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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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!!!

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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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