, but it’s close and so hard to walk farther when it’s this hot) and I had a little food and passed out. I woke up feeling worse than I ever have; I thought I was dying. I think I scared my daughter, Rachel, who was so sweet and kept trying to help me. I actually have no idea what happened the rest of that night – I was so incredibly sick. I even had the shakes like I got after I had my babies. I get migraines, but this was the worst one I’ve ever had. I wonder now, was it the dehydration? A reaction to MSG or something in the food? I have no idea, but it was brutal. I was able to get a migraine pill down finally and went to sleep, and slept for 12 hours until morning. Fortunately I have a rock star for a husband who just took over everything. I have no idea what I would have done if I was traveling alone.

I woke up feeling so much better. I had a migraine “hangover” but I didn’t feel like I was going to die. This was very good because we were heading to Shenzhen to visit Ethan’s orphanage and I would have been so upset if we couldn’t go. These are never easy days, but they are so important. We want to know where our kids were, how they grew up, get them pictures and any information we can. We know they are going to want that someday. And this was our only chance this trip, so I was so grateful we could still go.

Anna was not feeling well. I could tell right away, and I think she’s still dehydrated from yesterday and just out of whack. We were getting her to drink, but she wouldn’t eat breakfast which was a first for her – she’s been a very good eater. I packed extra clothes just in case, and we prayed she would make it through. Shenzhen is two hours without traffic.

We had a different guide today. Helen couldn’t make it because she had other families, so we went with Cordelia. She was wonderful. It turned out to be a good thing. Our driver was very nice, but seriously not smooth. Put that together with bad traffic and kids who have only rarely been in cars, and Anna was sick almost immediately. She threw up about 45 minutes into the trip, but somehow managed to miss most of her clothes and the people around her which was a miracle. I cleaned her all up, but it became pretty awful – we went through all the bags in the car and all the Kleenex and wipes we’d brought. I felt so bad for her and for everyone in the car! And of course, our guide told us this was because we’d given her cold ice cream the afternoon before. 🙂 But otherwise, she was unbelievably helpful.

We finally (thankfully!) got to Shenzhen, and Anna felt better when we got out of the car. Compared to Anna’s orphanage, Ethan’s was pretty astonishing. It was like the Taj Mahal of orphanages. We’d been told that Shenzhen is one of the richest cities in China because of it’s proximity to Hong Kong and clearly they have a lot more resources here. Also, Shenzhen is one of the youngest and fastest growing cities in China, going from a small village in the 1980’s to a city of over 20 million less than 40 years later.

Ethan’s orphanage is called a “Social Welfare Institute” and actually has one side for children, and another side for the elderly. It also has an entire medical clinic complete with housing for the doctors and nurses, and schooling for the children up through kindergarten. It was immaculate. We got to meet Ethan’s kindergarten teacher and see his preschool and kindergarten classrooms as well as the playground and “baby room.” We couldn’t take pictures in the baby room here either as we were told they were all napping. But when we peeked in, they were children between 3-7 or even older having more of a quiet time than naps. There was a lot of rustling and whispering and when we looked in, many curious faces. Even though there were 30 kids in the room, it felt more like an imposed break time from summer camp (they kept telling us it was summer camp when school was out). It was still an orphanage, but it was a lot less sad. I don’t know. I am happy that this was his experience, maybe more like a somewhat impersonal but not bad boarding school than an institution. His teachers were very happy for him to be adopted.

We were told one of his best friends was in the room, but we weren’t allowed pictures with him or to meet him. He cannot be adopted because he is not legally free, so they have to protect his privacy. We were able to ask Ethan for his name, and they said he could send an email to him through the orphanage if we wanted to.

We also found out the answers to several of our questions. The most important to us was where Ethan had been for several years – he had only been with his foster family for a year and a half, and we didn’t know what had happened to him in the time before that. We got our answers, and they were pretty positive, so that is good. We still haven’t been able to get many pictures of him during his life, and that makes me sad, but we’ve managed to track down a few, so that is something.

They asked if he wanted to see his foster mom to say goodbye. After what happened with Anna, we had no idea what the wise thing to do would be. We didn’t want him to feel like we denied him the opportunity, but we also didn’t want unnecessary trauma. In the end, we asked him if he wanted the opportunity to say goodbye to her. He said he did not want to see her. He was asked several times, but he refused. I think he saw what happened with Anna and he was afraid of feeling that sad. We did reassure him that we have his foster mom’s WeChat and we can stay in touch with her, and that seemed to be all he needed. We hope we didn’t hurt her feelings, but we explained what had happened with Anna and just said we thought he didn’t want to be that sad, and they said they would tell her.

After our tour, this orphanage had made us a beautiful lunch that we had with the director and a few of the staff. It really was a feast – they clearly went way out of their way for us. The director told me that “it’s not every day we have the United States family of one of our children visit, and we want to make you welcome because it is a long way.” Our guide confirmed that this was a very unusual and special lunch. We had a whole fish, shrimp (with heads on and everything, a funny thing to watch the kids figure out!), duck, choy sum, corn and pine nuts, stir fried cucumber, dumplings, shredded potato, sweet pea soup, scrambled eggs with onions, rice, cake, and a bread that I totally thought was cinnamon rolls and didn’t try but Rachel told me later was red bean bread with dried, shredded pork floss on top (she said I was glad I didn’t get that one and here I thought I was just being good not taking the cinnamon roll, lol!). It was very generous and kind of them! And I’m always happy to get food like this, because it’s a lot more like what our kids ate day to day, and that helps me to know what they are used to rather than what we get in restaurants which is more “special” and not family style food.

After that, we left and went to look for Ethan’s finding spot. This is an important piece of history for our kids, but it is also very hard. In Ethan’s case, it was even harder. It turns out that because Shenzhen is growing so fast, it’s pretty constantly being torn down and put up again even higher. The address we were given was not terribly specific, and was in the second district of a certain area, and it turns out that nearly that entire district had been razed two years prior. We wandered around a bit, and Cordelia was walking around and asking some local people if they knew where the second district was. We ran into an extremely kind policeman who called in and asked others older than him (he was very young!) if anyone remembered the second district or had information about this address, and he ended up leading us through all these alleyways, etc, into the old second district. It was not at all what I had imagined. And we had to talk to several people looking for information and move several times before we finally ran into one older local person who remembered exactly where it had been.

It was just a flat, razed expanse covered in gravel. They said everyone had been relocated and all the buildings were gone. The government was building a new area soon. This was very sad and hard. There is not much hope that our kids will find clues about their past if they want them someday no matter what we do, but this situation makes it pretty much an impossibility. I am sad for Ethan. We took the pictures we could and got the only clues there were, and headed back.

Traffic was so much worse on the way home, and so was Anna. It took nearly 4 hours to get back, and she was miserable and sick the whole time. We all felt so bad for her, and so drained from all we’d seen. I’ve never been so happy to see a hotel in my life! Even though it was such a hard day, I think it’s so important that we did it and I am grateful we were able to go. We’ve talked to many families who were not allowed to visit their child’s orphanage, and we feel blessed to have that insight into their early lives.

We are a little worried about Anna and traveling to Hong Kong tomorrow. She doesn’t have any fever, fortunately, and we are getting a little fluid into her, but she’s not eating. We’re really praying she feels better in the morning and that this is nothing serious. We picked up the Chinese equivalent of Gatorade (labeled Pocari Sweat which is gross and funny at the same time) to try to tempt her and get something into her, but she wasn’t very interested.

Tonight, Noah got a little teary and told me he really misses our dog Pepper, and he “just wants to go home now.” It has been interesting to watch Noah back in China. Nathan and I fully expected this trip to be hard on him, and thought we might see a good bit of regression or him feeling displaced by his new siblings or missing his foster family or any number of things. Almost none of that happened. He did have the one very hard night thinking about his foster parents after our experience with Anna’s foster mom, but otherwise he’s been amazing. He’s taken being back in China totally in stride, has been helpful and mature, has been helping to translate for the new kids, has been fine with not seeing his home city (which we did ask him about, but he understands it’s about 1200 miles away and just not feasible), and has generally just been great. We talked about how we’d like to bring the three Chinese kids back in several years to visit all their former homes, etc, and that seems to be enough for him. To see him actually teary while in China because he misses our home and knows it’s his is pretty awesome, actually. I am so grateful that he knows this. He was happy to come with us to China, but our home is where he belongs now and he was ready to go back. Although I know he will still miss the food in China!

I did run out later that night for just a few minutes to meet up with one other mom I’d been talking to online for months who was also staying in our hotel. It was so fun to meet face to face! I wish I’d had more time, but I couldn’t leave Anna any longer and she was busy with her new son too. You share all these experiences in the months leading up to the adoptions, and I know I will love seeing her new kiddo growing up home safe with his new family.

Tomorrow morning we leave for Hong Kong by train, and then home shortly thereafter. We are all ready.

Adoption Trip #4 Keeping On Keeping On

Saturday, August 5th, 2017

The kids waiting for their medicals

We even have our own little section at the clinic to wait in.

Clan Chen is beautiful, even in the rain

Ethan was mesmerized by the artist carving our name chops.

Typical breakfast for us in the room

Nathan keeping Ethan from a collision!

Anna and her jie jie have got this!

Toby rocking the trampoline park – my favorite activity when it’s 100 degrees!

Anna high-fiving on her way around the carousel

Ethan and Noah enjoying the car ride

The most amazing menu translations ever.

First time at the pool for Ethan and Anna!

Heading into the tomb of the Nanyue king

The dim sum place we actually liked even though the entire restaurant stared at our family the ENTIRE time.

The fish market just outside the entrance to our cruise – who needs an aquarium?!

Starting our cruise!

The Pearl River at night

Since we’re in a fast province as far as the adoption goes, we have to keep moving. The next morning, we had the kids’ medicals. Each child has to pass a medical clearance in order to enter the United States. They do a very perfunctory ear, nose, and throat exam, a very quick eye exam, a height and weight, and 2 minute physical with a pediatrician, and then they take a blood sample for a TB test. We have to wait 48 hours for the results of the TB and if they are positive, we have to go back for a chest x-ray.

I was dreading the medical. After the day we had with Anna’s foster mom, Anna was completely rejecting me, and I didn’t want to be the one who took her for a blood draw. We sent an emergency prayer request to the family about this Wednesday night, and I was sick to my stomach thinking about it. But medicals went surprisingly well. The kids both did fine, and neither of them even blinked at the blood draw. They just put their little arms on the table and watched them do it. It was a little uncanny, actually, and not really good. Noah did the same thing, and it wasn’t until he started trusting me that he told me anything hurt. But at least it wasn’t more trauma for our relationship at that moment, so I will take it.

We stopped quickly and in the pouring rain after the medicals at the Clan Chen Academy to order chops for our Chinese kids. This is a traditional stamp with your name carved in it that serves as your signature. We got one for each Chinese child with their American and Chinese character names, and also ordered one for our family name, Shaw, for the rest of us who aren’t so lucky to have Chinese character names to use. It was amazing to watch the artist carving them – Ethan was enthralled.

We had the rest of the afternoon off, so we decided to keep it really low key. We got food in the room for lunch, and then we read books and played games in the room. We went downstairs after a while to the playground and met up with a mom, Ashley, who I’d been talking to online for months. She and I were on the same timetable, and had been helping each other with each of the adoption steps. She adopted a little 3 year old girl who is the size of a 9 month old and has many medical issues. Ashley’s husband came for the first week and then went home to be with their other kids. They’ve had a really hard time, and this little girl has a tough road ahead of her, but it was wonderful to see how much she was already loved and how much she has already learned to count on her new mom! She has a chance at a completely different future, and when I looked at her, I knew she was in there!

We had one tough moment in the playroom while we were hanging out where a boy came and took something Ethan was playing with, and he crawled under the play space and just stayed there angry and sad for a while. We got as close to him as we could and let him know we were there, but we couldn’t get him out for a bit. This boy definitely likes to hold his cards close to his chest and take care of himself. Eventually he recovered and came out on his own. It’s not about the toy at this point, which we know, but sometimes the kids just need an excuse to feel what they are feeling.

We went back to the room and Anna took a nap. When she woke up, she just laid there for a long time. I finally went over and rubbed her back and asked if she was okay and just a single tear rolled down her cheek. I realized, “Oh, okay, we’re not okay” and laid down with her. Almost as soon as I did, she started crying hard, and then she was sobbing and yelling for her mama. Noah came over and said she was saying, “I want to go to my mama’s house!” over and over. It went on for at least 20 minutes. There’s not much you can do except to let them know they aren’t alone, so I just stayed with her and rubbed her back and told her it would be okay. Ethan and Noah were both in the room (Nathan and the other kids were napping in our other room) and were worried about her. Ethan talked to her every once in awhile, and I don’t know what he said, but the third time he did, she just stopped crying and got up to play with him. He’s been really sweet to her in general, helping her with many things – this is a wonderful glimpse into his personality. Anna’s grief is hard, but it’s also what we were expecting. It’s totally normal, and actually a good indicator of emotional health even though it’s absolutely excruciating to witness. And now, of course, I’m wondering if I’m helpful when I’m there, or if I’m just the wrong mom that she still doesn’t want and it’s making our relationship even harder to begin.

Later that evening, Ashley brought her baby back over to our room and we had dinner together. They are heading home tomorrow, and I will be praying for her flight! 16 hours is a long time by yourself with a new and high-needs baby.

Friday was a free day. We took it easy in the morning, and then decided to head to the museum next door. When we got outside, though, and realized the weather was really good (it was supposed to rain the whole time we’re here, but we’ve been pretty lucky with the weather as far as rain goes – still, we try to take advantage of the sun when we see it!) we decided instead to go back to the park we took Noah to last year that’s across the street.

We rented some boats. Last time we did paddle boats, but it was already 100 degrees, so we went for the electric ones – no one needs to do any more exercise than necessary! That was really fun – we all took turns driving, even the little ones, and we tooled all over the lake. We had a boys’ boat and a girls’ boat, and even though Anna wasn’t thrilled about going with me, her beloved jie jie’s (older sisters) were with her, so she went with it. Then we brought them back (girls’ boat won! Anna was so proud) and there were a few little rides nearby that we let them do.

By that point, we were all really hot and it was lunchtime, so we tried to find a dim sum restaurant our guide had told us about. We got very confused by the directions and learned a lot more of our neighborhood! But eventually we found it. They put us in our own room because we are a huge party. None of us loved this place – we won’t be back. But, it did give me maybe my favorite picture of bad food translations of all time, so there’s that! In case you can’t read them in the picture, the four foods listed are “Mustard Seedling Torture Show,” “Big Brittle Cream to Fight Garlic Bone,” “Hand Steamed Mountain Pretty Chicken,” and my favorite for a light luncheon, “Cabbage Fried Furry Fish Balls.” It was pretty hard to choose.

We headed home to rest a while and then we went to the pool. This was the first time in the pool for both Ethan and Anna. Neither of them seem to have any concept that they don’t know how to swim! They loved every minute, and they scared us almost every minute too – we had to watch them like hawks! And we had only brought one swim ring, and that was dumb because then we had to fight over whose turn it was the whole time. But on the whole, that was amazing. Ethan has definitely learned the word “swimming.” We hear it all the time! As in, “Swimming? Swimming? Dad? Swimming?” All. The. Time. 🙂

We ate dinner in again and finished watching the Lego Movie. We also met up with another family I’d been talking to online and their new little guy. They dropped by our room and played with our kids. They were just arriving in Guangzhou from their child’s province. So fun to get to know them – they are both from Michigan and work for the same company Nathan’s brother works for. Their little guy was so cute! He has the same heart issue Noah has too, so we had that in common. Then they headed out and we headed to bed. The new kids are doing really well with sleeping, but not so well with going to bed. We have to tackle them a bit! But if we can get them to lay still for a few minutes, they pass out.

Saturday we got the all clear for their TB tests, so no x-rays and we were free until that evening. That morning we decided to try the museum again. We had no idea what it was, but we had heard it was good and cheap (yup, family of 8 for a total of $4.50US admission). It turned out to be the tomb of a Nanyue king. It was pretty fascinating and a little creepy (he was buried with quite a few human sacrifices to make his post-earthly life easier – note to self, never become valuable to an ancient king) and much bigger than we realized – you could go into the actual tomb, and then there was a huge museum of everything that had been found in it. We didn’t see a lot of it – Ethan was not interested in the museum at all, just the tomb part, so we tried not to push it too much.

That afternoon everyone went swimming again while I stayed back and tried to catch up on my writing! It’s been hard to find a moment for it, but I hate to miss it because I’ve loved the record I had of our time with Noah. And let’s be real, it’s also been hard to be constantly rejected by Anna, and I was sad and needed some time.

Then we all got cleaned up and went on the Pearl River Cruise. We didn’t do this last time, and weren’t sure we wanted to bother, but we haven’t had time to do much with the speed of this process, and thought the new kids might want a few fun memories of the trip rather than all government offices.

We met another family who was adopting for the cruise and that was really sweet. Anna was pumped about this cruise! When she realized we were getting on the boat, she lit up and pumped both arms up and down several times, the universal symbol for “Yes!!”

We had the choice of getting the Chinese buffet on the cruise or having our guide bring us pizza. We would normally never dream of getting pizza – for one thing, we’re in China so we enjoy the food, and for another, China is NOT known for their excellent pizza. 🙂 But we had heard a number of people say they’d gotten sick from the buffet and we thought that sounded much more terrible than Chinese pizza, so pizza it was.

The pizza was… interesting. The first offered topping was durian. The other types were equally as “foreign” to us. Both Chinese kids opted for something that ended up being very like Korean bulgogi on pizza, actually the best kind we tried. Nathan got “luxurious” pizza which looked like supreme and it was, but the addition of sliced hot dogs and squid was a bit off-putting. We also got a couple “classic Americans” listed all the way at the bottom of the page. This was pepperoni, but unlike any pepperoni we’d ever seen before. We all ate something, and we all had a ton of pizza left, which is a statement perhaps about the pizza. But the pizza is not why you take the cruise!

After we ate the little we were going to, we headed to the top deck. This was really beautiful. We were cruising down the Pearl River as the sun set and all the lights came on in the buildings on either side. All the other boats were also lit up, and every single time one went by, Anna yelled, “Mama, mama!” and mimed taking a picture – she knew I had the camera and wanted a picture of every single boat. This was great and hopeful because she was actually interacting with me. She also discovered a speaker on the deck that was playing music, and this was profoundly surprising and puzzling to her. We think she’d never seen one. She kept gesturing to it and then gesturing, “What? Where?” to ask where the musicians were. It was really cute.

Ethan was having a harder time. We can tell he’s really homesick now and grieving, but he wants to “be a man” and not show any emotions. He was acting up a lot and really having a rough patch. Nathan ended up taking him below and just letting him play fruit ninja on his phone for the rest of the trip. A lot of our time in China is just surviving, and Ethan had just had enough and needed to unplug for a bit.

We had been told there was a show on the second deck halfway through the cruise, so we checked it out and it was the angriest looking juggler I’d ever seen. Frankly, her facial expressions were the most amusing part for the adults in our party. We were still hanging out with the other family, and every time the juggler finished a trick and people would clap, she would glare around like, “I can’t believe this is what my life has come to and I’m doing this stupid routine AGAIN!” It was so over the top that we were all giggling. Then this terrifying woman was spinning a basketball on her finger (she was really pretty impressive, both in skill and in facial expression!) and all of the sudden she came over to Anna and reached out her hand. Anna looked at me like, “What do I do!?” and I held her other hand and told her to give her hand to the woman. She looked very nervous, but the juggler just spun a ball on her finger. Then she took turns doing that with all my other kids except Ethan who was downstairs with Nathan. I don’t think Anna knew what to think! But since the other kids did it, she decided it hadn’t been bad and the woman was not trying to steal her.

We headed back up for the end of it. It was about 1.5 hours, and Anna loved every minute but she was getting tired. Ethan and Nathan survived, and we headed home. I feel like Anna and I have made at little a tiny bit of progress, so that’s good. But I’m still hoping we can figure this out sooner than later, and we’re worried about Ethan now too. We’re praying and we’ll get there. Sometimes it’s hard to remember that we’ve only known these kids a few days!

Oh, and strangely, we somehow forgot most of our leftover pizza on the boat! 🙂

Adoption Trip #3 – The Hardest Day aka Anna’s orphanage

Wednesday, August 2nd, 2017

Anna running in to hug the relative of her foster family

Playing with her brothers on the playground at the orphanage – this is actually their entire outdoor space

She’s so cute.

We couldn’t take pictures that would show any of the other children’s faces, but they let us take this one of Anna next to the crib she was in when she lived here.

The bigger kid room.

Their bathroom. The kids were bathed in the sinks, and this explains why she thinks the shower at the hotel is the most fun thing she’s ever seen in her life – she’s never seen anything like it!

Their potty.

Coloring while waiting for her foster mom.

Our family with Anna’s foster mom.

Wednesday morning we got up early and met our guide, Helen, to go to Anna’s orphanage. Anna is from Guangzhou in a newer district just south of where we were staying. The plan was to tour the orphanage and then go to her finding spot. Then this afternoon we need to apply for the kids’ passports and then we’re going to the bookstore to try to get more books in Chinese for Noah and the new kiddos.

Frankly, this day was very traumatic for all of us. We have enough experience and knowledge from the training we’ve done and our adoption of Noah to know that all kids who are being adopted are going to have some serious grief and tough feelings to work through. You just don’t really know when it’s going to happen or what form it will take. Going to the orphanage, Anna was very happy. She wanted to show it to us. We weren’t sure if she was happy to be going back and thinking she was staying or happy to show it to her new family and then leave.

When we arrived, there was a man out front that she clearly recognized and ran to. He looked absolutely delighted to see her and picked her up and hugged her. Our translator told us that he was a relative of her foster family. She happily turned back to us and gestured for all of us to play on the playground outside the building. We’d seen many pictures of her in this space, but it was so much smaller than I thought it would be from the pictures. She ran around and showed it to us, chattering the whole time, and then they asked us to come inside.

We walked through a small lobby and could see the kitchen and the laundry room off two of the sides along with a staircase. We went around a corner to the meeting room, and with the eight of us, two orphanage staff, and our translator, it was full. They told us a little about the orphanage and asked if we had questions for them about Anna. We asked our questions about her background, medical care, etc, and then they took us to see some of the orphanage.

Much of it was off limits to us, but we went upstairs and saw the baby room where Anna lived. I had been taking pictures, and they told me no pictures in the baby room because there were children in there who might be adopted and they needed to protect their privacy.

The baby room was kind of a punch in the gut. We saw Noah’s baby room, and it was emotional, but the babies were not there – they were in the playroom at the time. And I’ve been in a lot of orphanages, actually, so it’s not new to me, but still, I think I was just not expecting what I saw. There were 25 or 30 cribs in the room, and probably 20 children in them. Some were asleep or lying down staring at us, but most were standing in their cribs and all eyes were trained on us. They were not making any sound, just staring at us. And these were not really babies – they looked to be anywhere from 1-4 years old. The room was clean and had two staff in it. But what really hit me for some reason was that there were no mattresses. The children were sleeping and standing in all these metal cribs on plywood. They looked like boxes or crates. I don’t know why, but the fact that they didn’t have mattresses in their cribs really bothered me. It bothered me a lot. And the staff were all looking at me and obviously did care and were doing the best they could with what they had, but I was looking at 20 silent, staring children in plywood and metal boxes. And this is where Anna lived for the first few years of her life.

The translator was telling me that 150 children live in this building, and about 25 of them get placed “outside” in foster care, because it’s “better for the children to have more attention if they can.” And she’s telling me that most of these children will never have paperwork done to even give them a chance at adoption because they have “very big problems” and no one would take them. And that the older children live on the upper floors, but we aren’t going up there today. And basically she’s saying that the majority of these 20 silent, staring children who are looking right at me in this moment will never leave here. They won’t even have a chance. And I’m looking at Anna who doesn’t see anything weird here at all because this is what she knows, and she’s smiling and bouncing and wants to show us where she slept in the bigger kids room when they took her from foster care while she was waiting for us.

“Do they get out of the cribs?” I couldn’t help it – the question was out before I realized I’d said it. “Oh, of course, every day they go to the playroom. But today it looked like it would rain.” Oh, okay. It’s going to rain today, so they will all stay in their own little boxes. My eyes were filling with tears, I couldn’t help it, even though the workers were all looking at me, and I didn’t want to hurt them when they were so obviously trying to do the best they could. And we turned and left those children there, and in that moment I thought, “O, God! If your people could see this, really SEE it, it wouldn’t have to be this way! The world is so broken, and I am trying, trying to fix just the tiniest corner, but Lord have mercy, it’s too much!” Those children will haunt me.

We went downstairs and were told that Anna’s foster mother was coming to meet us. We had asked about this. I wasn’t sure if I wanted it to happen or not, frankly. I really wanted to meet the woman who had been raising her for the last four years, and we’d been messaging since our WeChat call, and it’s clear that she truly loves Anna. I wanted to meet her and thank her. But I also had no idea how Anna would take it.

One note about foster care here. So many people have asked me, “Well, why don’t their foster parents just adopt them?!” Foster care in China is not like it is here. You aren’t allowed to adopt if you have biological children (all of our kids’ foster parents have their own children) and it’s more of a job where they are paid to care for the kids until they are placed for adoption. That doesn’t mean they don’t love the kids – we don’t know much about Ethan’s foster family yet, but clearly both Anna and Noah’s foster parents loved them dearly. But adoption was never a possibility. This is a temporary situation that can never be permanent by law here. So while the parents miss them terribly, they are usually very happy for them to get a permanent family.

So, Anna’s foster mom came and it was pretty awful, actually. She walked in and we hugged, and that was wonderful, and she was so pleased and happy for Anna and to meet us, but Anna wouldn’t even look at her for a minute. And then when she did, it was like a dam broke. She cried out, “Mama!” and jumped on her and started sobbing. Her foster mom also started crying but just kept telling her it was okay and pointing at us and saying what a wonderful family she had and look at her big brothers! And look at her big sisters! And look at her mom and dad! And how happy she would be in the United States with her new family!

Eventually Anna calmed down enough that we were able to go outside, and she even got down and ran to the playground again with the kids. But when she realized we were getting ready to leave, she ran back to her foster mom and she picked her up and Anna wouldn’t let go. We were all crying, and they were telling me we had to leave, and Anna started screaming “Mama, mama!” and sobbing, and her foster mom looked at me and gestured for me to take her and she turned away crying into the orphanage and I had to carry Anna away. It was one of the most gut-wrenching scenes of my life.

I held Anna in the van and she sobbed and sobbed and then finally went limp. I asked my girls who were sitting behind us if she had fallen asleep but they said no, she was just staring. She sat like that for a while, and then all at once she gathered herself up and slid off my lap into the seat next to me and turned her face to the window. I tried to hold her hand and she slid hers out of mine and folded her hands together and took a deep breath and looked out the window, just utterly dismissing me. I gave her space, but also wanted her to know I was there. The guide was saying that they didn’t usually let families meet the foster parents, but we had asked, etc, etc. Really, we had just asked if we were going to meet them because we had heard others had, but perhaps it was misunderstood, I don’t know. And I know sometimes it can be very helpful in the long run for the children to know that they’ve gone with their new family with their foster family’s blessing, but seeing what we’d just put our new daughter through for no reason, I was just devastated.

We stopped again at Anna’s finding spot. That is a terribly painful thing to do without the scene before it. We took pictures for her and video taped the area, but there really wasn’t much else to do. We were only there a few minutes, and there wasn’t any way to ask questions of anyone there or get more information so we just left.

They took us back to the hotel for a bit and we had lunch and rested and then we had to leave again for the passport office. Anna very clearly wanted nothing to do with me. This is the same little girl who told everyone I was her new mama two days ago. She was happy to be with Nathan, but she was not going with me again. She will know that I love her at some point, and frankly, Noah didn’t like me either at first and loves me now, but this is tough. I do not want to be associated with that terrible moment in her memory forever. And I’m wondering why, when there were 3 other orphanage workers, a driver, and a translator, why was I the one who had to carry her away? I regret this deeply. You can only move forward from where you are, but I would do it over in an instant if I could. I would tell the foster mom not to come. I would ask someone else to carry her to the car. We are going to Ethan’s orphanage later in the trip, and I have no idea what we’ll do if they say we can meet the foster family. Will he be upset that she got to see her family and he didn’t get to see his? So many unknowns.

After the passport office, she seemed to be rallying a bit. We had brought Noah with us too so we could stop at the bookstore and try to get all our Chinese kiddos books in Mandarin. They are so inexpensive here and so much harder to find in the US! We have scrimped in every way to bring our other kids with us on this trip, and we are spending nothing on food or souvenirs, but one expense we had planned on was books!

This bookstore was 6 floors! The entire fourth floor was children’s. It was chaos – kids everywhere throwing books around (this would not fly in any US store!) and general mayhem. Anna and Ethan were both overwhelmed at all the sensory stimulation, and we were having a hard time just keeping track of them. Anna handed us pretty much every Barbie book in the store. And Ethan apparently loves Thomas the Train books. We finally got out of that section and found the older youth books for Noah – he’s been counting the days for this trip for months! We found several things he was dying to have, and in the end, we probably have 30 or more pounds of books. But at $2 each, we cannot pass up the opportunity. Our issue is going to be getting them all home!

We headed back and took the family out for dim sum. We’ve been eating in the room a lot, but with a mini-fridge, we just can’t keep enough for 8 on hand with no transportation. Fortunately, food is really inexpensive here. We got into our booth in this new, huge dim sum place, and Noah was acting really weird. He’d been grouchy and touchy all day, and Nathan told him not to run in the street while we were walking to the restaurant and he was just livid. I almost brought him back to the room and let everyone else go, but in the end he came with us.

Well, as soon as we sat down, he put his head on the table and started to cry. Then he started hitting his head on the table – I have never in the 16 months we’ve had him seen his act like that. And I couldn’t get him to talk to us or tell us what was up, he was just sobbing with his head on the table. And I was already emotionally just exhausted from the morning we’d had with the baby room and with Anna.

I just sat next to him and let him cry and rubbed his back and handed him Kleenex. And finally he was a little calmer and I said, “are you mad?” And he shook his head no. “Are you sad?” And he shook his head yes. “Do you know why?” He shook his head yes. “Can you tell me?”

So first he told me it was because Dad said he could have his ramen noodles in the room but he’d had to wait 2 days because we kept taking him out to dinner. Okaaay. I asked if that was really why he was so sad he was sobbing in a restaurant? And he said that Dad had also told him he couldn’t run in the street. And I told him Dad didn’t want him to get hit by a car.

And then he said, “And Anna’s mom came to see her when we went to her orphanage and my foster parents didn’t even bother to show up!!” Ahh. Okay.

So I immediately told him that his parents weren’t allowed to come – his orphanage did not allow parents to meet foster parents. And that they loved him and would have come if they could. And that they cried when they heard his heart surgery was successful because they love him. And that it was just the rules of his orphanage, but they love him. They love him.

He calmed down after that. And then got a little bitter about his orphanage. He’s also mad that Anna and Ethan’s orphanages got them a cake when they were told they had a family and let us WeChat with them when his didn’t do those things. And I just said, “hey bud, but your baby room had mattresses, and the people there loved you. There are good and bad things everywhere.” And he seemed to hear that and he caught up to me and held my hand on the way home even though he’s 10 years old and that’s usually just too embarrassing.

Wow, what a day. I’m just exhausted. The world is a hard, hard place for our little people. I’m praying that we can help, but more than that, I’m praying that we can point them to the only One who can truly heal all these hurts. And I’m praying that He will comfort my heart tonight too, just like He always has and always will.

Adoption Trip #2 – Family Day and Adoption Day

Tuesday, August 1st, 2017

Driving to the civil affairs office, we notice the oddest things.

Anna meeting her jie jies.

Ethan getting Lego advice from Toby

Ethan is a card shark!

Anna making her new fairies ride on her new doggie and finding that pretty funny!

Our new family of eight.

When we were leaving, Anna ran up to Nathan and yelled Baba! and took his hand – he teared up and so did I as I followed behind them.

Ethan and Anna learned almost immediately how to play pile-on-the-daddy.

She’s already in love with her new jie jies.

Ethan posing while we wait for noodles to be cooked for our dinner

Signing the official adoption papers.

All my boys.

We got into Guangzhou mid-afternoon and were met by our guide, Helen. We caught an earlier train, so we had to wait a bit, and we are already noticing (and remembering) the difference between Hong Kong and mainland China. There is no English here except the occasional label (such as Female Toilet which always makes us laugh). People stare at us a lot more, although it’s still not as bad as some of the places we were with Noah – Guangzhou is a more international city than most, so we are not quite as unusual, but we are definitely out of place here. I always feel so much more vulnerable when I’m illiterate.

Nathan grabbed our return tickets with Helen and we headed out to the van. When adopting, you pay a guide and driver to get you where you need to go for the process, and to tell you what you’re signing, etc. Helen has been doing this for 30 years! She explained in the van that she was uncomfortable with our timeline as it left us no room for anything to go wrong, and asked if we were okay to make some changes to allow our medical clearances for the kids to be earlier. Of course, we want to do whatever is the safest plan to get our kids home, so we agreed. And we didn’t have to miss anything, we just have a few kind of crazy days followed by a few nothing kind of days.

She got us checked into our hotel, and thanks to my brother for letting us use his points (and for my brother staying way too many nights in Marriotts so he has a crazy status!) we got an upgrade to a junior suite for one of our rooms. This is an amazing blessing because the rooms here are really small, but this give us an actual living space we can be in, and since we’re trying to save money everywhere we can, it gave us a place to eat in the room, etc.

Checking in and at this point, all we’re thinking about is tomorrow. We’re trying to get everyone settled and I’m putting away the new kids’ clothes and putting together their backpacks for tomorrow, and it’s just there at every moment. How will it go? Will they cry a lot? Will they remember us from our WeChat conversation? Will they be happy? Excited? Scared? All of those? Will their health condition be what we are expecting? We will be adopting these children no matter what happens, but there are so many current unknowns that we will actually know tomorrow, that sometimes it’s stunning.

We were thrilled to meet our friends, the Larsons, that night for dinner. They are in country adopting an almost 14 year old boy, Eddie. They are a week ahead of us in the process, but since all adoptions are finalized in Guangzhou which is where our kids live, we will get to meet Eddie and see them here! We walked down together to the restaurant we remember loving last year, and all I can say is, sadly, what a difference a year can make! The menu was completely different and pretty incomprehensible to us. And I would see something I thought looked maybe okay and Noah would tell me it was intestines or something. Sigh. But it was wonderful to meet Eddie and to see how well he is doing! It’s no joke to change countries and people and language at age 14, but he was just thrilled to have a family, and very brave about everything that’s changing.

It was another great way to pass time, but getting ready for bed, we are all aware that this is our last night as a family of 6.

The next morning Nathan, Rinnah, and I left early to head to the bank. There are caps on the amount of money people can change per passport, so we needed Rinnah because she’s over 18. We didn’t know this before we came, so thank goodness we had Rinnah with us! We had to pay pretty massive fees today, and all of them times two because we are adopting both Ethan and Anna, so without her here, we would not have been able to get enough. I thought this would be walking in and changing money. Maybe 20 minutes. But even though we were second in line, we waited an hour before we were even called. Then we were screened by a uniformed officer, asked a million questions yet again, had to supply all kinds of personal information, everything had to be sent to “central” to be cleared, whatever that means, and then all our US bills were checked one by one. Then we signed 6 different documents each, all while being very aware of the many cameras trained on us, and the fact that our guide had told us numerous times that we would be “watched very closely” to see how this money was spent. And finally they changed our money. Then Nathan went off with our guide to collect the money we had wired to ourselves as well, the last money we needed to pay all the fees, while Rinnah and I walked back to the hotel with a very, very uncomfortable amount of cash on us.

Nathan came back an hour and a half later. They had been unsuccessful. He had not used his full middle name (the way it appears on his passport) so they wouldn’t give him the money. We were a little panicked, but our guide very kindly offered to loan us the money we needed until we could get it worked out. We are very unimpressed with Western Union at this point.

The kids and I ran out to pick up food for lunch before we left while Nathan made sure we had all our ducks in a row for the afternoon. We had to leave at 2 to meet the kids at 2:30. We walked down to the little halal noodle shop on the corner, and my faith in cheap and delicious Chinese food was restored! This place runs about $1.50-2.00 per entree, and the whole menu is so accessible! I would eat almost anything on that menu! We carried the food home, ate with Nathan, and suddenly the time was upon us – after months of feeling like time was crawling, we were meeting our new kids and it was time to go!

We headed downstairs and Helen was waiting for us. As we drove to the civil affairs offices, Helen explained that there was only one other family meeting their child that day, and since Ethan’s city is farther away, we would probably not meet them at the exact same time.

We arrived at civil affairs and took the elevator up and all the while, my heart was beating faster and faster. We came in and they said Anna was already there, but we were not allowed to see her until they looked through all our paperwork and determined it was all in order and the fees were paid. As they gave us a few papers to sign, Rinnah whispered to me that Anna was peeking around the corner of a back room they had her waiting in. It’s a surreal moment. And then they told us to stand up and come toward the room and get the camera ready (I appreciated the heads up!) and she walked out toward us.

She was dressed up in a very fancy silver dress-up dress that had seen better days, but I think she felt (and was!) beautiful in it. She looked a little blank at first and uncertain, but she let us say hello and hug her and hold her hands. Those first few moments are so unreal because you know that your life and hers has changed forever, but you can’t talk to her, and so you just smile and say hello over and over and pat her back and see what she’s okay with.

We’d only been talking with Anna for about 5 minutes when we heard people coming into the office – it was the orphanage worker from Ethan’s orphanage along with him and one other boy, the other boy meeting his family that day too. It was another surreal moment – he walked right past us to the back room (he’d clearly been coached that that was where he needed to go first) but as soon as he saw us, he nodded at us very decisively as if to say, “Yes, you came like you said you would. We’re all set.” Almost immediately they let him come out to us, and we said hello.

They told us to sit on the couch in the corner, and I pulled Anna up next to me and she immediately snuggled in by me. She kept looking up at me and every once in a while she’d say, “mama” like she was confirming my identity. Ethan was sitting on the opposite side of her and I just patted his head and his back and he sat patiently and waited to see what was next. It was like he came to us feeling already in the family. He was there, we were there, and he was just waiting to see when we’d take him home.

I gave Anna the little dog we brought her and she still looked unsure about what to do with us. Then I gave Ethan the little tiger we brought for him, and he smiled immediately and made it jump around and roar. Anna watched him and it was like it woke her up. She smiled a little and looked at the dog and then at his tiger and then made her dog move a little and she started to relax. They called Nathan back to sign a ton of paperwork. We got out a tiny Lego set we brought and Ethan started putting it together with Toby and Noah. Anna let us know that she was not interested! So I got out these tiny fairy dolls I’d brought and made one fly and suddenly she was smiling too and got down to play with them on the floor with the girls.

We played for about an hour while Nathan and I took turns signing paperwork. The Lego was done so we got out the Uno and discovered that Ethan can shuffle like no one’s business. Anna got tired of the fairies and Rinnah discovered that she loved to draw, so they drew pictures together. Anna’s first picture was a beautiful set of clothes in a closet that was apparently outside because there were also lots of pink flowers and two blue, smiling suns. We took pictures for the orphanages and for ourselves, and I got to ask questions about the children from their orphanage representatives. They say, “here’s your child, do you have any questions?” and you think, “Of course I do! I’m sure I have a million questions! I just can’t seem to think of any right at this moment…” and you ask “does she have allergies?” and “how long was he with his foster family?” and you realize you’re going to think of all the questions one minute after the 3 minutes they gave you to do this.

Then they said we were done, and we were heading out. We said goodbye to the other family who had been doing the same thing in the other corner of the room, and headed out. Anna by this time was yelling “Jie jie! Mama! Baba!” (Older sister, mommy, daddy!) at whoever was closest and wanted to hold hands with people. Ethan still just seemed like he thought he was where he belonged! Nathan and I just kept looking at each other like, “How could that have gone SO well? It’s not supposed to be that easy!” Most kids are crying or scared or angry. Ours came to us like they knew right away we were family, and it was simply amazing!

We went to a grocery store called Carrefour which is like a Walmart in that it has everything. We started upstairs and got Anna a pair of shoes as she only had sandals. We bought plates and cups and napkins for the room and went downstairs and bought food for dinner and breakfast and some snacks. We asked the kids what they liked and they told us. They were excited, but completely appropriate the whole time. Considering what their day had been and the incredible sensory overload in that store, it was astounding!

At one point we were in the juice aisle and I said to Ethan, “What do you like? Orange? Apple? Or grape?” pointing to the different juices. He looked at me and pointed saying, “grape” in English. And I said to Anna, “And what do you like? Orange? Apple? Or grape?” and she said “apple.” Then they both just looked at me to see what would happen. So I pointed at Ethan and said, “Grape for Ethan Long Ning” and pointed to Anna and said “and apple for Anna Ru Xuan” and they looked shocked and amazed that they both got one and that it was fair. And then what was amazing to me was that they didn’t ask for anything else, just walked on. We saw books and let them each pick one and it was the same thing – so appropriate when they could have thought it was a free-for-all.

We finally got everything and headed back to the hotel. We had dinner in our room because the kids needed to have no more new things that day. Everyone ate well, and no one seemed to have any obvious food issues which is also astonishing as that is so prevalent with kids who are adopted. Nathan helped Ethan take a shower and I gave Anna a bath. Neither objected in the slightest and both looked very excited about their new pjs. When Anna saw her pink socks and underwear, she actually crooned, “oooohhhh!!” And all along they just kept playing with their siblings and looking thrilled with everything. We could hardly believe it!

Our four oldest are sleeping in the room across the hall, so we sent them over there and put the new kids to bed in our room, Ethan in a rollaway, and Anna on the loveseat. I didn’t know if they would sleep, especially Anna since I don’t think she’s ever slept alone before. Ethan conked out pretty quickly, but it took Anna a long time – she played quietly with her new dog and Noah’s fidget spinner and finally fell asleep about 2 hours later, but they both slept all night long which was another blessing.

At 6 (way before I usually want to be up, but let’s face it, with my friend jet-lag waking me up every night at 2 am and two new kids in the room, I wasn’t sleeping anyway) Anna needed to get up to use the potty. I took her and she led the way back to her bed and pointed at everything to tell me how to tuck her back in. Then she just laid there with her eyes open. I watched her for a bit and then got up and took her dog and held my arms out and said, “come with me?” and she got the hugest grin and jumped up into my arms to get in bed with Nathan and I.

We played hide and seek in the covers with her dog which she thought was amazing, and just hung out for about 45 minutes until Ethan woke up. Then he came and got in the bed too and brought his tiger to play with us. We got up around 7:15 to make breakfast and Rinnah walked in our room at 7:30. Anna yelled, “jie jie!!!!” (older sister!) and ran across the room and threw herself into a hug around Rinnah’s knees. I could tell Rin was so touched! A couple minutes later Rachel came in and got the same treatment. This girl loves having older sisters!

After a breakfast of bakery bread, quail eggs, drinkable yogurt, and leftovers from dinner the night before, we all got ourselves dressed and headed out to meet our guide, Helen, again down in the lobby. We drove back to the civil affairs office where we needed to sign all the papers to officially adopt Ethan and Anna.

They were curious about why the other kids didn’t come, but we explained what was happening, and they were perfectly fine. We got to the office and the other family from yesterday was there too. It turned out that Ethan knows their son – he is only one year younger and they are from the same orphanage. They were from Italy, but spoke enough English that we were able to talk some which is good because my Italian is pretty limited to the vocabulary I used to sing in operas!

We signed all the papers with the kids watching every bit of what was happening. Ethan pointed out the American flag in the office. I think he’s excited about going to the US.

From my Facebook about that day:

And it’s official! In China there’s a 24 hour “harmonious period” with the children and then you go to finalize. So today we signed everything and we are officially a family of 8! They asked us if we “found these children to be acceptable.” And we said, “Acceptable? These children are fantastic!!” They looked surprised and then amused. And one of the officials asked why I wanted “this boy.” I was totally not expecting the question, and this was clearly something he had to fill in on his form, so I said, “well… he looked wonderful.” And the man looked like he hadn’t heard that one before and then smiled and shrugged and wrote it down, and I added, “and I wanted him to have a family” and the man actually paused and got teary and said, “yes, this is good for him to have a family.”

We got back to the hotel room in time to take everyone to lunch at the noodle place again. There was no air conditioning and it was about 95 degrees, so by the end of lunch, the kids were done. I took them back to rest and Nathan headed out again to try to figure out the bank wire that failed. The money aspects of this trip with international banking and carrying cash when that failed were really stressful this trip.

We had a low key afternoon with some playground time at the hotel and generally hanging out in the room. Nathan came back and had been able to get the wired money, praise God, so we messaged our guide that we could pay her back in the morning.

The Larsons came over with Eddie again for dinner which we just ate in our room. It’s so fun to see how he is comfortable with them already! He clearly loves having a family and I know they love him already!

I did notice that the kids were really hyper, almost frantic tonight while playing. This is a pretty common trauma response, actually. They look like they’re having fun, but kids respond with fight, flight, or freeze to traumatic situations (like meeting your new family which is wonderful, but also means you’ve lost everything you’ve known before), and hyperactivity or frantic play is a version of flight. Now, if I was going to vote for the version of trauma I’d like to deal with, this would be it. It’s much easier to parent and help kids through than say violence or catatonic detachment. But it was just something I noticed as in, “I’m glad they are doing so well, but let’s keep an eye on this.”

We got the kids in bed that night and they both went to sleep almost immediately – it had been a big day. We are going to Anna’s orphanage in the morning, so we all went to bed to try to get some sleep because that will be an emotional day.

Adoption Trip #1 – Hong Kong

Sunday, July 30th, 2017

Heading out! Hong Kong, here we come!

Rinnah looking at the amazing view from the Lok’s apartment in Hong Kong

Our wonderful friends, the Loks!

Some of the many apartment buildings in their neighborhood – the population density is incredible.

One of the stalls in the Lok’s neighborhood market

The amazing waffles in Mong Kok

The amazing view out the window at lunch of Hong Kong Island

Some of the many dim sum dishes we had together

They like to make food fun and pretty here

View from Victoria Peak

Another stunning sunrise at the Lok’s apartment

Just about a year ago, I saw a picture of Ethan for the first time, and that started this journey. It’s been a long, long year of paperwork and frustration. For some reason, these adoptions have been much more problematic. We had what felt like constant obstacles and delays, and it feels like a miracle that we are actually in China.

I’m sitting on a train leaving Hong Kong, and headed to Guangzhou in mainland China. We will meet Ethan Long Ning and Anna Ru Xuan tomorrow. To be precise, in 27 hours. Not that anyone is counting of course! But it feels surreal. We’ve gotten very little information about our new children over the past year, but we have already fallen in love. We are anxious to get to know them, and learn how to be the particular parents they need.

With all the delays, you would think that we would have been completely ready to go, but in true Shaw fashion, we underestimated our time. So what felt molasses-slow ended up being a race to the finish to get out the door on time. The kids got a decent night’s sleep before we left, but Nathan and I were up until 2 am checking and re-checking all our adoption paperwork and visas and checklists. Not that it mattered too much anyway – I knew I wasn’t going to sleep and I didn’t! It’s too hard to shut off your brain.

My brother came at 8am and we loaded up our car. We try very hard to pack light, but since the forecast is 95 with 100% humidity and thunderstorms every day, and we have no access to laundry, we know we’re going to be yucky and want extra t-shirts. Add to that the fact that I’m having to guess at Ethan and Anna’s sizes so I’m having to bring extra things for them (and a sewing kit and safety pins in case their shorts don’t stay up!) and a group of 8 (!!) and we have more than we’d like.

We catch our flight to Chicago with no problem. Somehow I feel like I’m home free after all the trouble of getting here! But then halfway to Chicago, a woman a couple rows behind us had a medical emergency. We weren’t sure if we were turning around, but praise God, she was actually seated next to a doctor and he monitored her and she looked much better after a bit. The pilot flew like lightening and we were in Chicago early. We all had to wait for paramedics to take her off the plane, and thankfully she was only a little woozy by that point, but we are just feeling relieved to be here – if we’d turned around we would have missed our China flight.

In O’Hare we hoofed it all the way around to the new terminal and got some Chicago deep dish for lunch – airport style. 🙂 Not too bad. We’ve asked every airline person we’ve seen so far if they can move our seats on the long flight, but everyone just keeps telling us to ask the next person. Even here, we were told to ask someone who was coming an hour before the flight. We had to book so last minute that we had all center seats scattered throughout coach which sounded horrible for a 16 hour flight. I had snagged two seats together when they opened up at one point, but they were on the opposite side of the plane. Finally the magical person showed up. She wasn’t able to get us together, but she did somehow get us one group of three. So we had the girls together but all the way on the other side of the plane, and then me and the boys in the group of three, and then poor Nathan by himself in the middle seat behind us. It wasn’t too bad though – God is so funny. Both the people he was sitting by had connections to ministry, and he enjoyed hearing about that and sharing about our adoption.

16 hours is really long. Like, really long. Eiyiyi. And everyone was excited to pass the time by watching the movies and stuff they offer in the back of the seat on long flights. Except that the TVs worked everywhere in the plane but our section. Yup. And that meant I was with a 10 and 12 year old boy who couldn’t do anything but watch all the other people watching movies and playing games! And even the light controls were tied to the screens, so if the TV wasn’t working, you were sitting in the dark. So no reading or anything either! Fortunately we had our charging bank, so they got out their tablet and played together. Screen time rules do not exist on 16 hours flights! Finally, about 4 hours in they rebooted again and we got our screens working and we were all thankful.

No one slept much. Noah did the best and slept about 4 hours. I got about an hour. I just can’t do it – too much noise and your legs start to hurt so much, etc. I know I’m whining, but about 12 hours in you just want it over! But we all made it, and that was a relief.

When we got off the plane, we had about 30 minutes of immigration, baggage claim, customs, and then we walked out and saw our friends the Loks waving and smiling at us! So good to see them! Their daughter, Chung Yan was one of our son’s best friends for years at school, and they were neighbors of ours. They moved back to Hong Kong about a year ago, and so graciously offered to host us while we were in Hong Kong. We added these few days at the beginning of the trip to let our body clocks adjust a bit to the 12 hour time difference before we were meeting brand-new-to-us children – it seemed a wise thing to do, and also let us have a little cushion in case flights were delayed or cancelled.

The Loks got us to the bus with all our stuff and we rode about 45 minutes out to their apartment. They live on the 26th floor of a 29 floor building and told us their building was “pretty short.” It is something that always strikes me – the population density is amazing here, and there’s no such thing as a single family home. Just high-rise after high-rise. Their apartment is beautiful and looks out at the mountains and water. Hong Kong looks like a fairy tale, really – the extreme green of the mountains plunging into the blue of the water all around, it looks like the mermaid lagoon from Peter Pan. It’s a beautiful city.

We got to their apartment at around 8pm Hong Kong time, 12 hours ahead of home, and had been traveling for 24 hours straight. They ordered food, and we had a great meal of Hong Kong style fried rice, pork, lemon chicken, and a delicious soup with greens. After the incredibly awful (incredibly awful!!!) food on the plane, it was heaven. Toby and Chung Yan were having so much fun catching up, and her little brother is exactly the same age as Noah, so they were having fun too. We just chatted and got everyone a shower (which is no mean feat with one shower and so many people!) and went to bed. They are so kind. Hong Kong apartments are small – even smaller than what we usually saw in New York! But they squeezed us all in and made us feel like family.

I was wide awake at 2am. Thanks, jet-lag! Then 3, then 4, then 4:15, then 4:30, and I finally just got up at 5. The trick is if we can all make it to the evening tonight, we’ll be tired enough (probably!) to actually sleep and then our bodies will be switched. This direction the jet-lag isn’t so bad. It’s really going home that seems to hit the hardest, I’m not sure why.

Grace and Peter had told us their kids usually get up at 9 on a Saturday, but I guess they were as excited to see us as we were to see them, because all the kids were playing together by 6! Their poor neighbors! But they were having a blast. We had breakfast (watermelon, pork buns, mantou buns, toast, and tiny chicken pies) and then everyone got dressed and we headed out to see Hong Kong together! We walked through their neighborhood, starting with a beautiful walkway along the water – just stunning. Visited their market which I thought was enormous – stall after stall after stall of fresh fish and vegetables, and fruits, and Chinese medicine, and then Grace told me apologetically that they only have a small market near their house. It had to be at least 100 stalls. And the fish were literally still jumping on the table, and there were crates of live chickens looking at the newly butchered chickens hanging in the case (poor chickens!!!), so it is definitely fresh! So interesting. We bought little custard pies straight out of the oven – the bag was literally steaming my hand while we were waiting for them to be cool enough to eat, and they were amazing.

Did I mention hot? Oh. my. goodness. It’s about 95 but the heat index is 110 and 100 percent humidity. We have been more attractive at other times in our lives, just saying. We all got out our umbrellas in true Chinese fashion just to get a little shade from the sun. It’s very sunny here, but it’s still hazy – when we look at the mountains in the distance, they are in soft focus. I asked if it’s ever clear (when we were here before it raining constantly and all of Victoria Peak was in a cloud), and Grace said she thought it was clear about half the time. If it ever is, it would be incredibly stunning – it really is such a beautiful city.

We took the subway into the central part of the city and visited the market in Mong Kok. So fun! We just like to look around. Peter bought some waffle thing that was pressed into circles, and you just tore off the pieces. It was like a sweet waffle with a bit of coconut flavor and we were a little like locusts I’m afraid – it was gone in about 2 minutes. You’d think we’d never eaten before! But the food is one of the best things about Hong Kong.

We were going to visit the Ladies Market which is a more traditional street market (Mong Kok used to be, but the government decided they all needed to be storefronts, so it’s changed) but it was too early – they were still setting up. We walked through the side of it anyway, and it’s shocking that the put up the whole thing and tear it down every day! And we saw some of the my favorite “Chinglish” translations on signs! I was sorry they weren’t open yet – I saw one I wanted to buy that said “You strong like Rambo, but you brain is potato.” But then I thought, where would I actually put that in my house? Ha!

We headed down to the waterfront in Kowloon. Hong Kong has four districts, and Kowloon is the peninsula jutting into the water facing the island of Hong Kong. Grace and Peter live in the new development district, and when we come back to fly home after the adoptions, we are staying in the fourth district on Lantau Island near the airport. So we feel like we’ve seen a lot this time.

Grace had made reservations for a dim sum lunch at a restaurant literally looking at the water in Victoria Harbor facing Hong Kong. It was one of the best meals I’ve ever had, even though I didn’t always know what I was eating. Grace ordered everything and told us what was there, and the food just kept coming – I lost track. But it was one bite of everything, which is my favorite way to eat. Taro and shrimp, spring rolls, barbecued pork buns, water chestnut gels, radish cakes, rice wrapped peanut pork, shrimp and pork dumpling, chicken zhong zhi, squid shaped red bean buns (super cute!), and about a hundred other things.

Then they brought out the chicken feet. I had told Grace before that we liked most things, but since we’re American, we are generally a little wimpy about weird meats. I used chicken feet as my example, as in, “I loved everything we had last time, but please don’t make me eat chicken feet.” Well, Noah took this as a challenge. Told me how amazing they were, how I would love them, etc, and it turned into “mom has to try chicken feet.” Then Chung Yan joined in and we were getting out-numbered. Well, you know what? Maybe mom will. Can’t let a 10 year old win! Plus, this whole culture eats them, I can be respectful of that.

And so I did. But oh my. I tried to take a little bite, and it moved, yup, just like a foot. It was exactly like biting into little tiny chicken feet bones. And I am a wimp. And I got the shivers. And pretty much everyone laughed at me, but then I was able to take a bite. Maybe the tiniest one ever, but a bite nonetheless. The flavor was actually really good, but I am not a convert. No, ma’am. And then Toby did it and Rinnah did too (apparently Nathan’s claiming a pass because he tried them once in Mexico and says that counts!), so that’s most Shaws down – check that off the bucket list, I guess! But a certain someone can never again say I wouldn’t do it!

After lunch we took the ferry across to Hong Kong and headed up to Victoria Peak to get the view! We missed this last year because it was raining so hard we couldn’t see anything. Even though it was hot, like surface-of-the-sun hot, we still had such a good time doing this. And I got a much better concept of the island itself. It’s amazingly steep, and you wind your way up and up and up. And so many people. I love visiting cities but only for short times – I start to feel very claustrophobic after a while with all those people touching you everywhere you go.

Like everything else in cities with large populations, it always takes longer than you think it will to get anywhere, and by this time it was late afternoon and all the kids were dragging. The adults were too! So we headed back down and took the bus home. This time we sat on the top of the double decker bus, and that was fun to watch! It was about 45 minutes home. I think where Grace and Peter is is one of the loveliest places I’ve seen, but she said they live “far out” because Hong Kong is so expensive. It costs 1 million USD to buy a 400 square foot apartment! So they trade the commute for lower rents.

Grace stopped at the market to get a few things and Peter took us all for bubble tea. It was heavenly after being so hot! Then we walked the 10 minutes back to the apartment.

Grace told me she was making a “very simple meal” and wouldn’t let me help, but after that very busy day she made beautiful beef and scallions, a potato dish, and a soup with chicken and cabbage and rice noodles and served it all over rice. They really just went overboard to make us feel welcome, and we felt so blessed. It was wonderful to spend time with them, to have this special day in Hong Kong, and to have such a lovely way to distract ourselves from the last few days of waiting to be with our new kids!

By 7 I could barely keep my eyes open (thanks, again, jet-lag!) but I made it to nearly 10 and then crashed. I slept 8 whole hours in a row – something I haven’t done for a month! It was beautiful. Up bright and early at 6 with everyone else, and we got packed up and ready to go. The kids played some more and we had a beautiful breakfast together (sorry, this is all about food, but it was wonderful!). Red dragon fruit, longan fruit which they call “dragon eye,” scrambled eggs with ham, and different buns from the bakery – croissant, “pineapple bread” which isn’t actually pineapple flavored but looks a bit like one, hot dogs buns (like a giant pig in a blanket) and some pizza buns.

Then they got ready for church and walked us back to the subway with all our stuff. We took the first train together and then split up where we needed to change. I got teary when we said goodbye – they were so kind to us! And Noah and Chung Yin, Chung Yan’s younger brother, were like best friends by the time we left, and sat with their heads together everywhere they went. I wish they were still in our neighborhood! But they are coming for a visit next spring, so I’m hoping we will see them again then.

Then we were on our own again. Hong Kong is much easier to navigate than mainland China for us because many things are labeled in English as well. Even with that, though, it still takes longer to figure things out. We did finally find the train station and figure out where we were to be, and we were actually early enough that we got on an earlier train. When we get in, we’ll be met by our guide for our time in Guangzhou, Helen. The plan today is just to check into the hotel, figure out our rooms (we have a bit of a complication with so many of us) and get settled before we get the new kids tomorrow. It’s our last day as a family of 6, and that has hit me all day long. Every time we are walking or changing trains or buying tickets, I’m counting and counting that we have six. And tomorrow, it will turn into 8.

Adoption Update and Timeline

Saturday, July 15th, 2017

First picture we ever saw of Ethan.

An early picture of Ethan we got with his file

One of the first pictures we saw of Anna.

Picture we got later of Anna – my favorite

Picture we received of Anna and Quinn when we found out she has a foster sister.

A picture we received in an update on Ethan

Anna getting her cake – this is how the kids learn they have a family coming

Ethan getting his cake too – wish these were in focus!

One of the many update pictures Anna’s foster mom has sent, this one with Quinn

We’ve had so many questions about our adoption, so I just wanted to put a little outline of what has happened and now what’s going to happen. Just yesterday evening we got the final approval we needed to actually plan the trip, so I bought our plane tickets this morning, and we are on our way! Here’s where we’ve been and where we’re going:

August, 2016 We see a picture of Ethan for the first time and feel like we’ve been hit by lightning – that’s our kid! We send an email but realize with a sinking heart that he’s with a different agency, and will likely be matched within that agency and we will not be considered.

Early October, 2016 We got an email out of the blue from Ethan’s agency. They had several interested families but felt they weren’t a good fit for him because of the ages of their kids or whatever. They thought we were the perfect fit. Were we still interested? We would have to change agencies. We prayed about it, and knowing they were an ethical agency (they had been on our short list before too, but Noah was listed with a different agency), we decided to switch. You can read more about that here.

October 20, 2016 We submit an official letter of intent (LOI) to China asking to be pre-matched with Ethan. We can do this because he is considered a special focus child because of his age and health status.

Nov. 1, 2016 We are granted pre-approval to adopt Ethan. This means we have six months to complete our homestudy and dossier and submit it to China.

Nov, 2016 – Jan, 2017 We work on updating our homestudy. We were actually finished with everything we had to do in the first few weeks and our social worker was done with the update by mid-December. But first a supervisor couldn’t find the time to sign it because of the holidays, then she did but four words needed to be changed and it needed to be signed again. This took that supervisor 7 more weeks. It was very hard not to be angry. This was our first setback.

Dec., 2017 While we were waiting for the signature, we had also gone through extra steps to request approval to adopt two children at one time. We were granted approval and sent Anna’s file the same day. Apparently there were no other families in our agency willing to accept a child her age (6). We started to pray about Anna, and also to look into her health needs. There were some concerning things in her file, and we needed to research and find out what was involved. You can read more about that here.

Jan 9, 2017 We feel we’ve gotten answers about Anna’s medical needs, and have prayed and feel she is to be our daughter. We submit our LOI to China for her.

Jan 13, 2017 We are granted pre-approval to adopt Anna.

Mid January, 2017 We submitted our I800a which is a request for US immigration to allow you to classify a child from a foreign nation as a relative – essentially approval to adopt a child and have them become a US citizen when they immigrate. We couldn’t submit this until we had our homestudy. Since that had taken an extra month and a half, we estimated we would just barely make the summer for travel before Rinnah left for college.

Early February, 2017. Really hard news. Our I800a was rejected because the US government changed the fee on Jan 1. Since we thought we would have our homestudy in December, we had prepared the packet and had it sitting on my desk with the old fee – we never thought to check it. You cannot just pay the new fee. The whole packet must be rejected and you start over. This cost us 2 weeks and fees to overnight, etc. Now I was scrambling to make up any time I could to get to China before Rinnah was scheduled to leave for college.

Feb 16th, 2017 We found out a few days ago that Anna lives with a foster sister and they have been described as “inseparable, best friends, two peas in a pod.” We are devastated at the thought of them losing each other, but aren’t allowed to bring the foster sister home ourselves. We share the girls’ story on Facebook and it’s seen by nearly 12,000 people. In a miracle, Anna’s foster sister, Quinn, finds a family who live just minutes from ours and they start the process to adopt her. You can read that story here.

March 20, 2017 After an excruciating wait for our I800a we are finally approved. We had prepared our entire remaining dossier while waiting for this last piece of paper needed. I was so glad we did this early because staples fell out of some of our paperwork at the consulate which thereby voided them and we had to start over. We are beginning to feel like this adoption is a fight. We overnight our approval to get it notarized, state certified, and Chinese consulate certified. Even that process had problems when the consulate decided not to accept documents one day for no reason and then FedEx apparently forgot to pick up at the consulate the next day.

March 24th, 2017 We get it back and our dossier is finally sent to China. We feel that we may still make it before the end of summer, but everything will have to go perfectly from here on out.

March 27th, 2017 We hear from China that our dossier is logged in, the first thing that has happened quickly since we started. Now we wait for the translation of our dossier, its approval, and our official match with Anna and Ethan called LOA. The average at this time was 35-45 days. We were praying for 35.

May 12th, 2017 We finally hear that we have our Letter of Approval (LOA) for both Ethan and Anna! It took 46 days. Still praying to make the summer.

May 15th, 2017 We send our LOA with our I800 application back to US immigration. This is telling the US government that now you have the identity of the children you want to adopt and are asking for their approval of those specific children to become citizens. Average for this step is 14 days.

May 26th, 2017 More news, and at this point devastating. Our I800 is also rejected because our agency never informed us of an additional fee for the second child. We are crushed because we had asked them to review everything so we would be sure this wouldn’t happen. I was literally sobbing on the phone. They feel terrible but there is nothing that can be done. We will lose a minimum of another 2 weeks, and possibly up to 5 weeks. I feel that the summer is now not possible and we will have to push back the adoptions and our other children will not be able to make the trip. Rinnah will not meet her siblings until Thanksgiving. We are all heartbroken. Our agency says they will do anything they can to help us get there, but there isn’t much they can do. They promise, though, to get us out the door as fast as humanly possible, but I worry that the cost of flights will be so high that close to travel that we will not be able to bring the kids anyway. When we send the new fee, FedEx loses our paperwork. They do find it eventually, but we lose more days – I am really struggling with the stress now.

June 8th, 2017 After getting a kind officer and overnighting every possible thing and sending him proof of payment from our bank, we finally get our I800 approval. We have only lost 10 days. We are so close, we hope it may still be possible, and it all depends on how long China takes for the last step.

June 14th, 2017 We receive our GUZ number which means we can apply for the new children’s visa interviews at the consulate in Guangzhou.

June 16th, 2017 We receive notice that our case is being transferred from the National Visa Center in the US to the US consulate in Guangzhou where it will be finalized.

June 19th, 2017 Our Article 5 is dropped off meaning our case is in review to make sure that everything is in order and meets Hague criteria.

July 1st, 2017 We have the amazing opportunity to WeChat (Chinese skype) with Ethan! We cannot believe permission has been granted. We are all nervous and they are 40 minutes late which seems like an eternity. The video doesn’t work for us to see him, but he says he can see us. He is so incredibly sweet! He asks us 4 times when we are coming and how long until he can go “home to the USA.” We asked if he got the pictures and letter we sent and he said he did and he loves us! He laughs when we make the dog wave at him. He is just the sweetest boy. We realize he is trying very hard to make a good impression, and he understands the gravity of this – he has seen many children leave the orphanage with their families, and he is ready for his turn! I can tell he is afraid it won’t happen, but he is hopeful. He practices saying all our names in English. He practices saying “mom” and “dad” several times.

July 3rd, 2017 Our article 5 is picked up and has been approved. It will now go to Beijing to the CCCWA (China’s overseeing organization for adoption) to await the final step, travel approval to enter the country. We are allowed to travel 2 weeks later and TA usually takes 3-10 days. We are praying to get approval in 3-4 days so we can travel on the 20th and get home one week before school starts. We also get news that we are going to be able to WeChat with Anna too on the coming Thursday!

July 6th, 2017 Absolutely terrifying day. This morning, CCCWA announces many changes to the China adoption program, effective immediately. One of the new rules is that families are no longer allowed to adopt two children at once. When we woke up, we thought we were two weeks from travel and just waiting for the final piece of paper. Now we do not know if we will even be able to complete our adoptions. Since we are scheduled to talk to Anna tonight, we don’t know what to do – if we tell her we are coming, are we lying? It’s unthinkable. Because China is 12 hours ahead of the US, this news hit when all of China was asleep, so it was impossible to get answers. Agencies were making emergency calls to their China reps, there was a lot of chaos and many rumors. After agonizing hours waiting, we were told that we were likely grandfathered – we were too far along in the process. But it was not actually confirmed until 9pm – 9am China time when the offices opened up again, and only 30 minutes before we were supposed to talk to Anna.

We were very relieved for ourselves but the truth is that the new rules are devastating for many families. Many were still working on their homestudy or dossier, and they will now not qualify and cannot continue. I am very grieved for the children who now will not have families. We are praying that more families who qualify will step up. We are traveling with 6 families we’ve met on Facebook, and after talking we realized only one of the families would still qualify. These regulations are going to drastically change who can be in the program.

We did talk to Anna that night, and it was very sweet. We are very grateful for the opportunity since she had not heard anything about us. She never got our letter or pictures. She knew she had a family, but nothing about us, and she didn’t know about Ethan, something I really wanted her to be prepared for. Our friend, Fanny, came over to translate for us, and we ended up connecting with her foster mom who started sending me so many pictures. She is thrilled that Anna has a family! And Anna was very twirly and chirpy and the epitome of a kindergarten girl. 🙂 She asked to show us a dance she’d learned in school. I don’t think she really understands what is happening, but I’m hopeful that now that her foster mother knows we are coming, she will help prepare her. We should have been very happy after this call, and we were, but I am still reeling from the day. This no longer feels safe and we just want to get there and get them home.

July 12th, 2017 This is the last day our agency told us we could receive TA and still be allowed to travel on the 20th. Our TA is not granted. We are getting nervous as it has been 10 days, and we can’t help but be concerned because of the changes in China. We will have to push back a week, which gets us home only 36 hours before Toby has to go back to school. But, it does get us home. We thank God that with all the setbacks, it is still possible to make it, even though it wasn’t when we wanted to go, and we pray for the approval to come just to know there isn’t a bigger problem.

July 13th, 2017 The very next day, our approval is granted. We are so thankful to have it in our hands! And it feels like God was just making it clear that for some reason, this is the time He wanted us to go. We may never know why, but we are thankful He does! Within 24 hours, we also had our consulate appointment and confirmation that we will meet our children on July 31st, both on the same day.

So now, all that’s left is to plan the whole trip. We leave in less than two weeks, and will be in China for 15 days this time start to finish. We cannot believe we’re making it before school – the last possible week we could go. But God makes the impossible possible, and we can’t wait to meet them and have them join our family!

I’ll be blogging from China, so don’t forget to follow our journey here. 🙂

New Album Coming!

Monday, July 10th, 2017

Okay, you all. This is a big announcement. We are making a new album! It’s my first major album in 5 years, and I am super excited to share the songs with you and to see how God will use this! I’ve needed new songs for a while because my ministry topics have changed a lot over time, but frankly, an album is a huge expense and undertaking, and the music industry has changed so much that we weren’t sure whether we should do it or not.

I basically had to stop and ask the Lord if He wanted this ministry to continue. We really need new music if it’s going to continue, but I’m also looking at two more adoptions, and maybe this is God gently telling me to stop this ministry now. After all, it’s been 11 years.

So I took it to the Lord in prayer, and we prayed hard about it and for a long time. I’ve been praying about this issue for two years, really. And what I’ve come up with is that we are still supposed to be doing this. I’ve written the songs – they are already here. They just need to be produced. Just this past 5 months alone, I counted it up and I have presented the Gospel to nearly 12,000 people. I’m taking 6 months off to get the kids settled, but I already have so many requests for when I come back. And I love what I do.

To be very honest, it all comes down to money. I absolutely adore the creative process of making an album. I love everything about it. I love the writing, the arranging, the production (love, love, love!!). It’s like painting with sound. I love seeing how the songs fill out and the collaboration with other amazing artists. I love seeing what the studio players bring. Okay, I don’t so much love the packaging and design, but I love the people who do it!! But the cost of doing an album professionally is very high. And we have adopted 3 kids in the last two years and been through an open heart surgery with one. It’s the worst possible timing.

I’ve decided to step out in faith in two ways. One, we’re making the album. I feel like God has called us to, and so we will, whatever happens with the money. But two, for the first time ever, I’m going to ask for help. I really don’t want to – it could be embarrassing, it could hurt my feelings, it could look unprofessional. All things I really don’t want. But I realize we are supposed to count on each other. I’m hoping you will want to support our family in this way. And I’ve decided to be humble and open enough to ask.

I launched a Youcaring page to fundraise and am hoping to get half the costs covered – you can find that here. There’s tons of info over there including song lists and descriptions and gifts we want to give to those who support us. I’ll also be updating with the stories behind the songs, and even stuff from China as the fundraiser will be going on while we are in China adopting our two new children, Ethan and Anna. The songs are written, production has started, we just need help getting to the finish line.

Thanks so much for your support!!

Ministry and Family in NY

Sunday, June 11th, 2017

Rinnah’s graduation!

Waiting for the Hershey Trolley in Hershey, PA!

Singing cows!!

Getting ready to speak at Smithtown Gospel Tabernacle in New York

Totally un-posed and one of my favorites on the beach in New York

Ministry at Island Christian Church in New York

Our old church!

At Ellis Island

At the Statue of Liberty

More crazy business over here. Life is moving at light speed right now, we are really focused on the adoptions, but remembering to try to stop and take in what is happening right now.

It was a big month. Our oldest graduated high school, and we are so proud of her! Rinnah graduated with highest honors and got so many scholarships and awards, and we are so proud of her hard work. But far more than that, we are so excited for who she is, her character, and the woman of God that she has grown up to be! She has had a really hard last couple of years with the work load, anxiety, tough things with friends, and also tough things at home with Noah’s heart surgery and adoption, and she has persevered with the Lord and grown so much in her faith! I am so happy for her that she has endured and achieved and grown, and we are thrilled for her future! She’s going to attend Taylor University in the fall intending to double major in art and writing and we think it’s a perfect fit. It’s so fun to see her excited for her future! Love you, Rin.

We had all the hoopla and fun and seemingly endless concerts and ceremonies that accompany May with four kids, and we tried to soak it all in and appreciate it rather than getting caught up in getting to the next thing. And then right after Rinnah’s graduation party, our family headed to New York. I had some ministry events and the kids were out of school, so we decided to take everyone and show Noah some of our old stomping grounds.

We drove out and spent one night in Hershey because Noah loves chocolate. That’s my boy! We didn’t go to Hershey Park because Noah can’t ride coasters with his heart, but we DID ride the free how-chocolate-is-made-complete-with-singing-cows-and-singing-candy-bars ride at the store multiple times. We admit it – our motivation might have been swayed by the free candy bar at the end. And we took him on the trolley tour and that was fun too! Great way to break up the drive.

When we got to New York, one of the churches was letting us use their guest house so we just moved in and crashed. The next morning I was off to Smithtown Gospel Tabernacle to do their spring women’s luncheon. This is a church that has such a heart for outreach! That’s what this event was, and it’s so dear to my heart – we had a wonderful time. I spoke on John 10:10 and “Life Not Typical.” We had a great response and got so many kids sponsored – I love that!

Back in the afternoon, and I headed to the other church, Island Christian, to soundcheck for the services the following morning. Sunday morning I spoke and sang on their services. What a fun thing to watch God coordinate! They were doing a focus that weekend on the value of life, and here we were able to come at it from so many directions! They’d already invited the director of the pregnancy help center to give a short testimony, and then I was able to present God’s heart for children with special needs, orphans, and those in poverty. It was a really wonderful morning, and again we had such a response for Compassion! I love it. And to make it even more special, there is an adoptive family there with 3 daughters from China, all of whom are now lovely young women, and one of them asked to be our helper at the Compassion table, and did such a wonderful job! I had connected with this family as we were planning for Noah’s adoption, so it was so fun to see them again and have them meet Noah!

Monday we went to the beach and walked out to the lighthouse and played in the sand. It was totally freezing for the beach, but it was supposed to rain all week and it was holding off and this was Noah’s #1 request so we went. We actually had a great time in spite of freezing! And we got some good sand castle making in.

Tuesday I did the year end women’s ministry event at Island Christian and spoke on “Life Not Typical.” Again, just absolutely love this church. Mike and Mary, the pastor and his wife, are just some of my favorite people. Loved working with Mary on this and we had a wonderful response!

That night we took the kids into New York and saw Aladdin. This was a huge splurge, but we thought you really can’t go to NY and not see a show. How the heck do they make that carpet fly?! It was a super fun night, and fun to be back in Manhattan for a bit, even though I have PTSD from the traffic.

The next day we took the kids to all our old stomping grounds – our old house, the hospital where Rinnah was born, our old church, the restaurant where I waited tables, the beach we used to hang out on. It was fun just to go back in time a bit.

Thursday morning we headed out and drove to New Jersey and then went to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. I had no idea you could do this from Jersey (I’ve always gone to Battery Park in Manhattan) but the parking was great so we tried it and it was fascinating in itself! You go through the old train station where they sent people from Ellis Island all over the US to their destinations – so cool. And I love Ellis Island – amazing to think of all the human drama from all over the world playing out there. And for me, especially touching now as I consider that I have family members who are immigrants. Noah is an immigrant. Our new children will be immigrants. This is what our country was built on. We need to remember that that is part of our strength and who we are as a nation. They even had a section in the Ellis museum about adopted children immigrating.

We spent the night in PA and then went to the Carnegie Museum in Pittsburgh to show Noah the dinosaurs – he loved it! Then we spent the night with dear friends, the Baylors, who moved to Pittsburgh last year. So great to see them and hang out! Home the next day. Overall, it was such a fun trip with great family time, and great ministry time!

Spring Ministry

Wednesday, May 17th, 2017

First Presbyterian in Bonita Springs Florida

With my mom and Nancy at the Bonita Bay Women’s Bible Study Luncheon

Bay Presbyterian in Florida

With Kate and Ron at Moody Radio Florida

Teaching at Fulton Creek

Teaching at Women ACT in Tiffin, OH

My view at Women’s Break Away in Wisconsin

The amazing team in Wisconsin at Faith Alliance Church

Teaching at the Autism Luncheon in Chambersburg Pennsylvania

Major Judy introducing me at the Salvation Army Retreat in Missouri

It’s been pretty crazy around here with adoption stuff and a lot of ministry! So, I have really not been good about the blog. Here’s just a quick catch-up of the ministry for historical purposes, and probably not the most riveting read! I’ll write more about the adoptions in a separate post. 🙂

I headed down for a week of events in Florida, and on March 15th I had such a great time doing a full-day retreat for First Presbyterian in Bonita Springs! They are a wonderful church I’ve been to several times, but I’ve never done a retreat there. I spoke on the life of Peter and getting “Out of the Boat!” What a fun day, great response, and wonderful people to work with! Just love their new women’s ministries director!

March 17th I did a women’s luncheon for Bonita Bay Women’s Bible Study. This is a group that’s been going on for years, and they had about 200 people at the luncheon – just a great, community ministry! My dear friend, Nancy Lund, who is like an honorary mom to me is part of this group, and it was so great to see her! The morning was focused on what practical things people can do to help orphans and children in poverty. I talked about our adoptions and about Compassion and it was a great morning, again with great response!

March 18th in the morning I did a little “coffee concert” for Bay Presbyterian in the morning. It was focused on “Life Not Typical,” the title of my book, and also the concept of John 10:10. Jesus has come to give us life and life abundant! This is a smaller church, but they are so lovely. Very warm and hospitable. And since we are in Florida, at one point a large alligator swam behind me in the lake that is directly outside the windows of the sanctuary! You don’t get to say that everyday. 🙂

March 18th in the evening I went back to First Presbyterian Church and led the worship for their contemporary service. I also did special music and a short couple of minutes on the adoptions and God’s desire for us all to live out Micah 6:8 and love on purpose.

March 19th I was also back at First Presbyterian and I did the guest spot and special music on all the morning services, again speaking on Micah 6:8 and singing the song I wrote in Thailand, “To Be Love.” Every time I come here for services, I am so impressed with the staff – they just love the Lord, do great ministry, solid teaching, and the music director who coordinates things for me, Jeff, is just lovely to work with!

Then, March 20th I was on the air on Moody Radio Florida. So fun to be back at the station with Kate and Ron! I sat in on the morning drive time and talked about the new song project and our adoptions.

The following weekend I was back in Ohio at Fulton Creek Friends Church doing a one-day retreat again on Peter titled “Out of the Boat.” They were such a fun group! Very down to earth, and so easy to work with. I just loved being with them, and their response for our Compassion kids was amazing!

April 9th I was the keynote speaker for Women ACT. I’ve been here before, and this is an event that’s been happening for years. I presented “For Such a Time as This” on the book of Esther. I love that teaching, and even had the privilege of leading a young woman to the Lord about 10 minutes before I had to go back up on the platform! Still praying for her. 🙂

April 22nd I was back in Wisconsin to do “Women’s Break Away” in Chilton. It’s a one day event with many breakout sessions and options (and an amazing free coffee bar, you girls go!!) and I was their keynote speaker. I presented “U-Turn: Trusting God When Life Changes Direction.” Frankly, this event blew my mind. I get to meet so many wonderful people, but the ladies who were doing this event were amazing, and by the end of the weekend, they felt like family! So organized with a very large event (about 800), wonderful heart for women, professional, easy to work with, and loved the Lord. We got so many kids sponsored and the response was just incredible! Loved this one.

The next day I was the guest speaker at the worship services for Faith Alliance Church in Chilton – this is the host church for the Women’s Break Away. Since there was overlap with the audiences, I shared different but complementary messages – this one was “When God’s Direction Changes Your Life” basically about being completely open to where God is leading, and that the safest place to be is in God’s will. This church is not large, and for them to put on an event like they did yesterday is absolutely incredible. Then they took a freewill offering for our adoptions which I didn’t realize they were going to do, and totally blessed us beyond anything we expected! I was so amazed – we were teary. Like I said, they felt like family at the end of the week. We were thanking God for this wonderful part of His Church!

April 29-30 was another big weekend of ministry that just blessed me! I was in Pennsylvania that weekend and Saturday I was the keynote speaker for the Mothers of Children with Autism Luncheon. What an incredible ministry, and so needed. There were hundreds of mothers there (which speaks to how needed the ministry is!) and Elyse, the coordinator was incredibly professional and easy to work with, and a mom parenting autism as well. We loved her, and her husband Tim who helped us all weekend. Then Sunday I spoke for all the services on “Life Not Typical,”, John 10:10 and being sold out for the Lord. We also had an incredible response for Compassion here, and that just touches my heart and says so much about a church! What a blessing.

May 5-7 I was in Missouri at the regional Salvation Army women’s retreat. These are pretty fabulous. I did one last year too, and just loved it. I was working with Major Judy who did a fantastic job and made me feel so comfortable! There’s an incredible diversity in the audience at these in so many ways: age, ethnicity, background, income, education, even language (my messages were translated in real time into Spanish as about a quarter of the attenders were Spanish speaking). It’s one of the most diverse audiences I ever speak to, so that is a challenge but also such a beautiful thing to see how God can connect all people from all backgrounds and experiences! I truly loved my time here, and it was at a beautiful camp as well right in the heart of a city, so it was fun to experience God’s beautiful creation too! I spoke on “Living Loved” in three sessions.

Then, on May 13th, I was back at Circleville Baptist in Ohio for their Mother’s Day event. This is also just a lovely church with a real heard for outreach! They open the doors to their community for this one, and had such a wonderful response! I spoke on Eph 2:10 with the title “God’s Masterpiece” and I’ve always loved this verse as it tells us we are loved and valued, AND we have things to do! Let’s go do them! Apparently I forgot my camera here, but that doesn’t reflect my feelings. 🙂

After that I took a couple of weeks off for my daughter’s graduation and all the craziness that comes with four kids in 3 schools in May!!