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!!!

IMG_0272-0.JPG

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 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!

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.”

IMG_0234.jpg

IMG_0231.JPG

Days 4 – The City of Springs

We had a couple days here in the city to take advantage of some necessary bonding opportunities with our new little one. Some time to explore her city and learn about this place that is such a critical part of her story.

I love history. I get this from my dad, I think. I want to know what happened here and when and what were the conditions surrounding those moments. We just bought a house recently and I wanted to know about the original owner. What was life like? How was this neighborhood developed? Did she love it here?

Our guide, Jiun, has been amazing. He takes time to answer all our questions and share with us interesting information about the area. Jinan has numerous natural springs making their way out of the ground and emptying some for down the line into the Yellow River. For this reason, Jinan is known as The City of Springs. One particular spring is found in the middle of the city. The waters are deep and dark and the mouth is said to roar like a tiger. It was named Black Tiger Spring. Seems appropriate, I guess. Many locals use this spring as their main source of drinking water and water for cooking. They come with their buckets, pails, and kettles and draw what they’ll need for the day and go home. Jiun says it tastes sweet. Better than any water he’s ever had. It was crystal clear but I was not ready to brave it.

It’s absolute Eden in the middle of the concrete jungle of Jinan. Old men did Tai Chi and hung up bird cages in the willows. This particular spring created what would become a moat around the ancient city of Jinan and separated it from the new city until about 50 years ago.

We were playing just past the “mouth of the tiger” when a young mom with her daughter and her mother stopped Rosie and asked her to pose with the young daughter. Rosie’s blonde curls are a hit among the people here. This would happen a lot on this trip. Lots of staring. Some pointing and chuckles. We go back and forth from feeling like a freak show to feeling like celebrities. It weirds me out a little occasionally. There really seem to be no personal boundaries here. As we were turning up toward the exit, we crossed a bridge. Aila was holding a stuffed giraffe and in her excitement she threw it in the moat. We tried to signal to someone for assistance but no one could understand us. Giraffe was floating away. This really upset Grady. He kept sobbing, almost wailing, saying, “But I want Aila to have her giraffe.” He know that she has nothing but the clothes she was wearing at the orphanage. And he know that this giraffe was a gift of love from his siblings and himself. He was heartbroken.

We decided to give the giraffe a story asked God to help a little girl find it and love it like it was her very own. I think the kids named it Mei Mei and a writing a story about her adventures across the world, off a bridge and to a little girl’s heart. Should be a bestseller!!!

Back to the hotel for a little down time and a dip in the pool. IMG_0177.JPG

IMG_0182.JPG

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.

IMG_0081.JPG

IMG_0058-0.JPG

IMG_0063.JPG

IMG_0073.JPG

IMG_0094.JPG

IMG_0101.JPG

IMG_0069.JPG

IMG_0068.JPG

IMG_0119.JPG

IMG_0137.JPG

IMG_0136.JPG

IMG_0118.JPG

IMG_0152.JPG

IMG_0142.JPG

We Made It – Day 1, Shanghai China

IMG_0070-0.JPG
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)