“How can this be God?” – Noah’s heart surgery

July 6th, 2016
Our family on Fourth of July weekend taking a short trip to Amish country before Noah's surgery.

Our family on Fourth of July weekend taking a short trip to Amish country before Noah’s surgery.

Half of Noah's BIG family - my whole side on our weekend.

Half of Noah’s BIG family – my whole side on our weekend.

I’ve sat here all morning trying to figure out how to write about Noah’s surgery tomorrow and our feelings about that. We were matched with Noah 14 months ago and prayed for him every single day. I memorized his videos and started to fall in love with him before we even met. We met Noah exactly four months ago tomorrow. He walked into our lives looking shell-shocked and a little terrified and we were a little terrified too. Now he’s happy and laughing and this morning he told me that he loves his big family and America. This boy we had never met six months ago is my son. And I love him.

Tomorrow he’s having open heart surgery. When I picture what they have to do to him, I feel sick to my stomach. I know this is necessary for him to live, and I know it’s what’s best for him, and yet the thought of him having to go through that makes me break out in a cold sweat. I trust God, and I know this is what Noah needs, and I just wish there was another way.

I wonder, is this just the smallest glimpse of God’s feelings about sending His only Son to earth? He knew what was coming, and He knew that we would crucify His only Son. He knew it was what was best for us, that it was necessary for us to live, but I’m sure He wished there was another way.

We’ve started sharing the Gospel with Noah. His grasp of English has come so far, and he feels safe with us, so it feels like the right time to begin explaining what we believe. Noah comes from a background somewhere between atheism and vague Buddhism with some ancestor worship thrown in (a complicated prospect for a boy who has no information about his ancestors). He had no concept of Jesus before He met us. He accepted without question that we prayed, but when I explained that we were talking to God by doing that, he looked incredulous. Toby has a cube in their room that has the Gospel printed on it pictorially, and Noah brought it to me. Apparently he’d been looking at it and wanted to know what the paper said that was nailed to the cross over Jesus’ head. It is the charge against Jesus at His crucifixion: “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews.” I explained the Gospel to Noah and told him that Jesus was God. He looked at the picture of Jesus on the cross, and then waved toward it as he asked, “How can this be God?”

All the gods Noah has seen are made of gold. They sit in big temples. There are hundreds of them and you can follow them or not. They are revered, feared, cosseted, and powerful. But this One, this God, was a humbled man on a cross. One who died. One who was mocked and spit upon and beaten.

But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. Is. 53:5

How could this be God? If He was God, why would He allow Himself to be treated this way? It doesn’t make sense!

For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing,but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. I Cor. 1:18

In the wisdom of this world, powerful people save themselves. They demand respect. They would show their power by painting their world in gold and placing themselves above everyone else. But God has taught us a different way, and He has shown it to us with a different love.

… [Be the same as] Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death – even death on a cross! Phil. 4:5b-8

Jesus came to earth to die for us. He came even though we didn’t deserve it, even though many mocked Him, spat on Him, brutalized Him. He came because it was best for us, because it was necessary for us to live. Sometimes life comes at a great cost.

Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Roman 5:7-8

Tomorrow we will demonstrate our love for Noah by helping him through this surgery. It’s hard to look at him now, to all appearances healthy when he’s still, and know that we will cause such trauma to his little body. But we also know that his healthy appearance isn’t the truth, and that this trauma is necessary for a much greater good. In the same way, all of us try very hard to look “healthy” on the outside, but without Christ, that appearance isn’t the truth either – we need the sacrifice of Jesus to truly live.

I pray that one day Noah will know Christ. That he will love God as we do and know the truly life-saving power of the cross. I pray that for everyone on this earth. And tomorrow I will be praying that God will protect Noah as the surgeons give him the gift of a much healthier and longer life.

We have gotten many questions about Noah’s surgery. We would love your prayers for tomorrow!

Answers to your frequently asked questions:

Q: Will this fix Noah’s heart?
A: No. It isn’t possible to “fix” Noah’s heart as he is missing an entire pumping chamber. This will reroute his blood system, making it more efficient and allowing his single ventricle to not have to work as hard as it currently does. Rerouting his system should greatly improve his oxygenation, getting it near normal levels which should really improve his quality of life. He will be able to run and play! It will also take some of the stress off his heart, hopefully allowing it to last longer.

Q: Is this his final surgery?
A: Probably not. He will have a gortec vessel implanted which will likely need to be replaced sometime in the next 10-20 years. Some patients with this procedure still need a heart transplant later in their lives.

Q: Will he have a “normal” life expectancy now?
A: They can’t really tell us as the surgery hasn’t been performed long enough for them to know how long people live with it. However, we do know it greatly increases his life expectancy and greatly improves his quality of life which are both amazing and wonderful things. The oldest patients with this procedure are now in their early 50’s.

Q: Will he be able to participate in sports/ have “normal” physical activity?
A: We think so! They can’t tell us how he will respond exactly, and he will not be an Olympian, but most children with this procedure can have very normal, active lifestyles.

Q: What’s the schedule for the surgery/ how long will he be in the hospital?
A: He has to be at the hospital at 6am tomorrow and surgery starts at 7:30. He will be in for 5-9 hours, more likely on the shorter end of that span. He will be in ICU for 1-3 days and then move to a step-down unit on the cardiac floor. We are allowed to stay with him at all times, even at night and in the ICU. The rest of the time in the hospital varies a lot because people’s reaction to this procedure varies a lot. Noah is also significantly older than most patients having this procedure so he may be in longer. They have told us to plan on about two weeks, but it could be three or more or even as short as 7-10 days. We’ll just have to see how he does when he comes out.

Q: What are your prayer requests?
A: Thanks for asking!!! We specifically want to pray for his safety, for the procedure to be successful, for the gortec to last in a miraculous way so he doesn’t have to do this again, for protection for his brain (he has to go on a heart/lung bypass and that can cause concerns with oxygen deprivation), for protection from clots as he is healing, and for our family to bring glory to God with every single person with whom we come in contact at the hospital.

Q: Can we come visit him in the hospital?
A: Do we know you? 🙂 Seriously, yes, after he is out of ICU, if you know Noah personally, text me and we will let you know if it’s a good time. Also, you will need a code to get on his floor. The boy will be very bored and will be allowed to move around and play by then, so don’t forget to bring a game and your sense of humor with you!

Why Fried Rice is Like Life in Christ

June 28th, 2016
The cooked egg and starting the carrots

The cooked egg and starting the carrots

Carrots and onions

Carrots and onions

With the peas and corn

With the peas and corn

Adding in chicken (and egg not in picture)

Adding in chicken (and egg not in picture)

What my rice looks like with the soy

What my rice looks like with the soy

The finished product!

The finished product!

One of the hardest things since Noah’s been home has been feeding him. He is not picky and loves every vegetable, but he misses Chinese food. You can tell he just doesn’t like a lot of the food here even though he’ll eat it. I’ve tried to make him things he’ll like, and we have Chinese grocery stores and things that help, but it’s a struggle – I’m a good cook, but I’m American and I don’t know how to make most of the things he’s used to.

One day I decided to make Noah fried rice. This is something I’ve made for a long time, and I was happy to find that it was very like the fried rice we had in China so I thought it would go over well.

I was prepping all the ingredients and he was watching me. He knew I was trying to make something Chinese-ish, so he was sure it was not going to be good. “Please, mom, please, don’t make me eat this. I no like this!” “Noah,” I said, “I watched you eat this every day for breakfast at the hotels while we were in China. I promise, you like this.” “No mom, I don’t! Please!” “Yes, Noah, you do, I promise. Wait and see.”

I put the egg in the pan and he said, “Oh, no, mom, no! No egg! Please, no egg!” and I said, “Noah, you like this, I promise.” He threw his hands in the air and wailed, “No!” (Did I mention that he’s got a little drama going on sometimes?)

I took the egg out and started cooking the onions and carrots. “Mom! Oh please! No onions! I no like onions! I don’t like this food!” “Noah,” I stated with my customary saintly patience, “I promise, you like this.” “No! I don’t!” “Yes, you do. I watched you eat it every day in China. You like this.” He held his head in despair.

Every single ingredient was met with disbelief or resigned sorrow. “I no like this food.” When I pulled out the soy sauce, he wailed, “This! Mom, I never had this! I know I no like this!” It was all I could do not to laugh. “Noah, I can promise you that after nine years in China, you have eaten soy sauce. I know you don’t believe me, but you are going to like this.”

By the time I started mixing everything together he was basically chanting, “I no like this. I no like this.” But there’s a moment when fried rice stops looking like separate ingredients and suddenly changes over and looks like fried rice. He just stared dumbfounded and then yelled, “Mom! I like this! I like this!” I died laughing – “Yes, I know.”

So why is this like our life in Christ?

How many times have we seen what is immediately before us and said, “No, God, please! Not the (metaphorical) egg! Whatever it is You are doing, I know I don’t like it!” And God answers, “I promise you, I am making something beautiful. We need this part to make it. Trust me, when it’s done, you’ll understand why this part is in your life.” And sometimes we listen and trust, but more often than not, we continue to complain or protest or moan and wonder why this particular thing has to happen. Why did this (insert anything here) have to be a part of my life?!

And yet, God has promised us that He is always working for the good of those who love Him (Rom. 8:28). He is the great Redeemer (Job 19:25, Is 48:17), He makes all things new (Rev. 21:5), and He is in the business of giving us beauty for our ashes (Is. 61:3). When we look at the circumstances of our lives and something doesn’t make sense or looks like we would never like it, can we trust the Lord and instead look to Him with anticipation, waiting to see how He will use it to make something beautiful?

I know when I look back on my life, there are many times He took things in a direction that was unexpected and often unwelcome to me. How much time did I waste complaining? How much patience did the Lord need to use with me? He knows me better than I know myself, and many of my worst times are the very things I’ve seen Him use the most to make beauty in my life.

So now, every time you make fried rice, or eat fried rice, or just look at a scrambled egg, I hope it reminds you that God is an amazing chef. He knows how He’s going to put it all together in the end, and when we get there and see what He’s done, we’ll all be saying, “God! I didn’t know this was what You were doing! I like this! I like this!”

Since I know it will be asked, here’s my recipe. But I warn you, I am an artist – we are not good at coloring within the lines. I very rarely, if ever, measure anything (much to the despair of my husband who tells me lovingly that this is the reason I can’t die). So this is just a basic how-to, more of a method as it were that you can use to invent your own recipe. 🙂 This is a great way to use up any vegetable or meat in your house, so it’s always changing at ours, but here’s my basic go-to for fried rice.

3 eggs, beaten
cooking oil
1 T. minced garlic if you have it, skip if you don’t, no biggie
2 big carrots diced
1 big or 2 small onions diced
some frozen peas and corn, thawed, probably 3/4 cups of each
some shredded, cooked chicken, probably 1 or 1 1/2 cups (you can also dice and cook raw chicken or any other protein)
4 ish cups cooked sticky rice
soy sauce (quite a lot)
salt and pepper
roasted sesame seeds if you have them and don’t forget to throw them in.

Heat a wok until it’s hot (you can use a flat-bottomed saute pan and should if you have an electric stove, but a wok works better and makes it fluffier if you have one), put in 1 or 2 T. of oil to coat the pan. Add eggs and stir and chop until you have lots of bits of scrambled egg – remove to a bowl and set aside. If you’re using raw meat, add a bit more oil and stir fry it now and then remove and put with the egg for later.

Add a bit more oil if needed and the garlic for just a few seconds so it doesn’t burn and then put in the carrots. Stir fry for 2ish minutes until they are al dente, then add onions and cook until they are translucent and the carrots are soft-ish. Add peas and corn and stir fry until they are hot, about 1 minute, then add in the chicken and egg and stir to combine. Put the sticky rice on top (I usually have a little more meat and veggie than rice, like a 60/40 ratio) and pour soy sauce over it until about a third of it has been touched and start chopping it apart and stirring it in – you can always taste and add more soy sauce, and you know you have the right amount when the rice mostly stops sticking together and you have good soy flavor. Stir fry, scraping the bottom often, for a couple of minutes to get yummy crispy bits of rice, adding a good bit of salt and some pepper until you like the flavor. Toss in the sesame seeds if you have them. Voila! If you are like some of my friends, you love this kind of recipe, and if you are like all the others, you are now annoyed by my complete lack of measurements or good directions. Feel free to ask questions in the comments!! And enjoy. 🙂

Who’s Your Daddy?

June 21st, 2016
Noah's card to his dad on Father's Day - notice which word he made the biggest

Noah’s card to his dad on Father’s Day – notice which word he made the biggest

Nathan and the boys in worship on Father's Day

Nathan and the boys in worship on Father’s Day

My favorite picture of me with my dad - I was seven or eight at the time

My favorite picture of me with my dad – I was seven or eight at the time

Father’s Day. For some, it’s a beautiful day of celebrating a guy they love dearly. For some, it’s a painful reminder that their dad never lived up to what a dad should be. For some, it’s the grief of missing someone so vital to their lives, or grieving the fact that they haven’t had the opportunity to be a dad. And for many of us, it’s a combination.

This year for me had a different twist, though. Noah puts an entirely different spin on things. Here’s this 9 year old boy who we plucked out of another culture, country, and language, and said, “Here. I’ll be your Daddy. I’ll be your Mommy.” What does that mean? What is he thinking?

We got up and went to church that morning. It was a Family Sunday which in our church means the kids stay for the service rather than leaving for the children’s program, so Noah and Toby stayed with Nathan and I and the girls. They started worship and I saw that Toby had come to stand in front of Nathan and Noah had come to stand in front of Toby. They were singing, Toby hugging Noah, and Nathan with his arms around them both. I was thinking about my dad which is always a little hard for me on this day, and then the band started playing “Good Good Father” and I lost it a little. Nathan right there was such an amazing picture of what my heavenly Daddy did for me! He chose me and plucked me out of my sin and the life I had in that, and put me in a new space and loved me and everything changed.

In regards to the adoption, we’ve heard a lot of “I can’t believe you did that” and “You must have felt really clearly called” and “I could never do that, you must be saints!” I find myself confused a bit by the hyperbole. Yes, we felt called, but we are in no way saints, and frankly, we haven’t done anything that I don’t think anyone can do. It’s not easy, but it’s also not the insurmountable thing people have made it. We were definitely scared, but God helped us. There were obstacles, but He provides. And whether God has spoken to you audibly and personally or written with a sky-writer over your house “Take care of orphans!!!” it doesn’t matter. He’s told us that in His Word, and therefore, He’s told us.

That may not mean that you are to adopt a child. But, have you ever seriously thought that it might? Have you even let that be part of your conversation with yourself and with God?

Picture this. You see on the news that there’s been a war that leaves thousands dead and incredible destruction in it’s wake. They publish a picture of two little boys, brothers, crouching alone in the wreckage of their home holding each other. Do you know how many people would clamor to know the names of these boys? How many would offer to take them immediately into their homes and families? If you were walking that very street and saw those boys, would you really just walk on by and leave them there?

And yet there’s a crisis of orphans in the world. These kids have been through the war but their picture isn’t out there on Facebook today. We can ignore them because we don’t have to see them. There are children in foster care who have been through the war of abuse and neglect. There are children in orphanages around the world who have been through the war of poverty and earthquakes and medical conditions their parents can’t handle. There are millions of children who need families who will never have their picture published so they can really be SEEN. We, as the big “C” Church need to see them. And we need to be open to the possibility that God really might be calling us to do more.

People have asked us if we want a big family. My family is the biggest blessing on earth to me and I would do anything for my kids. I adore them and love them fiercely. But I did not adopt to get more kids. I’m just being real here. Many people adopt to grow their family and that is wonderful. That was not why we adopted. We had three kids and that was great. We adopted because the Lord sent us places that forced us to see the children in need – to really SEE them. We adopted because we are blessed with a house that can hold more people and resources that would let us care for one more. We adopted because God showed us a little boy who would never get medical care or a family if someone didn’t say, “Mine. Give me that one – I will take responsibility and love on purpose right there.”

At church, they handed out a sheet to the kids called “Fun Facts About Dad” that they could fill out and give to their fathers. Things like, “My dad’s favorite thing to do is ____.” Noah brought his to me so I could read it to him and wanted me to fill it out for his dad. He was very insistent about it. His English is pretty good now, but it’s still hard for him to express himself, and some of the questions were stumping him. The final phrase was “I love my dad because ____.” He was really struggling and I said, “It’s okay, Noah, you don’t have to answer it.” and he said, “No, mom, I – it’s a good, good question! A good one!” but he couldn’t answer still, so I said, “Do you want to say it in Chinese?” and he said, “No! No, I say in English for dad!” and I realized he had tears in his eyes as he was thinking about this and then he whispered to me, “Can you just write ‘everything?’ ‘Everything.’ That is why I love dad.” Oh, my goodness. It’s looking into the eyes of a kid who has never had a dad and seeing just a piece of his heart and realizing the enormity of what this means to him. This is HIS dad. Someone who chose him. Someone who won’t leave, a home he’s been told is his forever. And he’s starting to believe it.

People look at these kids and they don’t realize the blessing they are waiting to be. They think, “Oh, that’s sad, but it’s too hard, it’s not my problem.” And they are right. It isn’t. But I wasn’t God’s problem either, and yet, as my Abba, my daddy, He stepped in to the mess we created here and chose to love on purpose and at great cost to Himself. He said, “Mine. Give me her – I will take responsibility and love on purpose right there.” And He did. He’s my daddy. How can I not try to be like Him as I grow up?

I married a wonderful man. He’s not perfect but he runs after Jesus, and he’s got more integrity than anyone I know. He’s a great dad. I had an awesome dad – hilarious and larger-than-life and he loved me fiercely and beautifully. He was a picture of my heavenly Father. But more than all of that, I have a heavenly Daddy who stepped in, turned my life around, saved me, gave me purpose, and sent me out to do more, love more, choose more. If I’m His, how can I help but to want to love like Him?

Who’s your Daddy?

PS If you want to do more right now, you can start by sponsoring a kid in real need through our partner, Compassion International. We’ve been with them in the field, and know they do beautiful and important work in Jesus’ name – let’s love with actions and in truth together!

Family Weekend and Ministry in Kingsville, OH

June 15th, 2016
Rinnah and Noah waiting for our order at the White Turkey

Rinnah and Noah waiting for our order at the White Turkey

Nathan with Julie and Jessica - they took us to the beach!

Nathan with Julie and Jessica – they took us to the beach!

Noah learning what it means to have siblings and Toby loving it - they took turns burying each other all afternoon.

Noah learning what it means to have siblings and Toby loving it – they took turns burying each other all afternoon.

Noah trying fishing for the first time at Doctor Dan and Stevie's lake

Noah trying fishing for the first time at Doctor Dan and Stevie’s lake

The innocuous looking bookcase in the living room

The innocuous looking bookcase in the living room

Wait, what?!  It's a secret staircase?!  The kids did triple takes - this house is super cool!

Wait, what?! It’s a secret staircase?! The kids did triple takes – this house is super cool!

The writhing pile of fish.

The writhing pile of fish.

Aren't they cute?  Um, in a creepy, fishy kind of way?

Aren’t they cute? Um, in a creepy, fishy kind of way?

Every once in a while I get to go back to a place that’s I have some real history with, and it’s always a blessing. This past weekend, I was back up in Kingsville, OH, at a small Baptist church which has been absolutely lovely to me for many years. They are one of the first churches to ever have me in, and I love that I get to go back and check in with them all every few years and feel like the pastor’s family are personal friends at this point. I mean, back when I was first starting out, I actually had a pretty major car incident getting to this church, and they had my car towed during the concert I was giving (that’s a whole story in and of itself!). When I came back a week later to pick my car up, I found out that the church had done a love offering to cover the repairs for me because they knew we had no way to cover it at that time, even though many of them had nothing to spare either. This is that kind of church.

Well, they are up right on the edge of Lake Erie, so we decided to take the family and just have a fun couple of days before and after. Because of Noah’s surgery, we really can’t plan any kind of vacation, so we’re just taking advantage of the times we can get together. 🙂

We drove up Saturday morning and met Julie and Jessica, Pastor Dave’s wife and one of his daughter’s (he was traveling in from out of state) and they took us to a local hangout – the White Turkey, which has been there unchanged since the 1950’s. And it totally felt like the 1950’s! It was so cute, and the kids had a blast eating outside and getting happy face ice cream cones. Afterwards, Julie and Jess took us to the beach on Lake Erie which the kids loved.

There are not really any hotels near the church, so Doctor Dan and his wife Stevie offered to host us for the night. We headed over there for dinner and had no idea what we were in for – their house is magical! They have a lake and a zip line, Noah tried fishing for the first time, and there was even a secret door in the bookcase to get up to the room our girls stayed in! They couldn’t have been any nicer, and as Julie promised us, they were “super fun!”

The next morning I did most of the service at the church, and it was so fun to reconnect with people I’ve been with many times. We realized that with all my visits, this was the first time any of the kids had been here, so there were many people who were excited to meet them. After the service they hosted a little lunch for the members of the worship teams and I did a little teaching session about worship, etc, and had a q&a time.

Then our family headed out, but before going home, we had to see Pymatuning Lake. I had never heard of this before, but when I was in Omaha last month, one of the men on the tech team was adamant that we had to see this! He couldn’t believe that I was from Ohio and didn’t know about Pymatuning! It is a lake which had carp get in somehow, but since there are no natural predators and no one wants to eat carp, they’ve just multiplied and multiplied, and people throw them bread and watch them fight over it. I know. It doesn’t sound all that great, but he told me I had to see it! And we were already pretty close, so we headed over, bought old bread at the “Pymatuning Visitor’s Center” which turned out to be a wood case labeled “Fish Bread – 2 for $1” on the side of the road next to a biker bar, and went to experience it. The tag line for the town it’s in is “Where the Ducks Walk on the Fish” because apparently the fish are so thick the ducks can walk on them. We did not personally witness this – we saw ducks who were clearly concerned for their feet keeping about 30 feet back from the writhing pile of fish waiting for bread by the walkway. Our family has re-named this experience “the writhing pile of fish.”

Well, I was relieved to see that there was a lot more water than the pictures implied, so those fish definitely could swim away at any time. And there was an impressive amount of fish. And an impressive amount of stale bread being thrown in by an impressive number of people. It was weirdly fascinating. And at one point Noah rolled some bread in his hands to make it more of a ball so he could throw it farther and threw it at a duck – when the duck went to get it, a carp came up at the same time to try for it and we definitely saw a duck and a carp kissing in Lake Pymatuning. So that was pretty special. We may not drive here again, but we’re all happy we’ve seen it, and if you’re on the northern border of Ohio and PA, you can’t miss the writhing pile of fish. 🙂

Update after Noah’s first heart procedure

June 6th, 2016
Noah recovering in the hospital after his heart catheterization

Noah recovering in the hospital after his heart catheterization

He did great, but was so tired for a few days - he kept passing out on the couch and Pepper kept him company

He did great, but was so tired for a few days – he kept passing out on the couch and Pepper kept him company

I wanted to write an update after Noah’s catheterization last Tuesday. It was a very long day. He has some very hard memories and associations with hospitals, so while he did well, it was very stressful for him and for us. He gets very scared but he is such a brave kid. He knows it has to happen so he just gets through it.

The catheterization was first to check all the pressures and make sure that the Fontan procedure was still possible. Most children with Noah’s heart condition have this surgery at a much younger age, usually by age 3, and the concern was that the high pressures from not having the surgery would have damaged Noah’s lungs too much for him to still be a candidate. We have known this was a possibility since we were matched with Noah a year ago, and that is a long time to wait for answers.

They let me stay with Noah into the OR until he was asleep. They told us it would be 3-5 hours. If they got in and it was bad, they would pull out because there wasn’t anything else to do. If they got in there and it was good, they would do a number of things to prep his heart for the Fontan.

Well, 2.5 hours in, they told us it was over and the surgeon was coming to talk to us. I was braced for the worst. She came in and told us immediately that Noah was a great candidate for the Fontan, all the pressures were good which meant his lungs were in good shape, and we could proceed. I burst into tears – poor woman! She had no idea how long we’d been waiting for answers! But I just told her they were happy tears! The reason his surgery was so short was that everything looked so good, there was nothing to prep – he was all ready for the Fontan without any additional procedures!

So here’s your miracle for the day. There is one artery that leads to Noah’s lungs. If it had been built open the way it should have been, the years of waiting would have left Noah’s lungs completely scarred. If it had been closed the way it usually is with his heart defect, he would not be alive. But Noah’s was narrowed – exactly open enough to keep him alive, and exactly closed enough to have protected his lungs this whole time. Just amazing.

God is so good. Don’t get me wrong, God is so good even if we’d gotten bad news about Noah. I believe that with all my heart. But in this situation, it’s just that I can sense His presence and protection over Noah in a way that is truly miraculous and comforting. He has plans for this kid, and He already knew how his heart was working.

After the surgery, Noah had to lay flat for 6 hours. He was pretty agitated coming out of anesthesia, and I was grateful that we had an interpreter, because in that hazy state, he really needed his first language. Keeping him down was very difficult, and I know that weeks in the hospital will be a real challenge for him and for us.

There were several things that blew his mind, though. One, that he got his own room and it had a TV and a bathroom. That was incredible to him. Two, that there was a huge menu he could order from, anything he wanted, and they brought it TO HIS ROOM. He could not get over this. After he came home, he described the process of ordering and receiving food to Toby multiple times. He’s already planning what he will have during his next hospital stay.

I appreciated this stay because we were on the cardiac floor and it gave me a preview of what we would be doing for a few weeks – helps me plan. And I have to say, I was beyond impressed with our doctors and with the nursing care – especially our nurse Eric who was absolutely amazing. It gave me a real sense of peace about the hospital stay.

We heard on Friday that Noah has been scheduled for his Fontan already – it will be on July 7th with Dr. Shinoka. Even though this is exactly what we were hoping for, I am very scared. I’m up at night picturing what they have to do to him, and it’s really hard to keep my mind out of the frightening places and focused on the Lord. But He is with me all the time. And I love and cling to these, some of my favorites verses:

Phil 4:4-9 Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.

Noah knows about the surgery and is actually relieved to have a date. This has been a big thing hanging over his head for years too, and he’s a planner, so it’s good for him. This first thing he did was ask to see a calendar so he could count the weeks. Then he said, “Okay, got it!” and ran off to shoot Toby with water guns.

So we’d love your continued prayers! And we’ll keep you updated here and on Facebook, etc. Thank you so, so much for your prayers and beautiful messages! We have appreciated them so much!

Noah Update – 2 Months Home

May 30th, 2016
Noah trying a hamburger for the first time - he was so excited and apparently it was everything he dreamed it would be!

Noah trying a hamburger for the first time – he was so excited and apparently it was everything he dreamed it would be!

That's Noah in red and that basket went in!  His favorite new thing on the playground.

That’s Noah in red and that basket went in! His favorite new thing on the playground.

Noah and Toby walking in the neighborhood - they both are (almost always) enjoying having a brother.

Noah and Toby walking in the neighborhood – they both are (almost always) enjoying having a brother.

Noah getting an EKG at his pre-cath appointment.

Noah getting an EKG at his pre-cath appointment.

Noah with some friends on his first field trip - he had to dress like a pioneer and he had no idea what that was.

Noah with some friends on his first field trip – he had to dress like a pioneer and he had no idea what that was.

Looking out at his first field day - a little intimidating.

Looking out at his first field day – a little intimidating.

Water guns make everything amazing!

Water guns make everything amazing!

With his teacher Mrs. Saffel who has done an incredible job getting him settled in school!

With his teacher Mrs. Saffel who has done an incredible job getting him settled in school!

Brothers hanging out in their PJ's before church.

Brothers hanging out in their PJ’s before church.

Noah's first Mother's Day with a forever mother.

Noah’s first Mother’s Day with a forever mother.

First s'more with all the kids!

First s’more with all the kids!

Holding his cousin's new puppy.

Holding his cousin’s new puppy.

Sisters helping him on his first zip-line attempt.

Sisters helping him on his first zip-line attempt.

I just have to start by apologizing for the long wait for an update on Noah – many of you have asked me, so I’m sorry to take so long. The truth is that there’s a lot going on right now. Our family is adjusting so well, but it’s still a big adjustment. I’ve had quite a few events lately to prep and give, and have been spending lots of time at Noah’s school and getting him settled. My assistant, Donna, has been very sick again – her cancer has returned and is in her brain now (please keep her in your prayers, I love her so much!) which has been difficult both emotionally and for the ministry. We’ve been trying to get all of Noah’s medical ducks in a row. Even my dog has been sick. None of it is overwhelming, and the Lord has been so good to us! But it is all time-consuming, and I’ve let this slide.

So, here’s the run-down of what’s been happening with Noah over the last 6 weeks or so since I gave my last update:

4/8-4/12 When I wrote last, I told you all that Noahs’s mouth was a complete mess. He had black and rotten teeth that were literally falling out of his mouth. We knew this was a big problem, but we didn’t realize how serious this was for a heart kid. Our cardiologist got him in as an emergency and when we went for the consult, they told us it could be months before they got him in. Then the surgeon took one look in his mouth and said, “You get my first opening.” We were in surgery three days later on April 12. He ended up having eight molars pulled, but thank the Lord, they were all baby molars and his permanent teeth will come in fine over time. He also had 3 major abscesses that they told us could have killed him at any time – the infection could have gone to his blood stream and with his heart, it would have been over. We had to do it in the hospital because he had to have anesthesia and that is scary with his heart too, and I will say, it was very traumatic. He is very frightened in hospitals and has very bad memories there, so it was a difficult day for all of us to say the least. However, he feels so much better now, and we are so relieved to get all that out of his system.

4/11 This same week we found out that Noah tested negative for pretty much every vaccine which means he either didn’t have them or they weren’t good. Poor kid. He has to do the entire vaccination series again, but they didn’t start them this week because of the dental surgery.

4/13 Noah saw an eye doctor because they told us in Guangzhou that he needed glasses. The entire way there, he was telling me, “In China, glasses, no cool. I no glasses. Glasses no cool.” I told him glasses could be cool in the United States if you got cool glasses and he obviously was not buying it. “I, no glasses.” Finally, when we saw the eye doctor, he couldn’t use traditional methods to test Noah because he has so little English, so after Noah couldn’t read the letters anymore as they got smaller, the doctor made an educated guess and held lenses in front of Noah’s eyes. Noah gasped, grabbed them out of his hands, flung them up and down to look with them, then without, then with them, and then yelled, “Oh dang! I glasses!” It was pretty hysterical even as I tried not to laugh. We ended up finding glasses with “lucky red” on the sides and he decided he would live even though it took positive comments from kids at school before he believed me that it might not be the end of him socially.

4/14 While getting Noah breakfast this morning, he looked around, sighed, and said with a smile, “I like you. I like family.” I almost fell over and cried in the kitchen.

4/15 Our dog, Ivy, had to have dental surgery and Noah spent the whole evening with her after she got home. He just petted her gently and told her he knew how she was feeling because he had had dental surgery too, and that she would be better soon. It was so sweet.

4/17 Noah went to his first birthday party! My friend’s son, Micah, invited him to a laser tag party and he thought it was incredible. He had no idea what he was doing, I was afraid he would be unable to do it physically, but it turned out there was more hiding than running and he loved it. He also thinks cake is pretty awesome and was excited to learn that it might be available to him on his birthday. 🙂

4/18 They scheduled Noah for his heart cath on May 31st. I am suddenly so afraid of all that could happen with the open heart surgery. I thought I was all good, but I guess not. God has been so sweet with me, and has given me my peace back, but it’s only in Him.

4/19 Noah had to have 5 shots at once today. There was a small window that worked since they don’t want to do his heart cath too close to them, but they also want him to have some protection before it, so poor kiddo had to do them all in one day. I told him ahead of time and he took it like a champ. He’s so brave.

4/22 I left for the first time for the weekend to do three shows in IL (see previous blog post). So hard to leave him and he was a little stand-offish when I got back. Trust is hard. I was happy that he warmed back up to me after a day or so, and hope that as he adjusts and realizes I always come home, this will be easier for him.

4/27 Noah and I have been going together to school for half days for a couple of weeks now. Last week I went with him in the mornings and then left him for a couple hours in the afternoon and he was doing well. He told me today, “I ready!” meaning he wanted to go to school full-day by himself. Sadly, he got sick and ended up staying home after all that week. But the next week he went and he did great – his class has been so amazing to him, and he loves his teacher, Mrs. Saffel.

5/1 The pianist I worked with for years at my old church was retiring, so we went back to Faith Covenant to celebrate with her and Noah got to meet many, many people who had/have been praying for him.

5/6-5/8 My in-laws came down and Noah got to meet his grandma for the first time and see his grandpa again. He has loved having so much family, and I have been touched to see how openly everyone has just taken him into their hearts.

5/8 Our first Mother’s Day with Noah. Don’t even know how to put that into words.

5/9 Noah went to his pre-check at the cath lab to get ready for his “small heart surgery” in the cath lab on May 31st. This is to prep him for open heart surgery later in the summer. He did okay, but he is still very nervous about hospitals and all medical things. One of the medical people had somewhat pointy teeth and he asked if she was a vampire. Sheesh. This is me, cringing. I’m so sorry! But this woman works in a Children’s hospital, so she just answered without missing a beat, “Maybe, but you’re lucky – you only come here during the day!”

5/14 We got out the firepit on a beautiful evening and taught Noah to make s’mores. He thought this was frightening but interesting. He hasn’t learned that the word “scared” is different than “scary” so he kept saying, “This fire. I very scary.” We kept giggling. He’s so stinking cute! And s’mores were a hit!

5/16 I’m back from Nebraska (see previous post) and just realized that we haven’t used Google translate for anything but the occasional vocabulary word in about 2 weeks. Really. We are absolutely shocked by how fast he is picking up English. We think he now understands 80-90% of what is said to him, and he can totally communicate what he needs to say in English. When our Chinese friends come over now and speak to him in Chinese, he answers in English. He tells us he is American. We will start him in Chinese school this fall because we don’t want him to forget, but right now it is very important to him that he is like his new family.

5/20 Today was field day at school. I thought it would be impossible with his heart, so I came with him, and he ended up staying for the entire day! He only sat out a few stations – I was absolutely shocked. Nathan and I have already seen an amazing improvement in his stamina since he’s come home. I think it’s just because we took the restrictions off him. In China, they don’t let the heart kids move much because they think it will kill them, but our doctors here told us they really wanted him in better shape before his surgery, and we see it happening before our eyes.

5/22 There was a baptism today at church and I got to explain what it was to Noah. He thought it was interesting and wanted to know more. Then he wanted to know if the water was cold and told me, “I probably never do this. Unless I do this with warm water. Can I warm water sometime?” Which was pretty funny to me. I told him if he wanted to be baptized we would definitely try for warm water, and he seemed to think that took care of it.

5/23 Noah has been telling us for quite some time that he loves us. But tonight, when I put him to bed, he whispered it in my ear and it was different. I know he was saying it for real, not just as a phrase we say. Such a beautiful moment and it made me cry.

All of May. Noah has seen about a zillion music recitals, auditions, competitions, and shows because all of his siblings are involved and it’s May. That’s what May is. Poor kiddo asked me if we really did have a concert every other day all year. Nope. That’s just May. Okay, and December. I promise it won’t always be like this!!

5/24 Today we received Noah’s Certificate of Citizenship. From my Facebook: I told him it was a very important document, and he asked why. I couldn’t figure out how to explain it with limited English, so I just said, “It means you live here in the United States” and he looked very serious and said, “I stay here, right, mom?” and I said, “Yes, you stay here forever” and he punched both arms up to the ceiling and yelled, “Yea!!” What I didn’t say there was that I had no idea if he would think it was a good thing or not that he was here forever – he still misses China often. So that response just put me over the moon for him and for us.

5/28-29 We took Noah up to meet some of his Michigan cousins and he ended up having the best time of his life. He touched a chicken. He played with their new puppy. He tried a zipline (yes, these cousins have an incredible yard!). He shot people with Nerf guns. He got in the car to come home and immediately wanted to know when we were coming back! And then he fell asleep for 2.5 hours. 🙂

Tomorrow morning, 5/31, Noah has his heart cath. This is first of all to see if the heart procedure he needs is still possible – he should have had it many years ago and it may be too late. If it is possible, they will also do a “smaller heart surgery” by cath to prep him for open heart surgery this summer. Please pray for this. In the world of heart procedures, this is not a terribly scary one, but there are still serious and major risks. I would be lying if I told you I wasn’t very nervous for him. He asked me tonight if “we could just skip tomorrow, mom” and he cried quite a bit before bed – he’s very scared. We have already seen so many amazing miracles with every part of this and we know that God has Noah in His hands, no matter how this goes. And we would love your prayers for Noah’s safely, healing, and emotions as well as ours.

Thank you so much!

Circleville, OH and Omaha, NE

May 18th, 2016
The Salvation Army event in Omaha, NE

The Salvation Army event in Omaha, NE

I know I need to write an update on Noah, and I promise it will be the next one! I just wanted to get an update on here about our time in Nebraska and tell you a funny story. And when I sat down to write this, I realized I never put in an event I did in OH as well.

The OH event was in Circleville, only about an hour south of my home in Columbus, so that was great (and apparently I forgot my camera that night, sorry!). Again, since Noah’s not loving me leaving, it was so much easier just to be gone for the evening! First Baptist in Circleville did an outreach event for women, and I think they succeeded beyond their wildest expectations! They had nearly twice the people they were hoping for which was wonderful! They were so easy to work with, and I loved getting to be with them. Since it ended, I’ve also heard from a couple of people who told me they met the Lord at the event, and that’s the best news I can ever hear.

This past weekend I was in Omaha, NE to do an women’s retreat for the Salvation Army. This had come up somewhat last minute, and it was amazing to me how the Holy Spirit put it together. While I was praying about what to speak on, they sent me their theme and it was almost a perfect match – God is so good! I knew very little about the Salvation Army beyond their social programs before I went, but it was a beautiful weekend and I learned a ton too! Shout out to Lieutenant Crystal for not making me wait at the airport for 6 hours, and to Major Kathy for being so great to work with! And I had the privilege of leading a woman to the Lord Saturday night and then again on Sunday, and that was just amazing.

So, funny story now for those who think I must have all my stuff together because I speak for a living. (Why do people think this? I’ve never figured it out, but you are out there, I have met you!!!) So, Lieutenant Crystal was taking me to the airport on Sunday after the event was over, but we had literally 6 hours until my flight, so she asked if I wanted to do anything or needed anything so I wouldn’t have to sit there so long (bless you, Crystal!). I desperately hate shopping, and therefore desperately needed t-shirts so we stopped at Target. While there, I thought, “I will buy some snacks for the plane so I don’t have to pay $12 for a yucky pre-made sandwich for dinner.” One of the things I bought was a box of blueberries. “Hmm,” I thought, “these blueberries need to be washed, and that will be easier now than it will be when I have all my bags with me.” So off to the Target bathroom I went to wash my blueberries. I know, that’s already a little weird, but you do what you have to do when traveling.

So, I’m in the Target bathroom, washing blueberries, and Lieutenant Crystal is standing there pretending this isn’t weird at all because she’s a nice person, and I think “Wow, now I have a dripping box of wet blueberries and there’s only a hand-dryer in here. I wonder if I just stuck them under there for a minute if it would blow most of the water off without cooking them?” And so I did. I just stuck that open box of blueberries right under the hand-dryer. Yup. The hand-dryer that I had failed to notice was an XL-erator. Mm, hmm.

So, as the wind-tunnel-like jet of air came down instantaneously on my blueberries, I realized an important fact. Blueberries don’t weigh anything. Nope. And they fly quickly. In fact, they shot like little blue missiles all across the Target bathroom. A woman and her little daughter were opening the bathroom door just as I did this and I shot them in the face with blueberries. I shot Crystal with blueberries. They ran under the stall doors so the women in there could wonder, “Hmm, why are there are suddenly a hundred little blueberry landmines for me to try not to step on as I use the Target restroom?” And I was the one crawling on the floor frantically grabbing blueberries. And Crystal, bless her heart, acted like that happens to everyone, sure, all the time! And she just helped me pick them up.

I’m sure that someday I will figure out the awesome sermon illustration that story will turn into. But for now, I just want you to know, the half of the box that didn’t fly were, indeed, dry.

Packed Weekend in IL

April 26th, 2016
Noah got a little sick right before I left, so he stayed home from school and hung out with Pepper.

Noah got a little sick right before I left, so he stayed home from school and hung out with Pepper.

At Hinsdale Covenant Church doing a U-Turn event

At Hinsdale Covenant Church doing a U-Turn event

Concert at German Valley Christian Reformed Church

Concert at German Valley Christian Reformed Church

Sunday morning at Broadway Covenant Church

Sunday morning at Broadway Covenant Church

This is so typical of Donna's personality!  Right after having her head shaved and trying a new wig when the cancer came back last year.

This is so typical of Donna’s personality! Right after having her head shaved and trying a new wig when the cancer came back last year.

Things have been pretty crazy here settling in with Noah. Originally, we thought we were going to be able to travel over Christmas to bring him home, so I said yes to a few events in April thinking that we would have been home many months by then. If you’ve kept up with my blog, though, you know that we had several delays due to paperwork and Chinese holidays, etc., that meant we couldn’t go to China until March. We got home just four weeks before I was scheduled for some events in IL. I didn’t want to leave Noah, but fortunately, things were going well, and we thought, well, at least this way he will know what our life really looks like around here.

When I’m gone, my husband, Nathan is always here, and the kids are very used to relying on both of us and whichever of us happens to be home at the time! Nathan travels for work too, so we switch off a lot. We’ve realized that Noah really needs to know the plan, and if we tell him ahead of time what is happening, he will deal with it much better. I started telling him a week before I left that I would be leaving for 3 days and he would see me Friday morning and then I would be home Sunday night after he went to bed so I would see him Monday morning. He didn’t like it, but he took it pretty well. On Friday morning, he was following me around while I packed, though, saying, “You no go. I very sad. I no like you go three days. You no go.” It hurt my heart! I told him that I had only two weekends I had to be gone this spring, and then I wasn’t going anywhere this summer at all (we have had to leave so many months open because we really have no idea what will happen with his heart surgery). That seemed to help.

The trip itself was a blast, though, even though it was exhausting. My assistant/ booking person/ gal Friday extraordinaire, Donna came with me on this one because we were going back to her hometown and she had people to see! I haven’t gotten nearly enough time with Donna lately because as many of you know, her cancer has come back with a vengeance and she’s been stuck in and out of the hospital and in treatments. So this was especially dear time to have with her. Plus, she’s hilarious and a lot of fun! We had a girls’ roadtrip and if the minivan had been convertible we would’ve had the top down the whole time (someone needs to invent this minivan, that would be hysterical!!!).

We got into Chicago Friday night late and then headed to Hinsdale Covenant Church on Saturday morning for their annual women’s spring luncheon. At least, that’s where we intended to go. So, we got there, unloaded the van, and started looking for people. The church was open and set up, but there was no one there. We finally called the coordinator, Heidi, and asked where they all were. She said, “We’re here. Where are you?” I said, “I’m in the sanctuary, where are you?” She said, “Okay, let me walk there. Okay, I’m there. Where are you?” It was at this point that I wondered if I’d looked closely enough at the sign. I walked outside quickly and realized, um, we’re at Hinsdale United Methodist Church, just down the street from Hinsdale Covenant. And how do you say to the woman who booked you, “Um, sorry, can you forget this call? Let’s just pretend this never happened, shall we?”

Donna and I were laughing so hard. We tried to pack the van up super quickly before anyone asked why we were unloading cases at their church! And as we headed out the parking lot, we saw the pastor coming out and we were like, “Peel out!” I didn’t want to share my stupidity with anyone else. So I’ll just tell all of you. 🙂

Wonderful morning with Hinsdale – what a fabulous group of ladies! And it turns out that Heidi has a great sense of humor, which was helpful!

After the event, Donna and I drove about 2 hours to her hometown of Freeport and I did a concert that night at German Valley Christian Reformed Church (not to be confused with German Valley United Methodist Church, ha!) and I actually went to the right church! Donna’s extended family turned out when they heard she was in town – they were way more excited to see her than me! So she had a little impromptu family reunion afterwards at the Culvers. We got to stay with her good friends, Kim and Steve, too and they were just lovely to be with again.

The next morning we got up and drove into Rockford and I did the morning service at Broadway Covenant there. The pastor there came from a church in Springfield, MA and had me in several times while he was there, so it was so fun to see where he’d moved. This may have been the friendliest church service I have ever attended in my whole life, and that is saying something! We had a great time that morning, and even made Donna try Thai food afterwards which was a bit of a miracle.

Such a fun weekend, and particularly special as it was time with my Donna. I can’t wait to get back out that way, and I was so happy to get home and hug my kiddos and my hubby!

Noah – Medical Update and Transition Home

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hong Kong and Home!

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

The street market near our hotel in Guangzhou

Disneyland Hong Kong!

Disneyland Hong Kong!

Happiest driver in the world

Happiest driver in the world

Brothers at dinner

Brothers at dinner

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

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

We are alive!

We are alive!

Our view of the village at the top - lol!

Our view of the village at the top – lol!

One fleeting glimpse of the Buddha

One fleeting glimpse of the Buddha

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

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

Kowloon Peninsula in Hong Kong

Kowloon Peninsula in Hong Kong

Siblings wet, cold, but still having fun

Siblings wet, cold, but still having fun

The famous brown envelope

The famous brown envelope

Noah meeting Lao Lao and our welcoming committee in the background

Noah meeting Lao Lao and our welcoming committee in the background

Signs on our garage when we got home

Signs on our garage when we got home

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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