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.
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…
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!
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.
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
I’ve never tried to fly the week of Thanksgiving. It worked out this year for me to get to go home. I found a cheap flight home. I got my boarding pass all loaded up on my phone. Then a nor’easter decided to show up and snarled traffic on the ground and in the air.
But I got to the airport early. Somehow I got on the TSA Precheck list and got bumped to a flight that left two hours EARLIER than scheduled.
Not at all typical.
Good flights overall, considering the circumstances. Late night. Cold, wet weather. Kids sound asleep on the floor.
It’s starting to feel like the holidays.
I woke to the smell of fresh coffee, the sound of laughing kids who came to snuggle in bed with me and bring us books to read together. Things like this don’t happen when I have to rush off to work.
Today, I’m grateful for slow mornings and empty agendas. The tree is going up and a fire is building…
Here’s to moments I don’t want to forget.