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

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

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

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

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!

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

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

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!!

The miracle of “Quinn!”

March 2nd, 2017

Quinn on the left, Ru on the right – foster sisters, best buddies, and now, with families only a few minutes apart.

The girls riding on the playground together.

The girls singing karaoke together.

The girls passed out on the way home from a special visit to the zoo.

First of all, for background info, you all know we’re in the middle of adopting two more kiddos, who, for the purposes of the blog I’m calling by parts of their Chinese names for now. Ning is an 8 year old boy we’ve been matched with since the fall (read about that here). Ru is a 6 year old girl we just accepted a match with in January (read about that here). We are super excited to get these kiddos home!

Well, shortly after accepting the match with Ru, we learned something very significant about her. We had seen that most of her pictures were taken with another little girl, but we just assumed they were there on the same day to have their files made ready. That was true, but it turned out this wasn’t just another little girl, this was Ru’s foster sister. They’ve lived together for several years, and we were told they were “best friends,” “inseparable,” and “just like peas in a pod!”

Well, when you adopt, one of the first things you realize is that your new child, while gaining a family, is losing everything they’ve ever known. It’s the hardest day of their lives, frankly. They are losing their home, their country, their language, all their relationships, everything. And while we know as adults that it’s for something better, for permanence, for a family who loves them, it’s still devastating. Watching Noah go through grief for his foster family, something so natural, and yet so hard and so undeserved (no child should have to lose everything they know just to have parents – the world is so broken!) was one of the hardest things I’ve done, and from his perspective it was just excruciating. Knowing that Ru has a foster sister that she loves and has grown up with and that she might have to lose her too was just devastating to me.

We were already matched with Ning and Ru, so by law, we couldn’t even consider bringing “Quinn” home – two is the limit for China. So we decided instead to advocate for her and post her on our Facebook page hoping to get her matched. You see, these kids can end up anywhere. She could have gone to Spain or Sweden. She could have ended up in a non-English speaking home, so that even if we could track her, the girls wouldn’t be able to communicate well if they lost their Chinese. Each agency gets a certain amount of time to advocate for a kiddo, and if they don’t find a family in that time, either the file gets pulled and you don’t know what happens to the child, or the file gets sent to another agency who could be placing anywhere in the world, and we would never know. If we could get her placed with our agency, at least we knew she would be in the US somewhere, and we hoped our agency would help us send a message to the new family and hope they would allow the girls to stay in contact.

So we posted the picture of the girls together, and a plea on Facebook on Feb. 16th:

Okay, guys, calling on you to share and like and pray again so we can get this to as many people as we can. The girl on the right is our new daughter we are in process for, Ru. The girl on the left is her best friend in the world and her foster sister, “Quinn.” Quinn needs a family, and she’s only got a couple weeks left with our agency to find one. She’s been described as sunny, happy, and “an absolute riot!” The team who met her said she kept them laughing all day and was such a sweetie. Could you be her family? Could you help us find them?

We asked for shares and we got them! Almost 12,000 people saw the post and I started getting messages. I ended up talking by phone with 4 different families. The first call was from a family who lived fairly near us. They turned out to be too young to qualify to adopt from China, but that got me thinking. Perhaps I wasn’t being bold enough in my prayers just to ask that Quinn be in the US and that we would know who the family was. Why not just ask for exactly what we hoped for? We started praying for a Christian family in Ohio who would be open to a relationship with our family, and that they would be homeschoolers – something I thought would be so helpful because Quinn has some learning needs which will be compounded by changing languages at her age.

The second family asked me a lot of questions, but had never really considered adoption before. They were curious about the whole process, and trying to get their minds around what it meant, but I got off the phone thinking they were probably not going to proceed – it was too sudden. I thought maybe God was preparing their hearts by opening them up to the idea of adoption for the future. It was too bad, because otherwise, they seemed perfect. I talked to another family who had considered adoption for a long time, but didn’t know if they were ready to move forward with an older child. And I talked to a family who had adopted several children and weren’t really in a position to go back at that time, but were broken-hearted at the thought of the girls losing each other, and so they were praying over it. Unbelievably, every one of these families lived not only in Ohio, but in our hometown of Columbus. None of them sounded ready to commit, but at least they made me hopeful that someone would be.

Fast forward just two days. The mother from the second family sent me a brief message saying that they had decided to put Quinn on hold while they prayed. I was surprised, but so excited. They seemed like a perfect family, but I knew they had never even thought about adoption before. Then, the very next day, I got this message:

Well, Jennifer, we’ve decided to move forward to adopt Quinn! I’ve spoken with [the agency] and she is going to be sending us the First Steps application packet. Ummm… wow. We are very excited, our kids are so excited… and we’re stunned at ourselves. Lol!

We ended up meeting for coffee shortly after that so I could give her the low-down on the process of adoption through China. We learned all kinds of things! One, they are strong Christians, and they actually go to a church here where Nathan and I have so many friends and connections! It turns out that we have many, many mutual friends. Two, they are homeschoolers! Three, she has been bringing her kids to the VBS I work on for years, so she actually already knew who we were. And four, they live only about 10 minutes from our house! Just unbelievable!

She told me that when she saw the picture and read Quinn’s story, she just couldn’t get it out of her mind. At first, she thought God has just told her to pray for the situation, but as the day went on, she wondered if it was something more. She brought it up to her husband and kids the next day and they told her to call me. She said they had never considered adoption before, but had been praying for a specific ministry from God for the family, and they just knew this was what they were being called to. Later, her husband told me, “We saw Quinn’s picture and immediately felt such a peace that this was what was meant to be. It was not that we felt called to adoption in general, but that we had been called to this particular little girl.”

Well, I was sitting there with her at coffee, not wanting to be too pushy, but I was thinking (but not saying aloud!), “I hope they are open to playdates and sleepovers, and maybe we could come and meet them at the airport with Ru when they bring Quinn home” and etc, etc, and telling myself not to freak her out. And then she said, “I can’t believe the girls can have playdates and sleepovers and be at each other’s birthday parties! We would love to have you come to the airport!”

So, so fun. Isn’t God good?! Only He could have orchestrated something like that. I’m just praising Him all day long! We are several months ahead of them in the process, but I am so excited that when we go to get Ru, we can tell her that even though she is leaving Quinn for now, she will see her again in just a few short months. We will get to bring Quinn the book of her new family, and she will know not only that she’s being adopted, but that she will see Ru as soon as she gets here. God is good all the time, and all the time, God is good! I love that He has placed these little girls in families, and also that He has let them keep each other. Praise God!


January 23rd, 2017

Praying over the space on Friday night at soundcheck

Rural Christian Women’s Conference in Wisconsin

Signing books and CD’s at Rural Christian Women’s Conference

Speaking at my friend’s church, Zion Lutheran, in Fairwater, WI

So, this past weekend I was in Wisconsin. I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, “Wow, Jennifer, you live in Columbus, OH. What would be the perfect place to visit in Janaury? How about… Wisconsin!!”

Actually, I had to laugh because I went up there for a huge annual event called the Rural Christian Women’s Conference, and when they called to book me, they were thrilled to find out I was from Columbus, OH. “Oh, Jennifer, it seems like most of our speakers tend to come from the south. If you’re from Columbus, you’ve seen snow! You won’t be afraid to come up here in January!” When they heard I went to college in Michigan, they were completely sold. 🙂

I did book my flight out the day before because I’m no dummy, but we actually had beautiful weather for January in Wisconsin! It was so fun to get back up here too – it’s been a couple of years since I was in this part of the country. I got up there easily and we drove out to Wautoma High School where the event was being held. The women who organize this told me that they all live “way out” in Wisconsin, and they got tired of having to drive all the way to Minneapolis or Milwaukee to go to a Christian event, so they decided to start having their own. They never dreamed it would get so big. They sell out every year at 1000 women, and can’t do more because the high school is the biggest venue in the whole region, and 1000 is the max they can get in the gym. I knew from our first conversations that I would love these women, and I did. They were just down to earth, funny, go-getter women who love Jesus and want to serve the women in their part of the world – love it!

We got in and soundchecked on Friday. Then the event was all day on Saturday. I taught on the life of Peter, 3 sessions on “Out of the Boat” or being bold to be like Peter – not afraid to try and risk failure, but to get out and be sold out for the Lord and see the adventure of living life for God. We had an awesome time!

At the end of the day, literally in the final moments when I was leading closing worship, we had a very scary situation. A woman collapsed and the squad had to be called. You know how it is at the end of an event – every one is sort of rushing out to get in their cars and beat the traffic out of there. Well, we asked them all to sit and wait while we got the squad in there, and I led a time of prayer for her – it was so powerful to see all these women who had lives and schedules and places to be gather together, let all that go, and just pray for this woman. It was a very terrifying situation as it was much more significant than just a fainting spell, but I am happy to report that she did recover, and watching that moment as those women came together, while not the ending I had planned, was a powerful witness to the Big “C” Church.

The next day I was scheduled at a very small church in Fairwater, WI, very close by. A friend of mine used to live here, and when she heard where I would be, she asked if I would go to that church. We were hosted by the loveliest people from the congregation and ended up just feeling like family. The people that we meet – this family, the pastor of the church, the committee at Rural Christian Women, so many more – the people are one of my absolute favorite things about this ministry. It’s seeing the body of Christ in all it’s facets and cultures and backgrounds, and still seeing that one thread of a love for Jesus woven through that we all have in common. It’s a little taste of what heaven will be! You know even though you’ve never met before, somehow, you are still family.

Going home was a lot more like traveling to Wisconsin in January, although ironically it was tornadoes in Atlanta that were holding things up. We lost hours and hours, but did eventually get home at around 3 in the morning. 🙂 It was a great weekend, and I’d happily go back up and be with them anytime, even in January!

Adopting *ahem!* a THIRD time

January 17th, 2017

Meet Ru, our new daughter

Another sweet pic

New pic of Ning we hadn’t seen yet! How cute is he?! This pic is probably a year or two old.

The picture I was sent of Ru sleeping in the van – she’s on the right

A picture of our firecracker doing karaoke!

I’m almost hesitant to post this because we realize people think we’ve jumped off the deep end, but we announced about a month ago (read about that here) that we are in process to adopt a wonderful little eight year old boy we’ll call Ning for now (this is part of his Chinese name, his American name is coming soon!). Well, last week our agency offered us a second match, and we decided to accept that as well. She is a beautiful six year old girl we are calling Ru for short (also part of her Chinese name, American name coming someday when we come up with one – we are terrible at naming people!).

China is one of the only countries that will allow you to adopt two unrelated children at once. We didn’t know if we were going to do that, but we wanted to keep the door open. The process to adopt is so long and annoying and expensive, and we really felt like we could give another child a home, but with our oldest starting college next year and all the difficulties of planning our lives around trips to China and holding months open on my ministry calendar for that, etc, we just didn’t know if we could do the process again anytime soon. So we applied to be allowed to do two at once and were approved. Well, literally the day we found out we were approved, Ru’s file was sent to us and they asked what we thought.

Honestly, my first impression wasn’t super positive. On paper she seemed a perfect match – she was exactly the age we were hoping for (we are aiming for the oldest kids we can adopt because they are harder to place, while still maintaining birth order for our other kids), and her medical needs are not terribly severe which we thought was pretty important if we were going to adopt two at once. But the videos they sent us were sort of devoid of personality – I don’t know how else to say that. There was a short one of her going around in a circle on a play toy, and she was just kind of looking around, and there was no real sense of who she was. I didn’t know if she was just nervous (as the kids often are – who are these white people with cameras!!) or if she was delayed, or what was happening. In Ning’s videos, I got such a sense of him, and we saw him playing and talking and writing and it was just a ton of information in a very short video. Hers were not like that. She said one thing in one video, but it was too soft to hear it. She didn’t interact much, but the videos were so short, I didn’t know if that was her or just the couple of seconds they happened to catch. We weren’t sure what to do. Plus the one thing that was clear from the videos was that she couldn’t breathe well, and would certainly need more surgery for her cleft lip and palate and probably speech therapy as well – this isn’t a problem for us, but just more time and more things to figure out that we don’t have experience with while trying to transition Ning and be fair to him too.

We took this to the Lord in prayer. You’ll hear so many different ways God told people that a child they were looking at was theirs. Some fall in love right away. Some just trust that the file the agency sends is for them. Some make specific requests and assume if the child falls in those parameters it will be a good match. For us, we just prayed. I told the Lord that I hate this part. We want to recognize the child you have for us, Lord. We don’t want to take another family’s child, but if they are meant to be ours, we don’t want to leave them behind. We don’t want to say yes to this child if that means saying no to another you might have had for us. We don’t want to look at needs and say, “no, we don’t want to deal with that” rather than looking at the child and saying, “what does this child need to be safe and loved in this world?” There is so much selfishness in human nature, and I did not want the decision to be about me, but about God and what He wanted and about what was best for this little girl and her future and family.

Well, after prayer, we decided that God meant her to be ours. We really didn’t know what we were getting into. But we both felt like this was a match we were to accept. For us, it really was as simple as “we can do it, and so we should.” She needs a family. We can be that family.

Then a few amazing things happened. God is so fun. First, we found out that while Ning and Ru are not at the same orphanage, they are only a little over an hour apart. They both live in the same province, and since you always pick up a child in the capital of their province, that meant they would both be coming to us in the same city. Probably on the same day. This is intimidating, but it’s also awesome – it means we do not have to add another week to our trip as we thought we might. It also means that we can stay in one hotel – this is so much easier than moving with grieving kids – and that we can still take day trips to their orphanages to see where they grew up, something that is so important to me.

Also, the day we found out we were approved by China for Ru, I happened to see a post from someone I don’t know on Facebook. She mentioned that she was going to an orphanage in China and if anyone wanted pics of their kids from there to let her know. It was Ru’s orphanage! What?! In all of China?! So I looked at the date and it was only posted a week earlier. I quickly messaged her and asked if she was still there. She responded that she had just left and was in Shanghai. I was so sad! I asked if she happened to have met Ru? Did she have any pictures, or could she tell me anything about her at all?

Well, talk about a God moment. She responded immediately with, “Ahhhh!!! Yes!!!! Love love love her!” She immediately sent me a picture she had on her phone of Ru asleep in a van – she had taken her to the zoo the week before and she’d passed out on the way home. Then she sent me a video of her singing karaoke, and she was hilarious! My little girl who had really no personality in those early videos apparently has quite a big personality after all. In fact, this woman sent me pictures later and Ru was smiling in almost every one. And she said, “Your little girl is a FIRECRACKER!” Lol, we hope that’s good! But seriously, God is so amazing! What are the chances of me finding a random stranger who had been with her just days before? And how sweet of God to reassure me and show me more of who this little girl is!

So here we go. I am researching cleft lip and palate now, and feel confident that we have a great team here at Nationwide. This is where Noah goes too, so he was actually kind of psyched that that meant he probably would get more hamburgers in their cafeteria – he always focuses on the most important things, that kid. 🙂 And I am eager to see if this little “firecracker” and Ning, who was described to us as “super chill, super sweet, and super smart” get along well. Hopefully they will just love each other!

P.S. We know that Ning speaks Mandarin which is what Noah speaks, but we just found out a day after I originally posted this that Ru speaks Cantonese. That was a curveball we didn’t see coming! So please pray for that complication too – we’ve heard there’s a chance either or both of the kids may speak both because of where they are located, so let’s hope!