Adoption Update

It’s Update Time

It’s been a little more than two months now since we’ve been home. I hate that we didn’t keep up with the updates between leaving China and now. It’s been a busy few weeks with doctor’s appointments and follow-up home studies. On top of that, continuing the remodel of our house and getting ready for Christmas…

Sometimes when your boat is cruising into active seas, you need to put down the excess stuff and focus on navigating to calmer waters.

So let me take a few minutes to catch you up. Here’s the highlights of the last couple months:

Doctor’s Appointments

In early November, Aila had her first round of doctor’s appointments since arriving in the US. She’s had other appointments since we’ve been home and for the most part everything has come back normal. She had a long-awaited eye appointment TODAY at the butt-crack of dawn. The doctor has scheduled an MRI soon but this means that Aila will need to be under sedation during this process which always gives us a bit of anxiety. Not sure yet when all this will take place but please pray for us and for little Aila through all of this. I know at some point maybe we will get beyond all these discoveries and diagnoses and we’ll know everything that’s going on – everything that we need to watch and maintain – and we’ll find a groove.

Progress Isn’t What You Think

Not to say that we’re not finding a groove now. We are. Things are actually moving along quite nicely. She’s attaching well. She’s coming into her personality. She’s more mobile. More expressive. More demonstrative. Her skin is clearer. Her eyes are brighter. She’s sleeping pretty okay… sometimes. She knows how to tell us she’s hungry or sad. She loves Daniel Tiger. All these things are good things and give me comfort knowing that she is beginning to know her place in this party of six and we couldn’t be happier about it. But the new discoveries, especially the ones that require sedations and surgeries kinda interrupt our rhythm and we long to get back to creating our normal flow.

I know the radio silence of the last couple of months may have caused you to believe that everything was without worry and full of endless perfect moments and that our family never felt interrupted or out of sorts or perplexed by the addition of a new family member. Most of that is accurate. Most of the time. But it took us awhile to get there. And we seem to take a step back here and there.

Kelley was recently chatting with another adoptive mom who will be on the plane in less than a week to go bring her new little boy home. This mom was asking questions about what to expect and things from the Mom-perspective that she didn’t anticipate but could pass along. This is a brilliant observation that I think all of you adoptive parents out there should know…

For many of you, when you pick up your child and go to your hotel room, the first few days and nights will feel like perfect bliss. It’s likely you child sleep through the night. It’s likely he’ll never cry. The sad part of this is the reason why…

For most of these kids, they’ve learned that crying does no good. Nobody’s coming. Nobody’s gonna pick you up. Nobody’s gonna comfort you. So they stop crying.

Heartbreaking, right? I cry now just thinking about it. They don’t wake up at night. Or if they do, you never know because they make no noise to indicate that they need you. Because nobody’s coming. So for however long they lived in the orphanage, they stopped calling out. They just stopped. And then you get them home. And you love on them. You hold them. You kiss them. You play with them all day long. You keep them awake at night just so you can see their beautiful eyes and tickle them and make them laugh. And in the process of the playful interactions, she bumps her head on yours and she cries. She cries! For the first time, you hear her cry. And you comfort her. You pick her up. You kiss her and hold her and rock her and sing to her and tell it’s gonna be okay. And she calms down and looks at you with those deep dark brown eyes and you melt and she begins to unlearn what she once thought was true.

Someone will come. Someone will care. Someone will help calm. It’s okay to cry. Someone is coming.

Over time, these little moments happen again and again and the serve as little hooks in her little heart that she begins to hang her trust upon. She begins to think, “I can tell someone I’m in need and they will respond.” And she learns to cry again.

For parents who haven’t adopted, to celebrate this may seem a little backwards and in fact it is. Why would you want a crying baby? Well, we don’t actually want her to cry all the time. But we do want her to know that if she cries, we will be right there. If we walk out of the room and she whimpers – no matter what – one of us will turn around immediately and go pick her up. I told her the day we met that I’d never leave her lonely. She was left in an alley behind a hospital when she was days old. Then she was left in an orphanage. Then when she had open heart surgery at a year old, she was left alone in the hospital with only the attending doctor to check on her from time to time. She will never be alone again. And when she cries to tell us she’s scared or overwhelmed or insecure. We consider that a step forward. Progress. She’s just gone from believeing that no one hears her cries to knowing that when she cries we pick her up. That my friends, is a win.

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 5 – The Finding Spot

We spent our last day in Jinan trying to take in the city that has been home to our daughter for the two years, four months and twenty-seven days of her life. Trying to make sure we didn’t forget this place. We want to tell her the story of the city, the people, the country that gave her her start in life. The place that fought for her life and gave her the chance to find a family.

So we set out to visit her finding spot. We don’t have a lot of details surrounding the day of her birth or the days after. We don’t know her birth mother or father. We don’t know why they made the decision they did. We likely never will. However, the medical records we have state that she was found near the Children’s Hospital of Jinan. We hopped in a taxi, Kelley, Aila, and I, and we went to see this sacred place.

I’ve had a dream about this place. In my dream there was a small inset stoop just off the street on the backside of the hospital where the workers might park. (Side note: We caution not to add too much romance to the storyline; only let it be what it is and the pieces that are missing can just be missing. No one is required to know all the whys and wheres and whens. That’s why we trust God. Because we know He knows.) I can’t help but be grateful to God for the care and love that Aila’s birth mother showed her. I can’t imagine having to make this kind of decision. Her birth mother, maybe ashamed, placed her in a spot she knew she herself could remain anonymous, inconspicuous, and that this little baby would be found and immediately treated and placed in the hands of caring and capable hands until a family could come for her. I’m forever grateful to her. Her decision saved Aila’s life and gave her a chance. How do you say thank you for something like this?

The cab driver dropped us off at the ER entrance. We looked around there a bit. We knew her finding spot was not actually on the hospital campus proper but we really wanted to get a sense of this place. We continued to make our way down a side street past street vendors and small shop owners and past a couple small alleys. As we turned a corner, Aila tucked into Kelley and began to whimper lightly. Did she recognize this place? What this response totally unrelated? Who knows.

But then we saw it. Or at least we saw what I imagined it might be. A back street behind the hospital where employees could park. A place inconspicuous and yet accessible to hospital staff. Maybe this was it. Maybe not. But as we walked it about 50-60 yards in, we prayed. We prayed for her birth mother. We prayed for Aila’s heart and emotions as she will one day face the truth of her history. And we prayed God would help us all as people who love her deeply that we might be able to show her the love that God set in motion the day she was born.

We thought seeing her finding spot would be more overwhelming than it was. It was kind of like the last puzzle piece. You already know what the image is going to look like. It’s not like that final piece was disguising any big secret. It just completed the process. That’s what this was for us. At least as far as helping to shape the foundation of the story of how she came to be and how we came for her.

As we walked away, Kelley and I surrounded Aila and prayed and thanked God once again for preserving her life and I whispered in her ear, “you’ll never be left alone again.”

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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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We Made It – Day 1, Shanghai China

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I don’t really know how long it took. Somewhere close to 24 hours of travel. I did however figure how to get more hours out of the day. Simply fly West just ahead of sunrise. The flight was tight and exhausting but God showed his kindness to us. Our kids were stellar travelers; like they were old pros. Up at 3AM to catch the first flight, they watched a few movies, colored, played, snacked, and slept until we landed in Shanghai.

We’re all a little thrown off by the 12 hour time difference. Our driver delivered us to a beautiful hotel in downtown Shanghai. We got checked in and stumbled around downtown trying to read Chinese signs and ask locals for directions to a specific noodle and dumpling shop but we never found it. Instead we found the Chinese version of Piccadilly. Some adventurous foods in that place. Very cool old town district of Shanghai, though. Kids were quickly zapped of all energy, no longer able to walk. Poor guys. I tried to hail a cab twice but none of the cabbies could understand me. Probably my southern accent. Here’s a tip… take a business card from your hotel with you and show it to the driver. Thankfully, due to some creative thinking to the credit of my sister-in-law, she pulled out her room key and as fortune would have it, there was the address. Third cabbie agreed to drive us for the equivalent of about $2.50USD.

The hotel is great. We’re all about to pass out from exhaustion. Actually, as I look around, I think I’m the only one still awake at 8:30PM local time. Kelley and I have been awake since Thursday morning at 7AM so it makes sense to try and sleep now. The sound of snoring is filling the room.

Tomorrow after breakfast we take a train through the countryside to Aila’s city!!! We are just two days from holding her. Thanks for your prayers all along the way. Keep it coming.

Love you all. Good night from Shanghai!

R

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)