Happy Gotcha Day

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Today marks one year. One year since our hearts melted into a puddle. One year ago we were standing in the natural-lit atrium of the Children’s Welfare Institute in China waiting to meet our sweet little girl. Would we recognize her? Would she come to us? Would she be healthy? Well-nourished? Nothing can adequately convey the emotion an adoptive family feels in that moment. I’ve never been so nervous. We waited for what seemed like hours. Two families met their little ones ahead of us. We have no idea if we’re next or not. The next nanny comes out, a tiny, round face buried in her shoulder. Is this her? Something in us tells us this is her. We both frantically scan the room for our guide. He calls her name… It’s her. It’s her! I don’t remember how we got from one side of the room to the other, but the next thing I remember is running my hand across her hair and looking into those dark eyes set atop her blushed cheeks. I wanted to stay in that moment forever. It was everything I imagined and nothing like I could’ve expected.

We’re home now. A year goes by so quickly. We’ve spent the last week looking through photos from that experience. Her hair is longer, softer. Her eyes are brighter. Her skin is clearer. But the overwhelming difference? She calls us Mommy and Daddy. She has a family. There’s a thing that most parents go through, almost unknowingly, with their naturally born children that adoptive parents pray about, work very hard to achieve. It’s called attachment and it’s the golden egg.

Reshearch tells us if attachment doesn’t happen within the first few months, this precious soul may not ever attach to her family. It’s hallowed. Every strategic moment. The cocooning. The co-sleeping. It’s hard and it gets harder. And then one day, she freaks out when you try to leave the house. A lot of parents of a three year old might hear this cacophony and wish for an escape to the coffee shop. But for adoptive parents, it’s a serenade. Most mornings, it’s not uncommon to wake up with a toddler on your face, but her cute, weird sleeping face, mouth gaping, tells the story of a little person who is at peace.

A year later, there’s no doubt… this little girl is home.

Orphans, Sexual Abuse, and A Giant Need

Aila had an appointment yesterday with a GI specialist. I’ll spare you the poop-filled details, but after hearing her history, the doctor’s FIRST exam was to check for sexual abuse. Her first thought was abuse. Not a last ditch attempt to find answers, but the physician’s first thoughts went to sexual abuse because she said she sees it so often with orphans and especially kids with special needs. They have no one to protect them.

Thankfully, that doesn’t seem to be the issue for Aila. And while I’m beyond grateful for that, it is heartbreaking that we even had to consider it.

I liked Aila’s orphanage. I liked her caregivers. They seemed to genuinely care for her. But, there is no substitution for a family. Every child NEEDS a family. I’m reminded of this truth a million ways each day, but this hit me hard today. Our daughter spent 29 months in an orphanage and we believe she was well cared for during that time. Other kids aren’t so lucky.

I recently read about a girl, Jianna, who is about to age-out of the orphanage. She’s almost 14 years old and if she doesn’t get connected to a family, she’ll be on the street on her fourteenth birthday. She needs a family. More than ever, she needs someone to stand up for her, to be her advocate, to protect her and to love her. There’s not a lot of opportunity for a young teenage orphan girl if she doesn’t get adopted. This sad reality is what leads to so many girls entering sex trade and falling prey to abusive situations.

We’re so grateful that Aila was kept safe. But our hearts break for Jianna and the others like her who don’t know what life in a loving, caring family is like. I appreciate everyone who’s shared her file in hopes of finding her family. Several families inquired about her, but at this point, she needs a family already in the adoption process. So right now I’m asking you to pray. Please pray for this girl and her family. Pray for God to move mountains in the next six weeks to get a family to this girl.

http://reecesrainbow.org/?s=jianna

Jianna, Reece's Rainbow

Jianna

She Knows We Are Family

From Kelley

I’ve wanted to post an update regarding Aila’s medical evaluations, but I couldn’t quite find the words. She had an MRI of her brain on Monday because one of her doctors suspected swelling. The good news is there is no swelling. But her MRI showed a condition called PVL, which is basically areas of brain damage due to lack of oxygen. I got off the phone with a list of referrals and a need to vomit. Because that’s how your body responds when you hear the words brain damage when talking about your baby girl.

I looked over at her trying to lift her leg high enough to crawl up on the foot stool in front of our chair. She desperately wants to scale that stool and tries over and over again, every day. And I got so scared, wondering if we were seeing her best days. Because what if this damage was progressive. What if it got worse? And let me tell you, doctor Google was NOT reassuring.

I called my husband and then I prayed. Here’s what God gave me.

We can’t fix her.

She will still have Down syndrome. She may have permanent brain damage. She may live to be 60 years old. Or she may not. There are no more guarantees on her life than there are on our own, and there are no fewer fears. We didn’t bring her home to fix her.

Adoption has always been about giving her a family.

That’s what God asked us to do. Be her family. She may have no future severe medical issues or she could see a specialist a month for the rest of her life.

Through it all, God wants her (and every child for that matter) in a family. And through some mystery, He saw fit that we should be the lucky ones to welcome her in.

And since that day three months ago when we stood in front of an official and swore an oath to always love her and be her family forever, we’ve seen gains. A lot of gains, actually. She crawls. She signs “eat” and “bottle.” She has grown 2 inches and gained 4 pounds. But above all that, she gained a sister, two brothers, a mama, and a daddy. And she knows who we are. She knows we are family.

Day 12 – We’re Coming Home

I can’t believe it. This is it. We’re coming home! Six of us! Tomorrow morning we’ll leave Guangzhou early and head to Hong Kong to fly home.

I really want you guys to see this.

On Monday we were told that the result of her test would probably mean that we would have to stay an extra week in Guangzhou, most of those days without a guide or agency rep.

On Tuesday we were told that the results weren’t back yet but once they came back it typically takes eight hours or so to send the medical report to the consulate and after that another 24-36 hours to process her visa. Apparently you can’t just walk in to a US Embassy and walk out with your visa. Anyway, all of this would put our earliest window for departure at Friday afternoon but none of that was certain until we got the all-clear from medical.

This morning, Kelley, Aila, and our guide went back to the clinic. They were there all of about 30 min and the doctors had given her clearance. They walked across the street to the consulate and within about an hour Kelley walked out with Aila’s visa. (You can’t have your phone in the Consulate so I didn’t know all this was going down.) All the while, I’m on the phone with American Airlines pleading our case to get the cost down. The first price quoted was $2700 to change our flights to Friday. A little while later and some wicked negotiations behind the scenes of AA’s International Service Reps and the price had been reduced to around $450. Then Kelley got back and said that she had the visa — today. We can fly out tomorrow! I called AA back to see if we could adjust our itinerary from Friday to Thursday. She placed me on hold and a few minutes later, our itinerary had been updated and the total cost to change all six flights to Thursday?… $150.00.

Now, how’d all this happen? I’ve written about this a few times before, but it’s prayer. Specifically, it’s the Spirit of God moving through prayer. Prayer connects us like a major network of communications. We pray. God’s Spirit moves in others to act and out of response to that promoting, things that seemed impossible move out of the way. Walls that seemed too high to climb now seem like only a step. Prayer mobilizes His people — knowingly sometimes and maybe sometimes unknowingly — and things get done. Bold prayers and big, gutsy asks… You never know what can happen. All I know is two days ago it looked like we were stuck in a foreign country on the other side of the world and it was gonna cost nearly $5000 more in airfare, lodging, and food to get us home. God’s people began to cry out to him and out of that, our family is coming home TOMORROW!!!

I spent about an hour today on the pool deck overlooking the city here and reflected on this trip. No doubt, the last five days have been trying. Not at all what I imagined it to be. Frustrating, yes. Disheartening at times, for sure. Even moments feeling utterly defeated, helpless, beaten down. I’m excited to be home. To have doctors who speak English and who do things the way I’m accustomed. To eat American food. To drive my car. To breathe clean air. To sleep in my own bed again. To enjoy my new baby in my new house. But God had us here for a purpose. A purpose bigger than even bringing our baby girl home.

Sometimes I get too caught up in the urgency of the immediate to see God working. I’m too furious to recognize him.

But my wife is a champ at slowing down and listening for God’s quiet little whispers. She and Aila have been to that clinic five times over the last five days. The doctors are absolutely in love with this little two year old bundle of pure joy.

Today, I believe I may have seen at least one reason God had us stay. While they were at the clinic Kelley got to talk with a Chinese lady (who spoke English). The lady had lots of questions about adoption. As you know, we’re pretty big advocates for orphan care. The lady told Kelley that they’d considered adoption before, but it’s not very common here. Kelley took the time with this lady to encourage her. She told her that God can help you do anything, especially care for children. By the end of their conversation, this lady, with tears welling up in her eyes, said to Kelley, “Meeting you today has given me the motivation I needed to do this.”

One of my favorite songs right now is this song from Elevation called “Open Up Our Eyes.” There’s a powerful declaration, “Our God is fighting for us always/ Our God is fighting for us all/ Our God is fighting for us always/ We are not alone/ We are not alone!” That’s been a good reminder for us every night as we go to bed. This week has been hard, but God has been faithful. Our friend Kari reminded us tonight that sometimes it’s hard to see what God is up to but sometimes it’s enough to know he’s up to something and just trust him. It’s always good for those who love him.

We’re a few hours from checking out of the hotel and heading on our way. The room is asleep finally. As I look over my beautiful family at peace, I want to extend our deepest thanks and our humblest gratitude for every dollar given, every item donated, every encouragement, every favor called in, and every single late night prayer and petition. You have helped us do what we set out to do fourteen months ago…

#bringherhome

We’d love to see you at the airport!!!

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Day 10 & 11 – Waiting and Waiting

Yesterday was our Consulate appointment where we should have had her visa issued but we were delayed due to fears from the doctors at the medical clinic.

To catch you up on how this process works (I’ll spare you LOTS of small details and hit the VERY high points), you finalize the adoption in her home town. At that point, she is legally your child. They issue you her passport and you’re on your way. Then you travel to the provincial city and await your consulate appointment where your child is issued her visa permitting her entrance into the United States at which point she becomes 100% a citizen of the United States. Pretty straightforward process once you’ve walked through it. That is, unless your child develops a rash on the day before her medical exam.

Part of the Consulate issuing her a visa is this medical exam that is intended to ensure she doesn’t have a communicable disease that then gets spread in the US. Makes sense. Except that due to a back story that I won’t share out of respect for her home country, this medical clinic is very strict on any rash. They immediately force the child into quarantine and run lab tests that slow…The Process… Way… Down. Even though she had no fever. Ever. And never showed any symptoms of these infections they were looking for other than the rash that went away in the stretch of a little more than a day. Then blood work and more blood work. Take her temp. Call her back in to the clinic for more observation. All of this extra attention has now forced us to delay traveling back home by at least two days.

Saturday. We waited for results.
Sunday. We waited for results.
Monday. More waiting for results.
Tuesday. Still more waiting.

We were told on Monday we’d have definitive results by Tuesday morning which would give us just enough time to have the visa issued and keep our original travel schedule. Tuesday morning came and no labs. We waited by the phone all day. Lunch time, we called again. No results. They needed a few more hours. End of business, we called again. No lab results and now they want to see her medical records from a surgery she had more than a year ago.

There’s a saying, “If you hear hooves, think horses not zebras,” because more often than not, you’re going to find what’s most common. Kelley said tonight, “It feels like they’re looking for zebras.” It’s crazy, because if they were to examine Aila today as a new patient they’d pass her instantly but now that they’ve been digging through her files trying to find something, they can’t seem to let it go and just admit that there’s nothing ou of the ordinary to discover.

Our agent finally convinced the clinic to see her again in the morning. The doctor said he would and knowing the first test came back negative he could clear her and get us on our way. I can’t help but feel so frustrated right now because he could have done that on Monday. We have no new information today than what we had then and we could be on our way home tomorrow as planned but instead we have $2700 in flight change fees that are altogether unnecessary.

I don’t know why God is writing this part of the story like he is. I mean, I get it from a storytelling point of view. If you’re trying to tell a story, you really want to see the character move from conflict to resolution. It’s what makes it good. It’s the arc. Like a roller coaster — you’d be bored to tears if it didn’t have the climbs and falls. But it’s a whole lot easier to read about than it is to be the character who has to deal with it. What I mean is, I don’t know yet why words like delay and resistance have been readily perched on our doorstep all along the way. But every time I see her smile or hear her infectious laugh, I forget my frustrations for a little while. I don’t have a clue what’s in the books for this little girl, but I can wait to see.

She’s worth it. Worth every last drop of it.

Day 9 – Attachment

As a dad, one of the hardest things about the first few weeks (sometimes months) after coming home with your newborn baby is that you so desperately want to be able to comfort and console your child but often the experience for dads falls short of what we imagine it to be. If your experience was like mine, my little baby would cry, I’d pick him or her up and they’d keep on crying, sometimes working themselves up into a full out fit because you aren’t giving them what they want… the lady with the boobs and the soft voice. She’s warm and familiar, but not you. She had nine months of physically bonding with this little miracle and now you’re new territory. You sound familiar, but what’s that smell, and why are you so rough and scratchy? And why don’t you have boobs like the other one? I don’t like you. It was hard for me, those first few months. I cried sometimes. I went to the bathroom, locked the door, turned off the lights, and cried. I was afraid I’d never be able to comfort my child.

While we were going through the adoption process early on, there was some required reading and testing that we did. I remember riding on a train back from Philly one night and listening to these lessons and stories from other families about this idea of attachment in adoption. The first few months are critical, especially for a young child. They gave all kinds of techniques to aide with attachment. Many of which we did with our other kids already, so these weren’t new ideas. The unknown factor for us though, is the reality that neither of us have been able to bond with her for the first two years of her life. When she had open heart surgery, we weren’t there to give her comfort, to tell it was gonna be okay. To hold her when she was scared because someone was taking her into a big, loud city, with people in masks taking her to a back room somewhere. When she got a cold, neither of us were there to suck the snot out of her nose and rock her to sleep. Two years went by. These are critical years in the process of trust building for any child. We missed those. So it’s important that we begin the bonding process immediately. Probably one of the more common fears of adoptive parents is, “Will this child bond with me?” Because we all know that how well they attach (and how quickly, in some cases) determines a large part in the quality of life this little person will enjoy down the road. These moments are critical.

Who knows what life back in the States is gonna look like once I return back to work and we get back into a routine with life. But we realized something tonight. Some things have been hard, for sure. Some things we’re facing now are hard. But for months we’ve prayed and we’ve asked you to pray that somehow, Aila would know in her heart who we are and that God has preserved her in our hearts forever and that while we were away, we were always near. We asked that our love be conveyed through the hands of her caregivers. And as you may have read, it was only a minute or two at that first meeting that she reached for Kelley and tucked her head into her chest. Only minutes before she whispered, “baba.”

When we walk out of the room without her she gets angry and one of us goes to her. She knows that we are the ones she can trust for care and love and nurture. She knows that we are her people. She knows that if she cries, we will pick her up. She is so aware of it at this point that she now has a game. If we sit her down, she will fuss and cry (it’s a very fake cry, but her facial expressions really sell it — drama queen). And then when we pick her up she laughs and smiles the biggest smile you’ve ever seen in your life. She knows we are hers because we’re consistent and our response to her needs is consistent. She laughs because what she hoped for came true. She wanted to be held and that’s what she got. She smiles because she knows she can do it again with the same results. She is growing more and more confident in the ebb and flow of this relationship.

Her development is increasing by leaps and bounds already as well. She had not crawled before in the orphanage. Two days in and she crawls across the hotel room floor for her bottle. She is also pulling up and scooting along the edge of the bed. Walking may not be far behind. She makes noises that sound like words but nothing more than Mama and Baba at this point but she knows who Mama and Baba are. She gets the kids to sing “Itsy Bitsy Spider” and “Bringing Home A Baby Bumblebee” and she will mimic the hand motions with them. Yesterday, the kids held their hands to their heads like moose antlers and blew raspberries with their tongues and she did exactly what they did. She remembers games we play together, like pattycake and peek-a-boo, and will grab your hands and make you do them with her. She’s incredibly smart. It really catches us by surprise sometimes because all we’ve seen are a few pictures and a couple videos from the orphanage and none of them indicate anything like this.

She’s a two year old toddler but not really. Developmentally, she is delayed. In stature, she’s like a one year old. Some mentors of ours at church have raised a beautiful you teenage girl with Down syndrome. Some of the best encouragement they offered us early in the process was that their daughter made them slow down and have fun. It’s hard to know what to expect but for now she keeps blowing our minds and making us laugh.

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Day 7 & 8 – The Medical Exam(s)

By now you may have already heard some of this. I apologize if there’s some repeat information but everything in this update is intended as a personal petition for prayer. Big, bold, unyielding prayers.

Day 6 was a travel day. When we landed in Guangzhou, we were changing Aila’s diaper and noticed a rash starting to form on her belly. In just a shot while it had spread to her back. Contact dermatitis? Allergic reaction to something? We didn’t really know. We showed our guide and she seemed concerned about it. Friday morning was our first medical exam. Normally it’s the only needed exam. The purpose of the exam is to ensure that Chinese citizens traveling to the US don’t have any communicable/infectious diseases that could cause problems in the states. A clean bill of health and the US will issue a travel visa. It’s a good idea over all.

This clinic was nice. Nicer than I imagined, and conveniently situated adjacent to the US consulate in Guangzhou, which is itself is a spectacular piece of design. In the clinic, there’s a back area set aside for adoptive families. We sat and chatted with other families and waited our turn. They called our name and nothing from that point on has gone to plan. Doctor after doctor after doctor came to examine her. We were ushered to three or four other doctor’s offices for further consult. They couldn’t figure it out. At first they wanted to say it was measles. The only problem with this diagnosis is that she only had a rash that started on her belly. Calling it measles based on one symptom is like me saying, “Did you just throw up? I bet you have Ebola.” It’s just not good science. We asked them to expedite blood work to figure it out. They were not confident in the diagnosis of measles either. One doctor explained it like this. He said, “I don’t know what it is but I don’t think it’s measles. Unfortunately we have no way of knowing at this time other than just watching the rash.

The problem is, we have a consulate appointment on Monday morning to either be officially granted a visa that allows Aila to enter the country or we must wait for another appointment. And this is not a walk in and work through some paperwork. This is the Consulate of the United States in China. We had to wait weeks to get our original appointment. They don’t come easy. To add trouble to the chaos, because of my status as a Christian minister, I am only allowed to be here 30 days. That’s it. I have to be off Chinese soil by November 9th. That may seem like a long ways off but if we’re waiting, that date could reasonably come pretty quickly with no resolution and I’d be forced to leave Kelley and Aila in China without me. Not to mention the cost of lodging and transportation in a foreign country.

Kelley, Aila, and our agency rep went back to the clinic today hoping and praying for an all clear from the doctor. She failed. The rash is much improved and they have confirmed that it’s not measles but until the rash is totally gone, it’s a no go, no matter the cause.

So here’s the plan as of tonight… Kelley will take Aila back to the clinic on Monday morning at 8AM. I will go to the Consulate appointment on Monday morning and hopefully by the time our appointment comes, the doctors will have been able to give her the all clear and rush her paperwork across the street to the Consulate and we’ll be cleared for takeoff and on our way home at the prescribed time. There’s not a good backup plan if that doesn’t work out.

If you would join us in praying, here are two things we need to agree on: 1) Pray that Aila’s rash is totally gone by Monday morning at 8AM and that nothing else triggers an allergy or other response, and 2) that we’d receive favor with the US Consulate and be granted travel clearance back to the US at the time we’ve planned for. Our guide said, “We need a miracle.”

I believe that’s what we’ll get.

God’s people… Pray!

PS. If anyone of you reading this happens to have a 1st, 2nd, or 3rd degree connection to someone in the US Consulate in Guangzhou, we’d love to ask you for any favor or influence you might have to be applied on our behalf in the next 30 hours.

Thank you!