Sweet story about Anna

January 25th, 2019

Anna drew this picture of us for me.

Just didn’t want to lose this sweet story I posted on FB:

Here’s your “sweetest thing!” post for the day.

Anna is still afraid to go to bed alone, so I’ve always sat with her until she falls asleep. She gets very chatty at this time which I enjoy, but a couple nights ago it was just going on forever. I finally told her she had to stop talking and go to sleep.

A: Okay, mama. (Silence for 10 seconds.) This is so hard!
J: I know, but you have to sleep, hon.
A: Okay, mama. (Silence for 5 seconds.) But I really like to talk!
J: I know sweetie, and I love talking to you, but you will be so tired at school. You really need to sleep now.
A: Okay, mama. (Pause.) But there is a lot to say!
J: Okay, hon, let’s do this. Think about all the things you want to tell me and pick the most important one that you really, really want me to know about and tell me that one. Then you can tell me the rest tomorrow. Deal?
A: Deal. Okay, I’m thinking. (Humming, thinking.) I got it! I love you, mama. So, so much. Okay, good night!

Cue my heart melting. I love that girl.

Joining the Aspire Tour!

January 8th, 2019

The promo for one of the upcoming events with Aspire

Just a quick announcement – I’m thrilled to be joining the Aspire Tour for 2019! So far, I’m booked in several cities this spring in FL, NC, SC, WA, and OR, and will do some more dates with them in the fall. Excited to see where God takes this, and doubly blessed to be getting to do some of these with my friend, Melissa Spoelstra! I’m also really looking forward to connecting with other women in ministry – so excited to get started!

Christmas events in NY

December 12th, 2018

Smithtown Gospel Tabernacle

With the Women’s Ministry Director and my old youth group “kid” Jaime at Church on the Sound – what a blessing!

Trying to fit 700 women at a sit-down meal simultaneously at Smithtown Gospel.

With my wonderful friend, Linda – what a joy to spend time with her again!

One of the Saturday venues, Grace Church.

This past week I had a number of Christmas events in New York. It started with one large church I’ve been to before booking me for their annual women’s Christmas event. Then the women’s director, Diane, called me one day and said, “we can afford to fly people in, but there are a lot of other churches here who can’t. Would you be willing to do other events for smaller churches while you’re here?” Of course I said I’d be happy to, and the next thing I knew I had four churches in three days! I was so impressed with Diane’s desire to help other churches in this way! It’s not the norm, and it should be because it makes so much sense – I just loved that she wanted to use her church’s resources to also bless others!

One odd thing that has never happened to me before happened here. I had shipped several cases of books and CDs ahead to the church since I can’t carry that much with me on the plane. Well, when I went to get the boxes, they looked like they’d been through a war! Two cases were ripped all over, one was literally missing the outer box and somehow the inner boxes all showed up, but separately (have no idea how that worked!!) and the fourth one just never showed up. I called USPS and they said it was “missing” then “undeliverable” and then, I kid you not, the message said, “DESTROYED.” What, did they drop a bomb on it? And, if you know it was destroyed, you must also know where it is?!?! What the what?! Anyway, super frustrating as it was a huge amount of product to lose and it’s a double whammy since it was all my Christmas CDs I was hoping to sell. Sigh. Live and learn, I guess – always going FedEx from now on.

So, Thursday night I was at Church on the Sound (as in, Long Island Sound for those of you not from Long Island) for their women’s Christmas tea. It was a great night with a really fun team, but personally for me the best part was that this church was literally minutes from where we lived when we were living on Long Island. It’s 3 minutes from where Nathan did his doctorate, and we drove past it pretty continuously, so it was a fun walk down memory lane. And, when I got there, one of the girls from my high school ministry from way back was there, and it was so good to see her! Then I looked toward the back and her mom was there too! So fun to connect with them – she has a special place in my heart.

Friday night was the bigger event I had come out for in the first place at Smithtown Gospel Tabernacle, and it was packed! I think there were over 700 women in the room at tables, and they had used every inch of their space. Sadly, Diane had surgery just before this event, so she wasn’t able to be there after all, but we talked by phone, and her daughter did an amazing job covering for her! I also had the joy of another close friend from my Island days coming to this event with her daughter, so again, just such a lovely blessing!

Saturday was very busy as I had two events back to back. I did a Christmas brunch at Grace Church and then headed straight to New Village Church for their Christmas tea. I was especially touched at these two churches with the number of kids we got sponsored for Compassion. It never fails to bless me when I see people really reaching or sacrificing to do something for kids in need, and I saw that over and over at these churches – what a blessing! I would have come just for that! But again, beautiful teams at both of these churches, and even though I was very tired, I was just overwhelmed with the blessings of the family of God!

The next day I spent services at Smithtown Gospel again, and then traveled home. Long Island is a pretty tough place to do ministry, and I have to say, I was really impressed with these churches. I will be thinking of and praying for them all, and so glad I got the chance to be with them!

Events for Fall 2018

November 26th, 2018

Ethan and Anna fishing off the dock at our hosts house in Kingsville – like visiting old friends!

Concert at New Albany Presbyterian

One of the services at Union Chapel

Titusville Ladies’ Conference

Baskets of Blessing at Anastasia Baptist

Another historical post to cover where I’ve been this fall. 🙂

In August we had the wonderful privilege of being back with our friends from First Baptist in Kingsville, OH. This is a smaller church, but they are very dear to us! They are one of the first churches to ever have me in many years ago, and have become friends as we’ve gone back many times. This trip, we took the whole family and stayed at a “magic house” as the kids called it – Dr. Dan and his wife Stevie have the most amazing place with ziplines, goats, secret doors, haywagons, ponds, you name it. The kids could hardly believe it, and they are just wonderful people and wonderful hosts, so it was ministry and a family trip all in one!

The following week I did a concert at New Albany Presbyterian. This was also a sweet night for me as the music director there is my old high school choir teacher who really had quite a profound impact on the direction of my life. Not only was he an excellent musician which just got me excited about making music, but he was the one who talked me into auditioning for voice in addition to piano, and the rest, as they say, is history. 🙂 It was so fun to be with them!

In September I did a women’s retreat for Karl Rd. Baptist Church. I completely re-wrote my women’s conference, “U-Turn: Trusting God When Life Changes Direction” for this one, and boy, did we have many U-Turns on the way to that retreat! It was clear why God had new and different things to say to both those ladies and to me, and I was just marveling at God and all He was teaching us that weekend!

In October I had several big weekends in a row. First, I did a retreat for the East Central District of the Missionary Church denomination on the topic “Nothing to Fear.” I’ve been with them before, and they are just lovely to work with! This was, I thought, a very timely topic, both for them and for me – I always learn so much when I’m writing my retreats. Then the next day I stayed and led worship and gave the message on all the services for the host church, Union Chapel. They were outstanding hosts – just served with such a humble heart for Christ during the retreat, and then were just amazing to me. Such a great weekend.

The next weekend I did the Titusville Ladies Conference in Pennsylvania. This conference has been going on for many, many years, and was held in the most beautiful historic church. I did a concert and testimony on Friday night and then spoke on the life of Peter on Saturday. This was another lovely team with an especially fun worship team – just loved getting to worship with those ladies!

Then the following weekend I did another retreat in Ohio for Christian Fellowship Church on Esther. This was a three day format, so we had a fabulous luxury of time, both to meditate on what God was saying and to rest. What a lovely bunch of women too!

Then in the first weekend of November I headed down to Florida to do a women’s event and the services for Anastasia Baptist Church. On Saturday they had a big women’s luncheon called “Baskets of Blessing” where everyone brought things to fill baskets they took to women in nursing homes, which I thought was a great way to celebrate Thanksgiving. Then Sunday I sang on all three services. I so appreciate the different teams and the way the services were focused on the Gospel! And on my way home, I got to visit with my cousin who lives in Orlando and designs super-secret fun stuff for Disney, so that was a real treat – I don’t get to see him nearly enough any more!

Taking off in a week or so to do several Christmas/Advent events in NY, and then I’m done until next year. We have a pretty big announcement about the spring, so I’m excited for things to get finalized so I can share!!

National Adoption Day

November 9th, 2018

Our family

Today is National Adoption Day in National Adoption Month. Our lives have been forever changed by adoption, so completely that’s it’s almost impossible to think of what to say on this day. Noah joined our family 2.5 years ago, and Ethan and Anna came home only 15 months ago. This past year has been one of the hardest of my life for many reasons, but on this day, I want to honor my adopted kids by telling you just a few of the blessings and miracles we’ve seen:

Noah, immediately after open heart surgery, with pink lips, toes, and fingers for the first time. Miraculous.

Noah, after recovering, running and playing and laughing, joining the cross country team.

Noah, telling me he wanted to go to OSU. “Why, because you want to be a Buckeye?” I asked. “No,” he answered, “so I can stay close to home, mom.”

Ethan’s stunned and touched reaction to the first time his birthday was ever celebrated in his nine years.

Ethan’s sweet heart and amazing patience as he helped his new sister try to figure out how to ask her questions in English.

Ethan, when he finally felt safe after a year home, calling me “mommy” for the first time and climbing into my lap, telling me I needed to kiss “his whole face.”

Anna, who had never been able to make the sound “f” or “s” before because of her cleft palate, saying the word “face” correctly after her surgery and looking absolutely shocked and amazed.

Anna, singing at the top of her lungs in the shower, “I love my family! I love my family! I love my dad! I love my mom! I love my Toby! I love my Rachel…” and on through all of us.

Anna, when we were talking about the day we met and I asked her if she was scared and she answered, “Of course.” And I said, “Yes, it’s scary when you don’t know us and don’t know if we’ll be nice.” And she said, “oh no, mom, I knew right away I would love you. You and dad kept smiling and you helped me and you were so kind. I was scared I would never learn to talk to you!”

These are just a few moments that still take my breath away when I remember them, and bring tears to my eyes. And when I think of the patience, the persistence, the kindness and openness of my biological kids Rinnah, Rachel, and Toby to widening our family, to bringing others in and making this the new “us,” I am literally so proud I don’t even know how to express it. I have been blessed and blessed and blessed.

Adoption is hard. In a perfect world, there would be no adoption because it wouldn’t be necessary. But this world is broken, and there are kids who have had their lives turned upside down by that. They need families.

So, on this National Adoption Day, I want to say, this isn’t about me. While it’s been one of the hardest and best things I’ve ever done, this is not about my experience at all – it’s about three kids who have learned what a family is, that they have one forever, and are living into that new reality. It’s about having a front-row seat to redemption, both theirs and mine. It’s about God making all things new.

Let’s pray that all children everywhere who need a family get to know that reality too.

Ministry Round Up

July 3rd, 2018

This is more of a historical post for me so I don’t forget where I’ve been. 🙂 We have been so busy with the new kiddos coming home and the release of the new album that I have had to take a hiatus from my blog for a while. I’m trying to get caught up so I can get back at it, and didn’t want to miss 6+ months of events! Here are the ones I didn’t write about while I was on taking a break:

Just before we left to adopt Ethan and Anna, on July 27th, I sang and spoke on the morning services at Bethel Presbyterian. This was to update them on Noah (this church was incredibly supportive of our adoption of Noah, hosting a benefit concert and just being incredibly faithful and lovely to us in prayer and support), and also to tell them about Ethan and Anna and have a time of prayer for that. I just love them – what a faithful, wonderful group of people! I also introduced my new song “Nothing to Fear” doing an acoustic version, and telling them that we were working on the new album.

July 27th, bright and early, we left for China, meeting Ethan and Anna on July 31st and adopting them on Aug 1st. It took a couple weeks to finish all the paperwork, and we returned home on August 12th. If you’d like to read about our adoption trip, you’ll find the first post here.

The next two months were a blur of adjustment, starting school, learning English, and medical appointments.

On Oct 18-21 I went to Nashville to record all the vocals for the new album and do the photoshoot for the packaging.

On Nov 17-19 I went back to Nashville to shoot the majority of the footage for four music videos, a pretty insane weekend and shoot schedule!

On Dec 1st I had my first event back after the adoptions. I spoke and sang for the Christmas banquet for Dublin Baptist Church, and then left immediately after that to drive up to Marion Ohio where I did the Christmas brunch for Cornerstone Alliance Church the following morning, speaking on the topic “Worth the Wait.” I’ve been with Cornerstone before and just love working with their women’s ministry! And it was great to get to know the people at Dublin Baptist too. 🙂

The following weekend I drove to the middle of Pennsylvania to do Christmas events at Roxbury Camp. Their event has grown so much in the past years that they can’t fit everyone, so they do two identical, back-to-back events. I got to stay at the camp, and just can’t tell you how much I appreciated the camp staff! They were just the kindest, most lovely people! And the program director was a missionary kid in the Philippines growing up and decided he wanted to throw a staff party on the night between the events just to bless the staff and us. He made all Filipino food and taught me how to make lumpia, basically a Filipino spring roll, and they were great! We made so many, he sent some home with me, and the kids just cleaned those up!

On Dec. 17th, I went back to the church I served as music director for over twelve years. It was their 40th anniversary year, and they invited people back to do a retrospective. It was so lovely to catch up with everyone, and I sat in with the worship band and spoke and sang some too.

On Feb 25th I spoke and sang at the worship services for Grace Polaris Church in Columbus. This is the church that did my assistant, Donna’s, funeral, so they have a special place in my heart! And I did the services to help promote the women’s conference I gave there on March 2-3rd. I did a concert/testimony time on Friday night, and then Saturday did a one-day conference on Esther. Sadly, the women’s ministry director (who is lovely!) lost her mom that very week and was unable to be there, and I just appreciated how her team pulled together and did a wonderful job even without her there.

March 4th I was the guest worship leader at Karl Rd. Baptist and also did a few songs from the new album. I always love being here – this church is absolutely outstanding in serving their local community and I love the diversity here too which totally reflects their neighborhood. It’s a picture of heaven to me!

On March 11th I sang at all the morning services for St. Luke’s in Gahanna, OH. This is also a special church with a great heart for outreach! I just love being with them, and did a full concert for the new album later that month on March 21th.

On March 16th and 17th I did the regional women’s retreats for the Nazarene denomination at Mount Vernon Nazarene University. This was a beautiful facility and a great team, so we decided to bring in my video guy, Jeff, and film it too. I spoke on the life of Peter, one of my favorite topics!

The next day, since we knew we had Jeff in town, we did another cray-cray day of filming, getting additional footage for two of the music videos that needed it. We hit about 5 locations and still got Jeff to his plane with minutes to spare. That was nuts, but I’m so glad we got it done!

March 24th I did a one day women’s retreat on Esther at Fulton Creek Friends Church. I was with them last year too, and just love their heart for special needs families. And as an amazingly sweet surprise, they had two girls scheduled to do a dance to my song “Your Child” that they had planned even before they knew I was their speaker!

April 13th and 20th I did benefit events for Remember Nhu in Indianapolis and Cleveland. Remember Nhu is the organization we went to Thailand with several years ago, and I wrote the song “To Be Love” for them. They fight child trafficking, and just do great work. I am so excited to see how fast they are growing and how God is blessing their very needed ministry, even as I am so sad that their ministry is necessary. It’s a privilege to help their mission.

April 21st I sang for a “last roll call” service for the Veterans Association here in Columbus. It was a memorial service for the more than 600 service men and women lost in the last quarter. That was a hard event to do, but again, just a privilege to be asked.

After school got out, we headed to Florida, all eight of us in a mini-van! And we had a vacation mixed with a few events. 🙂 May 28th I was on Moody Radio Florida for a couple of hours in the morning, and on June 3rd I did the morning services at Pillar Community Church in Vero Beach. On June 8th I went to the international headquarters of Campus Crusade which are in Orlando and taped segments for several of their radio programs which will broadcast over the next several months. And then on the way home, I did the morning services at First Presbyterian Church in Hickory, North Carolina. All in all, it was a long and fun trip with some great ministry mixed in. 🙂

Then on June 17th I was at Living Waters Lutheran Church in NJ. This is my aunt and uncle’s church and we were visiting after my daughter Rachel played at Carnegie Hall with her youth orchestra. They really touched my heart with their support for our Compassion kiddos at that church!

Now I have a bit of a break until later in the summer. Anna had to have some pretty major surgery, and I didn’t want to schedule things without knowing how it would go.

The Making of the New Album

December 14th, 2017

Final cover image for the new album

Me with Jeff Kubach and the Trevecca guys, Collin, Tyler, and Elijah during the video shoot. These are all pictures from the videos, but really, watching people write a song is not super photogenic!

Setting up for A Greater Love

Sometimes four cameras pointed at you at once is intimidating, especially when there’s one just for your hands. Don’t miss any notes!!

A rooftop shot for How Far Love Goes

Shooting Forever Family

Piano scenes for Porch Swing

And, what else? Porch swing scenes for Porch Swing.

Given all that is going on around here, I know you will believe me when I say the fact that we have completed a new album is a miracle of God! Here’s the rundown of the making of the new album:

Earlier this year after much prayer, Nathan and I decided to commit to another album. This is a very expensive and time-consuming process, but it had become clear that I needed new songs given the shift in my speaking topics in the last several years. Basically, we had to decide if it was time to hang it up completely, or do another album. I do not feel any sense at all that God is done with our ministry, so an album it had to be. This was pretty daunting in a year when we knew we’d also be completing two adoptions from both a time and money perspective, but we knew if God wanted it to happen, He would make a way.

I had already written several songs, and I also started gathering song ideas and praying over what we needed in this new “toolkit” for ministry. I made an album plan and a writing plan for the songs that weren’t written yet.

In June, I went down to Nashville to write a few songs with my producer, Paul Marino. We’ve written many of my favorite songs together, and it was another challenging and fun artistic endeavor. I love the creative process, and to say, “I need a song about adoption, let’s make that” and then sit down and create something out of nothing is pretty darn fun. By the end of that trip, I had the album plan, the songs all written, arrangements done, and everything in place for them to start the recording sessions without me. In the past I’ve been super hands on, and have even co-produced or produced some of my past projects, but I’ve worked with Paul so much that I knew what I would be getting. He’s absolutely amazing, and I totally trust him, and we were leaving for China so I gave him the go-ahead to do the band and string sessions without me.

We got the initial rough mixes from the band literally as we were leaving for China. Nathan was trying to download them on my phone in the airport for me so I could listen on the long flight. I knew if I wasn’t able to get them listened to and give feedback the minute we got to China, there was no way it was happening because once we got the kids it would be non-stop for the foreseeable future. I listened and took notes most of the way to China, and fortunately we had a decent internet connection in Hong Kong to send feedback. Paul as usual exceeded my expectations, and I was really happy overall with the direction this went.

We had initially planned that I would head down to Nashville again at the end of September to do the vocals, but that didn’t end up happening. I got sick and also, it was just too early to leave the new kiddos. They were doing really well, but when you’ve lost everything and you’re in a new country and literally your whole world has changed, having your new parent leave even for a few days can be really frightening. We decided to wait until October to give them a few more weeks, and have the string sessions done first.

While we waited, I put together all the text for the CD insert and proofed it 800 times and sent it to Royce, the graphic designer and photographer working on the project. That way he could do an initial layout just to get ideas for spacing, etc. I also researched and picked a new manufacturer because the one I’ve used for years closed shop and Royce needed their specific templates. And I worked on getting the mechanical and digital licenses for the couple of songs that needed them. AND, I did something I truly hate – I shopped for clothing for the photo shoot. I’m a jeans and t-shirt gal and I hate, hate (did I mention I hate it?!) to shop for clothing. It is way too much pressure to figure out how to look cute etc, etc. I brought my mom just to make me get it done.

I got the string session rough mixes just before I went to Nashville, and holy cannoli, this is why you work in Nashville. Phillip Keveren who is an amazing arranger, orchestrator, and pianist did the string arrangements, and they are incredible. Again. He did the arrangements on my last two albums as well. The man is a genius. And also incredibly nice – that’s a rare combo. And the string players are all from the Nashville symphony and knocked it out of the park. The cello solo at the beginning of “In Christ Alone?” Mic drop. I don’t even need to sing the song now. Close your eyes and you’re in Ireland.

I drove into Nashville, about six hours from my house, and went immediately to the photographer’s studio. My publicist, Gina Adams, who is not just a great publicist, but also a friend after all these years met me there and we proceeded with another of my least favorite parts of these things – the photo shoot. This business is not kind to women, and I can be really hard on myself. Nothing fun about it, but she kept making me laugh which helped and the photographer, Royce was super nice and easy to work with. And he got some great shots which I am very relieved to have done. He got me proofs and some ideas for the cover layouts over the next couple of weeks.

The next three days I spent with Paul and also with Jeremy Johnson. Jeremy is Paul’s writing partner and they produce tons of things for Lifeway and are great friends. Paul is a good friend, and I’ve known Jeremy for years and we’ve written a bit together too. He engineered the vocal sessions at his studio and did a bunch of the programming and the keys and mixing and all kinds of fun stuff. It was so fun to see him again and catch up with his family and see how his kids are growing. It’s a really lovely thing when you can work with people who are just amazing at what they do, and are also stellar people. Doing vocals can be kind of mentally grueling since you have to be on your game for literally every second of the sessions, but it is also really fun. I love communicating through sound, always have, and it’s super fun to collaborate with these guys.

A couple weeks after that trip, I got the initial mixes and was giving feedback and changes. Jeremy did an outstanding job with the mix. Then, after going back and forth and listening in several difference places (things sound different in your car than they do in your stereo, than they do in your headphones, etc.), I gave final approval and it headed over to Kent Hooper for mastering. Then another round of listening and feedback and changes and final approvals. All this time as well, we were doing the same thing with the graphic design for the artwork on the CD and case. At the beginning of November it all went to manufacturing, and we got them just before Thanksgiving.

But wait, there’s more! Even though we have the album, the official release won’t be until February of 2018 because you need lead time for the PR campaign and we also realized we needed videos to support the release.

So, I headed down to Nashville for one last long weekend. I flew Jeff Kubach in from Philadelphia. He’s been my director on several music videos and is outstanding. Gina, my publicist, about killed herself getting together shoot locations that seemed to change their available times every time we turned around, so the shoot schedule changed almost daily at the end. It was very nerve wracking.

So, to be clear, in the past we’ve taken anywhere from 3-5 days to shoot a single music video. They are like mini-movies. There was no way that could really happen this time. First of all, there simply wasn’t time, either before the release or in my life – even getting away this extra weekend was killer. And secondly, to be blunt, there’s no money for that approach this time. Our adoptions have drained all our resources and we’re stepping out on a limb with this album as is. So we did something I would have said was impossible – we scaled back and simplified tremendously and shot everything we needed for four music videos and an interview in a single long weekend. They won’t have the story lines of our other videos, but they will work, and we needed to be practical this time.

It was like trying to coordinate a major military campaign. We used film students from Trevecca University to help carry stuff and set up lights and have multiple cameras running for each take which shortened our time considerably. We planned all the outside shots on Saturday only to find out there were thunderstorms all day and we even had a tornado at one point. I only ended up shooting one scene in the rain, and that was hilarious watching everyone running with umbrellas trying to protect the cameras and lights and get the shot before I looked too wet and we had to give up. We lost our guitarist and had to find another on the fly. I had to literally write notes to myself about which clothes and jewelry I was wearing in each video so I wouldn’t mess it up since we switched back and forth between videos every time we switched locations. I did my hair 13 times. That’s only interesting if you know me, I guess, but let’s just say I’m not a hair-doing girl either. It was nuts. But somehow, by the grace of God, we got it done. Now, I’m still in the middle of watching the initial editing for those as they are put together.

So, even though this album isn’t officially released until next year, if you’re reading this, you are connected with us and we are selling the album in our store already – it’s not available anywhere else until that release date. So I hope you will pick up your copy and one for your best friends, and help support our ministry! And hopefully it’s interesting to know what goes into putting an album together too. 🙂

Finally, we named the album “Nothing to Fear” from the lyric, “For You are for me and there is nothing to fear.”

Songs are:

1. Nothing to Fear
2. A Greater Love
3. How Far Love Goes
4. Forever Family
5. Porch Swing
6. Patient with Me (Hello Again)
7. It Is Well with My Soul
8. Living Abundantly
9. Love in Action
10. In Christ Alone

First months home

December 5th, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some of their amazing early Lego creations.

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

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

Tons of fun with Rinnah at college!

Rinnah the birthday girl with all her sibs.

Our Moon Festival cookies.

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

Noah the birthday boy.

First trick-or-treating.

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

Anna the birthday girl with my mom.

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

Our new family picture.

Family dumpling party on Thanksgiving morning.

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

Enjoying siblings.

Christmas decorating for the first time.

Caught a family shot, a very rare opportunity!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Quotes from FB from Anna’s start to school:

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

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

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

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

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

“So, are you Chinese?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

August 8th, 2017

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

Toby, Rachel, and Rinnah on Shamian Island

Part of our neighborhood

Heading over the bridge to Safari Park

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

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

Bird’s eye view from the skyride at Safari Park

At the entrance to Ethan’s orphanage

Corridor to the medical wing

The playground in the courtyard of the children’s wing

Ethan with some of his teachers and workers

A peek into one of the kid rooms

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Adoption Trip #4 Keeping On Keeping On

August 5th, 2017

The kids waiting for their medicals

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

Clan Chen is beautiful, even in the rain

Ethan was mesmerized by the artist carving our name chops.

Typical breakfast for us in the room

Nathan keeping Ethan from a collision!

Anna and her jie jie have got this!

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

Anna high-fiving on her way around the carousel

Ethan and Noah enjoying the car ride

The most amazing menu translations ever.

First time at the pool for Ethan and Anna!

Heading into the tomb of the Nanyue king

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

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

Starting our cruise!

The Pearl River at night

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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