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

I Don’t Believe In the Power of One

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I don’t believe in the power of one.

At least not in the way it often gets communicated. Most of the time the phrase you hear is, “It just takes one…” But the way I see it, one must influence one more and one more and one more… Hopefully, one becomes two and two becomes four and four (eventually) turns into thousands.

Hopefully, somewhere down the string of ones, someone finds the cure for cancer, or ends sex trafficking, or finds homes for all the orphans.

It doesn’t all rest on one, but I DO believe it starts with one. Caring for one. Loving one. Investing in one. One step at a time.

The Bible is full of examples of God asking us to pour into just one person. Ruth loved Naomi. Eli invested in Samuel. John was the disciple Jesus loved. These are very personal one-on-one relationships. Certainly this doesn’t give us license to ignore the other people in our lives. But I believe God does ask us to take time to speak life one-on-one. I think we can all look back and say, “If it hadn’t been for _____________, I’d never have ______________.” There’s probably at least one defining moment in your life that stands out. Somebody (and probably a long thread of somebodies) had to act or make sacrifices to open that door that gave you that one moment. Your one moment is built upon a mountain of other singular moments. And these opportunities are opened to you through a personal relationship with someone else.

This is the power of one I believe. One must build upon another one.

So what is it? Who is it? Where are you investing? There’s this thing you’re supposed to do. Are you doing it? If not, what’s got you bound up? Are you afraid to jump?

When I was in my early twenties I travelled the country, hanging out with these raucous, tattooed, Jesus-loving rebels. We’d go do whatever twentysomethings do when you don’t have kids or major responsibilities. There was this place on the river that they liked to go. I’d never been but it sounded like fun. So we threw on our swimsuits and hopped in my van out to the riverside. When we got there I discovered the source of their enthusiam. We were sitting atop a 50ft cliff that went straight down into the Tennessee River. One after one, they jumped, each jump a little more daring than the next. Flips. Twists. Dives. Really stupid stuff.

I got to the edge of the cliff. Stared down at my fate. And took that one small step…

back to the picnic table where I’d been sitting and let those crazy fools do the jumping. I was terrified. I couldn’t do it.

This pattern repeats itself in my life. I love hanging out with people who challenge me to break the mold and think differently. But when it comes time to put those thoughts into action, I freeze. I can’t throw myself off the ledge. Do I do this with my faith?

I heard a sermon recently from a pastor friend in Raleigh. His opening thesis was this: Belief accepts. Faith acts. Belief knows things to be true but faith puts legs to those things and lives them out. The legs of my faith sometimes feel frozen on the edge of that cliff, unwilling to take a step toward the water. What if just one of my friends, instead of making it okay for me to shrink back and sit down, had said, “It’s scary. It might hurt. It’s a rush – and it’s worth it.” Maybe I would have overcome the fear that day.

When you’re on the edge you can only take one step. That step will either move you back to what’s familiar, safe, and comfortable or it will send you hurling toward the water. There were lots of one-steps that got you to the ledge. One more step could open the door to your destiny and inspire someone else’s.

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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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)

What A Week

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Last Friday night we took a ginormous leap for our family and submitted our preliminary application for a baby girl that Kelley found out about through an organization that helps match parents with waiting children who have Down syndrome. You can read a little more about that here. Saturday morning we woke up with plans to go to Busch Gardens with some friends, excited to share the news of this baby girl. I looked out the second-floor window as I was getting some clothes for the kids and realized that our car was missing. I ran downstairs thinking maybe I’d parked it down the street and just forgot. I got outside to realize that indeed our family car had been stolen. We had both sets of keys in the house and our car was gone. Kelley and I both looked at each other because we had no words. I called the police. I called the insurance company. I called the bank. We texted some friends. And then I sent a message to a couple of friends of our who are police officers in our city.

I’ve really had to fight back being angry at this thief. I haven’t done a great job at it. What really got to me was what he took from our kids; their security and safety in our home. They felt fearful.  “Why would somebody do this,” they’d ask. We don’t know. But, what we can say is that when we let these things distract us — fear, worry, anger — specifically anger over replaceable, temporary things, those things begin to control the conversation. We knew we couldn’t let the gloomy story of our car getting stolen overshadow the beautiful, bright story unfolding with baby Adina.

All weekend we wanted to point the conversation to this little girl. Stay focused on praying for her. The police and others involved will take care of the car. We need to focus on Adina. We prayed for her all weekend that God’s presence would be tangible wherever Adina was. That she would feel God’s loving presence. That He would guide her caregivers, the nurses and doctors, and that this little girl would know she is loved and wanted, and we prayed that we’d hear from the agency on Monday.

Monday came and went with several automated responses from the agency. We were granted log in authorization and were able to view more pictures of this beautiful baby girl as well as her limited medical records. But, we never spoke with a live person and waited eagerly to hear specific news of Adina. We received several phone calls Tuesday. The first from our local agency office, calling to invite us to meet with them next week and they gave us an overview of the process. We were also given more forms to fill out. Later in the day Kelley received a call from someone on the ‘China 180’ team. She (enthusiastically) reviewed the information we already had and promised to be in touch with additional documents we needed to sign and return to her ASAP. Kelley and the kids were in the middle of a tea party when she was copied on an email sent to the ‘China 180′ team. In the email our intake coordinator shared that she’ d spoken with Kelley and that Adina was still available!

So what now? We passed the preliminary application and were invited to fill out the formal application (which will be completed in the next hour and submitted to the agency). There’s still lots to do and we’ll do our best to keep you updated here and on Twitter and Facebook. But what we want you to know is that the most important thing we ask of you is to pray, because prayer connects us to each other in ways that we can’t always know or perceive. Specifically, we are praying that her medical issues are stable until she can receive specialized care and that we can move through this process quickly, because if Adina is in fact the baby God has for us, we want to bring her home NOW. It’s painfully difficult to think that our baby is in another country and we can’t see her, talk to her, hold her, care for her…  So please pray!

We believe that the family is a picture of what it’s like to live with God – to be nurtured and cared for, provided for and protected by God. Our prayer is that every child has this. We are grateful for good families that loved us, loved each other and loved God. We don’t take that for granted. God has called us to define family as more than just biology and to open our arms and hearts, just as He did for us.

So That Just Happened

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Here’s what is heartbreaking to me. Hundreds of thousands of children – 128 million in fact – going to bed tonight without knowing the love of a forever family. Without a mom to tuck them in and re-tuck them in and then one more time, just in case the blanket shifted and just to steal one more kiss and to breathe in their scent and to push their hair out of their eyes and thank God for the gift, for the privilege of being their mom.

We’ve felt for some time now that God was calling us to adopt a baby with special needs. In the last few months He has started opening our eyes to the possibility of adopting a baby with down syndrome. Our initial plan was to pursue a domestic open adoption; someone local and someone we could maintain a relationship with, to grow our families together – birth mom, baby and forever family.

Over the course of the last few months, as we’ve been putting the puzzle pieces together, we’ve been connected with a network that coordinates adoptions of babies with Down Syndrome. They deal primarily with placing children in domestic adoptions. They just partnered with a big, well-known agency in an attempt to help find forever families for hundreds of waiting children in China. Over the last few months, this network has posted pictures of countless faces of babies that have grabbed my attention, faces that have frequented my prayers. But today, one face grabbed my heart in a way I can’t describe. My breath caught in my throat. We were in the car while Randall ran into the store. He returned and found me crying over this year-old baby girl, Adina. And I don’t cry often. And I certainly don’t like to admit that I’ve been crying my eyes out in the parking lot of a Food Lion grocery store while my husband is buying pita bread. I’ve pretty much been crying on and off all evening.

Throughout this process we’ve taken notes from other adoptive moms who have said you will have tough days, days where your heart breaks for your future child. They suggest that you record those days, write about them, remember those tears, because your child needs you. So pray now and then look back at these moments and you’ll probably find that God was leading your heart to care for your baby before you ever got to hold her.

So what does all this mean? So far, this adoption process has been God presenting us with opportunities and us following His lead on faith. The outcome isn’t always what we hope, but we continue to be obedient. We couldn’t ignore this opportunity. We needed to act. And I couldn’t go to sleep tonight without at least sending an email the Network. Which led to sending an official inquiry to the Agency. Which led to filling out a preliminary application. I hit ‘send’ and looked at Randall and said, “So that just happened.” He was busy learning Mandarin (so, when we hopefully go to China, he can now count to ten and recite the months of the year).

For now we wait. And pray. And we’re asking you to pray with us. Specifically, pray for Adina. I want to ask you to pray for her because I hope she becomes ours. But, even if we’re not approved, even if she already has a family trying to adopt her, pray for her anyway. Because tonight she goes to bed without knowing the love of a forever family. Pray for the Chinese government because so much of the approval process lies in their hands. Pray for Adina’s caregivers in the orphanage. Pray for her doctors and nurses. Pray for the agency handling her details. Pray for anybody and everybody connected to this little girl and the unfolding story being written by God’s heart.

-Kelley