Day 3 – The Orphanage and Gotcha Day

I tried to write this last night as the day was winding down but I kept falling asleep as I’d write only to wake up and find a long string of incoherent characters on my iPad. I decided I could write when I had time this morning. Yesterday really wiped me out.

It’s hard to describe the emotion of the moments leading up to our arrival at the orphanage. As we were driving it would come in waves over me and I’d quietly sob looking out the window wondering what was to unfold over the next few moments.

We’d seen pictures of the orphanage before. In the pictures it looks amazing but I was a little skeptical that this was an accurate picture of how it truly is in real life. We drove from the city out into the countryside surrounded by lakes, giant mountains, and natural springs. And then like a magician unveiling his surprise, the orphanage seemed to appear from nowhere, backdropped by beautiful mountains and lush gardens. This place was actually more fantastic than the photos can depict.

You can sense the love and heart the staff puts into the work they do. This isn’t really an orphanage. It’s actually an institute who’s sole purpose is to improve the lives of children. One of the staff members, Charlie, seemed to know everything there was to know about our children and radiated joy with every word he spoke. Charlie takes the bus in to work every day and has done so for more than five years. And for five years he’s poured his heart out into these children.

As we arrived, Charlie ushered us into the main atrium where we’d meet our children for the first time. We were there for only a matter of seconds when the first family was presented with their little boy. We all broke down and began weeping openly. The emotion of the morning had built up to a breaking point I guess. A few minutes later the second family got to meet their daughter. We all gathered around them to make sure someone was taking pictures and videos of the moment.

Charlie came in a few moments later and asked to speak to the parents of Zhou Long’ai (that’s Aila’s Chinese name). He began talking to us through our interpreter. They both started to express concern on their faces. Immediately, I began to plan for a worst case scenario. Our interpreter turned to us and said, “Your daughter… She is sick… She is not well. She has developed… He paused for a moment and pulled out his phone to find the English word for what he was trying to say. He turned the phone around for us to see what he’d found. Hand, foot, and mouth. Seriously!?! Dang dude… Why you gotta do that to me, bro?! Freaked me out for no reason? Hand, foot, and mouth? That’s no big deal. All of our kids have had to endure it. Charlie ran off and a few minutes later, there she was…

I’m not sure how I got there. Translation? Teleportation? Some naked cherubs came and picked me up? Who knows? Maybe I ran. All I know is as soon as she came through the door the world hushed and we were all crouched around her and her nanny saying hello for the first time. She studied each one of us and at the moment of her choosing, reached out for Kelley and it was like the world burst into new life all around us. After a few minutes I couldn’t stand it any longer. I reached out my hands to her, patted my chest and said, “Baba,” (the Chinese word for Daddy). She reached back to me and quietly whispered, “Baba,” and just like that all the agony was washed away. All the resistance, all the heartache of the last fourteen months was a distant thought and I was wrecked. Still am. Crying now as I write this out. I’ve had the privilege of being present for the birth of two of my children. It’s a special moment unlike anything else in the world. I can’t write well enough to describe to you what that moment is like when this child you’ve been praying for for fourteen months reaches her chubby little arms out to you and whispers, “Daddy.” It’s a moment unlike any other. We prayed for months that she’d know we were her family and as we drove away from the institute I whispered in her ear, “I told you I was coming for you.” She laid down on her momma’s chest and went to sleep.

The rest of the day was spent filing out more papers, signing things, drafting petitions, getting visa photos made, the notary, and the CCCWA. There we sat before an official who asked us the final questions we’d be asked in this adoption. I’ll never forget the moment. She said, “Do you promise to love her? To never harm her or abuse her? Do you promise to give her a good education? And do you promise to be her family forever?” Of course you know how we answered. And then she said, “Congratulations!”

That was it. Fully legal and finalized adoption. She is ours and we are hers.
Forever.

She is unlike any other.

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A Social Advent

As Christmas approaches, we’re halfway through our mutiny against excess and we’re still battling some big ugly foes, like entitlement and wants vs needs. It’s enough to make me shake both fists and yell “give away ALL the things!”

And we have given away a lot. But we have a long way to go. We’re learning to live on less. On what we need. To not waste or be extravagant. And I feel like Christmas is going to put us right back knee deep in excess.

So what to do? It’s not as easy as just doing less or buying less. It’s about making more of the season. It requires a bigger, more concerted effort to flip this season upside down and inside out to get back to the heart of Christmas. I’ve heard of people not doing gifts. Hanging their tree upside down. Bold statements to say we’re choosing to celebrate this story in a different way. But, at the same time, I want my kids to know the magic of Christmas. Because the Christmas story IS magical, miraculous. I just want them to see that magic and wonder and delight throughout the season and not just on Christmas morning because there are gifts underneath the tree.

So here are some thoughts…
We were inspired by rethink church‘s Advent photo-a-day and decided to create our own. We read the Christmas story as a family and came up with words that describe advent. Our goal is to find ways to bring those words to life in our day to day actions.

We begin Day One with silence, because God was silent for a long time. For us today, that looked like a very long drive home (11 hrs and counting with 4 more to go). We are using the time of silence to pray. To dream of ways to change the meaning of this season for our kids and create a legacy of celebrating the true meaning of Christmas. To be mindful that God announced his Savior-Son with a whisper. A whisper heard in silence.

Join our Instagram Advent photo-a-day by taking a picture and adding the hashtag of the day:

Day 1: Silence
Day 2: Fear
Day 3: Courage
Day 4: Obedience
Day 5: Messenger
Day 6: Unexpected
Day 7: Shining star
Day 8: Faith
Day 9: Go
Day 10: Anticipation
Day 11: Chasing
Day 12: Journey
Day 14: Patient
Day 15: Promise
Day 16: King
Day 17: Gift
Day 18: Servant
Day 19: Follow
Day 20: Change
Day 21: Joy
Day 22: Never alone
Day 23: Steadfast
Day 24: Wonder full
Day 25: Rejoice

//Kelley
@kelley_nichols (Twitter)
@kansasmcm (Instagram)

It’s the Holiday Season

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I’ve never tried to fly the week of Thanksgiving. It worked out this year for me to get to go home. I found a cheap flight home. I got my boarding pass all loaded up on my phone. Then a nor’easter decided to show up and snarled traffic on the ground and in the air.

Typical, right?

But I got to the airport early. Somehow I got on the TSA Precheck list and got bumped to a flight that left two hours EARLIER than scheduled.

Not at all typical.

Good flights overall, considering the circumstances. Late night. Cold, wet weather. Kids sound asleep on the floor.

It’s starting to feel like the holidays.

I woke to the smell of fresh coffee, the sound of laughing kids who came to snuggle in bed with me and bring us books to read together. Things like this don’t happen when I have to rush off to work.

Today, I’m grateful for slow mornings and empty agendas. The tree is going up and a fire is building…

Here’s to moments I don’t want to forget.

Postscript

kids draw police chase scene

We forgot to tell you the rest of the story. Many of you wanted to know what happened to the car… Well, in case you can’t interpret kid art (above), the fine folks at NNPD found the guy. In fact it was a friend of mine. He was out on patrol with his partner and saw it drive past him in the opposite direction. He whipped his car around and took off after him. After some fancy maneuvering ending with our car crashing through a fence and into a pole, the guy jumped out of the car and was arrested. And yes, insurance is handling the claim for repairs to damage and we should have our car back in about a week’s time.

The pictures are from our kids. They wanted to thank the officer who was looking out for our family. Below is a picture from Rosie and Grady. Thank you, Brandon and Tully. You guys are some of the finest around!

kids police car drawings

I Knew This Day Would Come

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About two months ago, we noticed a house finch making a nest in the hanging planter on our front porch. Didn’t seem like a smart move to me because it’s right in front of a window that our kids love to look through every morning (and every time they come up and down the stairs). And at night, our porch light never goes off. It’s really not the best choice in lodging, in my opinion. But what do I know? I’m not a bird.

Momma Bird was always a little skittish and almost always flew away whenever she heard us coming. But it wasn’t long until we started to see some eggs appear in the nest. First there were two. Then five. Then one more. Six eggs. And Momma Bird wasn’t leaving the nest quite as frequently. She’d sit there calmly. Maybe she’d gotten used to us.

Or maybe she had a purpose that kept her grounded even when she wanted to leave.

Pretty soon we were seeing little wet heads and beaks along side their soon-to-hatch brothers and sisters. Poppa Bird was coming around now, too. Bringing food. Checking the nest. And making sure everybody was safe.

We watched as the weeks produced more feathers and voices, especially when Poppa Bird was sitting on the edge with some food. Everyday, he’d come. Usually early in the morning. Give them their food for the day, chirp back and forth with them, and then sit there until he saw me or until I got too eager and tried to go outside and see if I could get a better look. He didn’t trust me.

I get that. I don’t trust Life. It’s too unpredictable.

I’m constantly running through escape procedures in my head about how I’d get my family out of harms way. I’ve come up with some really dreadful events that would require these but it’s good to have a plan for, let’s say… when zombies come in through the fireplace, right?

I think about it a lot. How to protect my family. More than I probably realize and certainly more than I admit. But I have to be sure they’re safe, out of harm’s way, and prepared for a fruitful, meaningful, long, fulfilling life with a family of their own.

But I can’t always protect them. And I can’t leave them in the nest. I have to show them the way.

Poppa Bird has been coming around pretty often and Momma Bird is only very rarely seen. For practical reasons, the babies are growing and they need their space. They are literally laying on top of each other fighting for daylight. But maybe the bigger reason is this… all her nurturing to get them to this place is finished. Now they need to fly. Any of the comfort or care that only she can give must be done “Out There.”

I know a bunch of moms right now who are about to have a panic attack, my wife included. Baby, it stresses me out, too. They grow too fast. They need their space. And one day, our hands-on nurturing and providing slows. to. a. stop. They move away to college. They go on adventures in foreign countries with other newly-fledged companions. They call home on occasion. They bring their laundry (if you’re lucky). And then they’re gone.

I don’t know how that’s gonna wreck me, but it’s gonna hit me hard in about eight years. And then it’s gonna hit me over and over again until our last child moves away. I’ll never forget the sight of my mom’s shoulders slumping over the dishes the moment I told her I was moving away after high school. She stood silently and I could see her shaking as she tried to cry without me seeing. I felt so guilty for delivering the news. But I knew it was my time to go on an adventure and learn my way around the “Out There.”

Yesterday was the last day for the last two birds. Poppa Bird was there as he was for each of them as they took their first flight. He’d perch on the edge of the basket. Fly down to the sidewalk. Look up to the nest. Chirp up to the waiting fledgling, “Come on. It’s okay. You can do it,” or something like that. Keep his eyes on his little one as he watched him fly away.

It was a proud moment and friggin scary moment all wrapped into one. And I was only a human watching some birds. I don’t want to think about what it will be when those are my kids. My oldest is 10. We’re talking about eight years maybe before he drives away to college. My youngest is 4. And as God brings other babies to us, my worry and fretting will only continue, maybe until the day I die. I knew this day would come for the Finch family and I know it will come for us as well. The “Out There” is not an easy place to maneuver. But these babies are not ours to begin with. They belong to the world; placed here for a purpose, laid out before the world was made. And our Father will keep them even when we can’t. God help us parent them well.

John 14:18-27, Matt. 10:30-31

Gotcha Day

Gotcha Day 2008

Five years ago today I became a dad for the first time.

Well, actually… that’s not exactly true. I was already a dad, I just didn’t know it.

Eli is my firstborn. My eldest child. My son. But I didn’t know him until he was two and a half. We met at a baseball field. He was sitting on his momma’s hip as they walked past the concessions stand. And I knew the moment I met them that we were connected. I couldn’t get them off my mind.

Eventually I asked his mom out for a date. We spent hours in the coffee shop talking over a book we’d both been reading. Eli had made a train out of all the unused chairs in the shop and was the proud conductor. I marveled at him. I’d never met anyone so special. This little boy who had trouble saying my name was slowly changing my life — both of us unaware.

I learned that Eli’s “genetic contributor” had bailed out very early on. By this point I was already head-over-heels for Eli and his mom. But I remember standing in the shower one morning and I began to hear God whispering to me as if he were letting me in on a secret he’d been keeping for some time. It was like a new awakening. Eli was my son.

I remember asking Kelley to marry me. The next day, Kelley and I asked Eli if I could be his daddy.

He said yes.

And from that day forward, I was his dad. But we wanted to make it official. To see my name in the box on his birth certificate that read ‘father’. Friends told us to just let things lie quietly. “Don’t rock the boat,” they’d say. “He’s made no attempt to contact his son. Don’t stir things up and put yourself in a place where you could potentially lose the life you’re enjoying now.”

There was truth in what they were saying. It was hard not to listen to them sometimes but we knew God was asking us to trust Him for something better. We filed the appropriate papers. Sent them through the process.

And we waited.

Until one day, we got the news we’d been praying for. We set a court date. I don’t remember all of the details of that day. But here are some highlights. The judge asked me why I wanted to adopt Eli. I just began to weep and simply said, “Because he’s my son and I love him.” I’m not sure I actually got all those words out through the tears but the judge stopped me and said, “That’s all I need to hear. I was adopted when I was Eli’s age. I see in front of me a home where this boy will be loved.” Then he called to Eli to come sit where the judge had been sitting. He handed over the gavel to Eli and let him call for the declaration. Moments later, what had been true in our hearts was now evidenced on paper.

Eli is my son.

See, I was a dad long before I knew it. I was Eli’s dad. I wouldn’t meet him for a couple of years. The night Eli was born was, for me, very routine. I’d been wanting and praying for a wife. For a family. And that day seemed like any other day. But what God was working under the surface was something spectacular. He was answering my prayers.

A Little Less Fragmented

We got news of a landmark event. Something we’ve been praying for for at least a year.

Have you read where Isaiah says we are to take up the cause of the widow and the fatherless? Well, if you haven’t read it, here ya go (Isaiah 1:11-17). Read it and think on it for a bit then come back.

For a year now my wife has stood in unfriendly places to make sure she held true to what God was calling her to do. A year ago, a young mom came into our church not knowing how to fit in. She wasn’t immediately welcomed by the majority. Our pastor told Kelley that this is exactly the mission we are on. And Kelley and I know that part of our mission as a family is to integrate the fringes. So he sent her to this young mom to help nurture her and encourage her.

Not too long after becoming involved, the story swirled with an ominous cloud that seemed to never relent. This mom had been reported to authorities for suspected neglect and abuse. The strange thing is that there was no evidence of such and even stranger is the person reporting this to the authorities was in a position to benefit greatly from the child being taken from his mother. The timing was urgent and we needed to get her into a stable environment as quickly as possible. I petitioned our Elders to stand for her and this little child. One of them came forward and offered to become foster parents for the little boy until the mom could get a little better situated on her feet.

At the same time, there was a lady, eager for a child she couldn’t have and seemingly desperate to make this opportunity hers. Somehow, she was able to convince the system (which is in such bad shape) to let the little boy come live with her while the birth mom got her stuff together. And to complicate things, this lady had some socially powerful friends in a very small town. If she could convince them of her noble intentions she might ultimately get to keep the child (at least that’s what she seemed to be angling for). I won’t go into the details, but it wasn’t too long until her friends came to discover how they’d been manipulated throughout this process.

Kelley went to meeting after meeting after meeting with the birth mom, the custodial caregiver, and the case worker. Most meetings ended with the caregiver cursing at Kelley. Threatening her. Threatening our family. Demeaning the birth mom and being rather belligerent to the case worker. The caregiver knew she was losing what could be the last opportunity she might ever have to raise a child. And as sympathetic as I am to that, I simply cannot stand for manipulation and disrespect. The caregiver continually created more and more hoops for the birth mom to jump through. She created scenarios where she tried to justify leaving the state with the child, even when doing so would immediately result in FBI involvement. One night the caregiver threatened the safety of our family because of her disapproval of Kelley’s involvement in this process. She said she couldn’t understand how the church could stand with someone who obviously hasn’t done anything to prove she deserves it. She said that Kelley’s involvement was an abomination and was making a mockery of the church. We came home two nights later and our house had been broken into.

The caregiver tried numerous times to convince the birth mom that the best thing for her son was that he live with the caregiver – permanently. She wanted to adopt him.

That seems noble until you realize that the birth mom loves her son and wants him to live with her and that she is doing everything and more that the state is requiring of her to get her son back. At some point, you begin to see that this the nobility has been tainted. This is an unstable situation and this child needs to be back in the custody of his birth mother sooner rather than later. And if it can’t happen soon then he needs to be placed in legitimate foster care. This sentiment wasn’t received very positively by everyone, as you might imagine. Some people were making Kelley out to be reckless and haphazard. One of our own team members (who was also aligned with the caregiver) told Kelley that she was out of line and she shouldn’t continue to do what our pastor had commissioned her to do. (Excuse me, what?!)

Here’s the deal. As a family, we make every decision through at least one of three filters – honor, generosity, and compassion. And we stand firmly to maintain those values. If someone is acting in a manner that dishonors the basic humanity of another person, we stand to build honor. And in this storyline, that’s precisely what Kelley has fully committed her heart and soul to see. We believe that every person is made in the image of God. Oftentimes, when we see brokenness in the world, it’s because someone has painted an inaccurate representation of God to an individual. We believe that we are called to help restore the image of God. And for a year, Kelley has stood beside this birth mom with honor, rebuilding honor in her heart. Telling her that she’s a good mom. That God has gifted her with love for her son and a spirit that will do everything to provide for him.

In our day and age, we don’t see as many widows as we used to, especially like in bible times. A widow then was someone who had no husband to represent her, no one to provide for her or protect her. She relied solely on the care of her other family members or if she had no family, the care from a sensitive and responsive heart. In our modern Western society, that scenario is not as prevalent. It is my opinion that single moms, especially those who’s baby-daddies have run out on them… they are the widows of our generation. They are left with the care of this child and abandoned by one who said he’d be there. These girls aren’t to be discarded. They aren’t to be ignored. They aren’t to be run over or manipulated. They are to be encouraged and nurtured. And that’s what Kelley has done for the last year.

We knew we were getting close to the day we’ve been awaiting. The birth mom got her own place. She got registered for school. Went to parenting classes. She was granted weekend visitation. And every weekend she would just beam when she was with her son.

And this afternoon, she sent Kelley a message to thank her because today she received full custody of her son! No more visitation. Mother and son fully reunited.

I’m so proud of my wife. She flew high like a flag amidst the beatings of adversity. She stood proudly for justice. She was a beacon of hope and honor. And today I place her high on a mountaintop for all the world to see as she flies as a symbol of profound victory. The image of God is a little less fragmented because of her.