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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Almost There

I went to bed last night with what I can only call “surreal anticipation.” I know today is significant. There’s a baby bed in our room. That hasn’t happened in years. We’re in China for crying out loud. This is really happening.

All this anticipation woke me up early. Like, 4AM early. But today was worth an early start. I thought I’d go get some coffee. There’s a Starbucks near our hotel but sadly it doesn’t open till 8:30AM…. what?!? So instead I settle in with a nice hot cup of Nescafé instant coffee. Mmm… Nevertheless, it’s hot and kinda reminds me of actual coffee so I’m good.

My sister reminded me of a passage in Ephesians where we’re told that God took pleasure in the work of making us his children. That our adoption is actually the revelation of our sonship. The purpose of adoption is to reveal the identity of the father. When we see a child alone, we react with one simple and very natural response, “Where is this child’s parent?” It’s unnatural for a child to be without parents. Orphans don’t know how to answer the question of sonship. So when someone says, “Who is responsible for the care and nurture of these children,” the father can say, “They belong to me.”

This is what adoption does. It identifies the father.

I stayed awake this morning with an awe of the weightiness of what today will forever become for us. I am eager to say, “She belongs with me.”

Day 2, Part 2 – The Adventure Continues

So, you know how I told you I was hungry and had to figure something out on the train? I talked my sister-in-law into going back there and picking something. A little cowardly I guess. But it was delicious. I don’t really know what it all was but I’d eat it again for sure.

We met up with our group and our guide at the train station and boarded a bus through Jinan to exchange money and check into the hotel. Jinan is considered a small, rural city of a mere 4 million people. The entire Shandong province has nearly 100 million. That’s almost a third of the population of the US just in one province of China. Crazy.

We walked over to a nearby mall for food at the suggestion of John, our guide. We found this noodle place. And you guys… I think I hit a wall. Again, no clue what I’m actually ordering. Thankfully our waitress spoke enough English and had a good translation app on her phone that we could communicate. But it started to really stress me out. There were heating plates in the tables and she kept bringing out food and it was all VERY spicy and there was no way to eat it and the kids were laying down. It felt like dinner was spiraling. The sheer amount of food, in the US would have equated to a $200 meal. I kept trying to send food back because I thought it was more than we needed and it was gonna cost WAY too much. I kinda lost my composure a little and had to walk outside for a minute. I’m not gonna lie, this was a challenge for me. Maybe I was tired. Maybe I felt out of control because I can’t read the menu. Maybe I was embarrassed because I’m just guessing and pointing and saying, “xie xie” to everything because it’s basically the only phrase I know and at least I can be polite. Our waitress was compassionate and kept checking in on us. She brought us everything we needed for this final meal as a family of five. And when it was all said and done, that spread of a meal cost us about $50 USD.

I don’t know why things got so out of hand. I don’t know. But I do know in 12 hours from now we’ll be holding our beautiful baby girl. We will head to the orphanage first thing in the morning and there she will be. We will be hers forever.

They rolled a crib into our room tonight. Kelley packed a diaper bag of formula, diapers, baby clothes and accessories. Tonight is the last night we sleep as a party of five.

Tomorrow is officially Gotcha Day.

Day 2 – High Speed Train to Jinan

When someone says the word adventure, you either get excited or you tune out. Actually, I would argue that everybody is fascinated with the idea of adventure. That’s why we love good stories. We don’t make movies about the boring stuff of the day-to-day routine. No doubt some of that stuff is required for life but it’s the thrill of facing the unknown that makes stories worth telling. You probably don’t tune out. Not really, anyway. You’re probably just thinking, “I could never do that. I’m too ___________.” Or, “I don’t have enough _____________.” We’ve heard people say this a lot in the conversation of adoption.

When we were arranging travel inside China, we were given two options for train travel. One was safe and normal. One was labeled “adventurous.” There was no other explanation than that. We chose that. If you’re going to adopt a little girl from the other side of the world, you’re probably a little crazy already. I think it comes with the territory.

Families who’ve done this trip before us tried to prepare us for what to expect. One travel agency all but told us we were foolish. We stopped doing business with them. They also wanted to charge us almost double for our flights. Nope.

We decided to make this an adventure our family would remember forever. This is why we brought our kids, even though a lot of you looked at us like we’d lost our minds. A couple of you even (lovingly) told us so. Truth is, you’re probably right. But it takes a little crazy in the soup to give it some flavor. So, adventurous train? Yep!

Here’s the deal with the train. It goes about 250 mph through the countryside of eastern China. You have precisely 120 seconds to board the train. There are two doors on each cabin for boarding and exiting. Eighty passengers per car leaving and 80 new ones getting on. With luggage. In 120 seconds. There’s a fair amount of pushing and squeezing. Passengers are eating delicious looking food. I went back to the dining cart to do a little investigation but I can’t read the menu and the only thing on the counter is some jerky and something that looks like Pringles. I thought maybe I’d just point at a picture and pay for it but there are no pictures. Just a long list of items all written in Chinese. I knew I should have studied more. I’m getting hungry though so I’m gonna have to figure something out. Stay tuned…

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

DAY FOURTEEN | the bright sadness

Great stuff from The Bright Sadness today in the journey of Lent.


 

The Prodigal Son came home.

But the story only holds the weight it does because first he left. We should resist skipping to the reunion and homecoming. First we should understand his leaving, and perhaps ourselves a bit better along the way.

Right after telling Kingdom allegories about rogue sheep and missing coins, Jesus tells this, the story of a man who had two sons. The youngest son convinced himself he was unhappy and did what those convinced of this often do: he began changing his circumstances. And so this son asked his father for his share of the inheritance. He was cashing in his chips and leaving. Inheritances being what they are, the son had essentially looked his father in the eye and told him to drop dead.

“I hate my life. I want to cut ties and start over somewhere else, as someone else.”

The father obliged. Days later, his boy and his belongings were gone. (Luke 15:11-13)

More… DAY FOURTEEN | the bright sadness.