Thursday, January 31, 2013

Waiting for an update

So for those of you who are obsessively refreshing this blog to see an update (of course you are all doing that right?) I thought I would let you know what's been going on.  B.J. wrote the blog post, but his email isn't working, so I don't have it yet to copy and paste for your reading enjoyment ;)

In the meantime, we are doing well on the home front.  We have continued to be blessed with meals, offers of help, encouraging notes, visits, and phone calls.  It has made such a huge difference for us.  I seem to have recovered from my 'mean mommy' day or two at the beginning of the week and we are back to hitting our stride.  I was able to get some great advice from a phone conversation with Scott over at the National Center for Biblical Parenting (have I mentioned how much I LOVE their stuff???) and we put it into practice today quite literally.  By the end of today, I was already seeing some progress which is always encouraging.  I'm curious how tomorrow will play out but today's success has me feeling upbeat about it all.

Elianna folding papers for her star
Janaya's star
Janaya folding for her star
This week, so far we have done crafts, played outside, gone on play dates outside the home, done schoolwork (some :), and visited with friends.  We had our preschool play date today at our house - which is always a highlight of the week for the girls as well as for me.  We get to have a dear friend and her three girls over and the girls play and have fun while we mommies talk and then we usually do some sort of fun learning activity.  Then we eat lunch, play some more, and head to naps.  After they left, the girls did some picking up before the UPS truck showed up with their new curvy boards (thanks to some birthday/Christmas money they had both been saving...).  The curvy boards were a huge hit and they played with them for the rest of the day.  Simeon wasn't too sure at first, but by bedtime, he was playing right along.  It also worked well for helping them get out some energy, so they were pretty tired for bedtime tonight (SCORE!!)  That makes two nights in a row.  Last night they were exhausted after spending the evening running and crashing all over the basement at my friend's house.  She invited us over, along with my sister and her kids, for dinner and a fun place to play.  The kids had a blast and even enjoyed getting to take baths over there, so they were already in their jammies by the time we got home.

We are keeping busy to try to pass the time.  Not that that is hard with four kiddos in the house!  I am still trying to get nesting projects done, but the progress is smaller and not as rewarding as the first few things were.  Oh well, progress is progress :)

B.J. and Liliana and Mom are still doing well.  Liliana has started having trouble with sleeping and I am guessing it has to do with all of the changes she is going through and maybe a bit of grieving as well.  You can pray for that.  We have gotten to Skype - usually twice a day and that has helped.  I get to just chat with her (as much as you can chat on a camera with a toddler) and watch her play.  She loves the hat I made her and wanted to sleep with it last night.  She calls it her 'mama hat'.  I love it!!!

Elianna's paper star she made (with a bit of help)
He loves to 'help' her whenever she is down on his level :)
Entertaining belly time

The girls getting out energy on their curvy boards
Janaya on her curvy board
The 'Crash Pad' at my friend/'boss' house

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

PS. for Swallows Nest

A quick PS to my last post.  We were able to get the blanket Rachel and Mom designed and made for Liliana and that we sent over to Swallows Nest last April.  We also were able to get her baby doll.  For her birthday last year, Swallows Nest bought Liliana a doll and a cake.  So now they are with her once more.
By the way, baby doll in Chinese is "wawa".  This is also the word for "baby".

Rachel's PS
Swallows Nest is a wonderful ministry that is funded through sponsors.  You can sponsor a nanny or a child and that amount goes to pay for all of the expenses of caring for these orphans.  Some have families working to come to get them and some do not have a family yet.  The monthly sponsorship also helps to cover medical care as well.  Liliana got a birthday party for probably the first time ever since she was at Swallows Nest - that is another thing that the monthly sponsorship goes to pay for.  Feel free to check out the link on the previous blog post to see their website and find out how you can get involved :)

Swallows Nest

Today was a free day in our schedule.  We were able to sleep in a little, get down to breakfast at our own pace, and choose our own activities for the day.  Following breakfast, Mom made a Walmart run while I stayed in the room to play with Liliana, feed her lunch, and put her to nap.  We decided to Skype Mommy in so she could spend some time with us as well.
We had a fun time playing with a ball and stacking bowls.  Liliana is quite good at snapping them together but is not able to pull them apart.  So each time she snapped the bowls together into a ball with the little ball in it, she would ask me for help pulling them apart.  When I did, the ball would drop, and Liliana would get a big smile and make a celebration cheer.  What a smile this little one has.  It can melt hearts and light up rooms.  We saw many more smiles today.

Nap was a bit difficult.  When I laid Liliana down on the bed after praying and singing, she began to cry.  I laid down next to her to help, but it did not help.  Eventually I sat her on my lap while I laid down.  I stroked her back a bit, and eventually she laid on my chest and began to sleep.  After a good amount of time, I tried to sneak out from under her since I had to get a few things ready for the afternoon.  Now, I've managed to have four other children fall asleep on my like this and be able to slip out from underneath them when I needed to without disturbing them at all.  So I am a bit of a pro at this maneuver (OK, in reality I am probably a better pro at falling asleep right there with them).  Anyway, as I tried to move Liliana, she lifted her head, climbed back on top, and went back to sleep.  I was trapped there until it was time to leave for Swallows Nest.  I loved the cuddle time but did have to rush to get out in time later on.

Clay met us in our hotel's lobby today to take us to Swallows Nest.  Clay and Pam are the founders of Swallows Nest, and we have been in communication with them via email for some time now.  So it was great to meet face to face.  If you need a visual, picture Saint Nicholas, and that's Clay (he enjoys the reference and dresses as him around Christmas time to teach about the history of Saint Nicholas).  Clay hailed a taxi, and we headed off across town.

One of Liliana's wonderful nannies along with
some friends
Swallows Nest is the place where Liliana spent the last ten months of her time here in China.  Swallows Nest is comprised of four homes in a neighborhood surrounding a local hospital.  Each house is staffed with several nannies and contains a small number of children.  Liliana's house had anywhere from six to ten children in it at any given time during her stay.  Swallows Nest and those loving these children offers a love rooted deep in our faith.

We arrived at a gate that led to a neighborhood.  A young man named Henry met us there.  Henry is the son of one of the Swallows Nest employees, and he was there to be our translator.  The streets were narrow.  Buildings were no more than seven stories high.  The predominant colors were browns, grays, and yellows, and almost everything was paved, bricked, or cemented.  We walked past many buildings, and Clay greeted many people along the way.  At one point we stopped by a street vendor and bought a yummy treat made from sesame seeds and honey.  We wound our way around and down to a dead end where Liliana's house was.  The house is more of an apartment within the building.  The neighborhood according to Clay was a middle to lower middle class neighborhood.
The other main nanny for Liliana ... wonderful as well
Clay is sitting in the back
We entered the building at the ground level and walked up a fairly dark cement stairwell until we reached a door several floors up.  We knocked on the door and one of the nannies answered.  As we entered the house, I recognized so many parts of it since I had seen it in pictures Pam sent us.  Yet it was also not at all what I was expecting.  There was a main living room about 12x12 in size.  In this room were several places to sit, a few high chairs, a TV, and some toys.  Older blue carpeting ran throughout most of the house.  Off to one side were two rooms roughly the same size as the main room.  One looked like an adult bedroom.  The other had several cribs in it.  This was Liliana's bedroom.  I recognized her crib from a picture and took several pictures of it and the room.  Off the back of the main room was the bathroom and kitchen.  Both of these were small and modest.
When we entered the home, there were two smiling nannies, a volunteer, and clearly a very loving and positive atmosphere.  Liliana lit up when she saw her nannies and said something in Chinese along with some baby babbling.  There were six children in the house now.  Liliana interacted with a few of them, and clearly was happy to see several of them.  One of the two nannies put her arms out, and Liliana went right to her.  I had been wondering this whole time how Liliana was going to handle things.  Would this be too much for her?  Would she want to come back to me once we were there?  Would she cry the whole way home?  Now that we were there, we were about to see what would happen.  My heart was nervous.  

Liliana in the foreground
We snapped pictures and swapped stories asking some questions about Liliana.  We did not learn too much that was new since they had already answered  the basic questions about likes, dislikes, general habits, etc. just a few days ago when the orphanage called them for this information for the details page we received on our first day in Zhengzhou.
Mom asked most of the questions.  I had a hard time thinking of any.  I asked my first question which was, "Tell me all about Liliana."  When I got the basic information, I was not sure what to ask next.  When you are given a chance to ask any question you want, it can sometimes be overwhelming.  What questions did I want to ask?  I'm not sure.  I just know they were not the fact-based ones like favorite foods and nap schedules.  I am thankful for those as well, and since leaving Swallows Nest, I do have some fact-based questions I plan to email them.  But the questions I had were not fact-based.  They were heart-based and difficult to put into words.  What I wanted to do really was to sit down over tea for days on end and have these two women who have known my daughter for almost the past year and who know her far better than I do right now explain to me every last detail about this little treasure I have here.  I wanted to hear their mothering hearts come out and just open up about this little girl who has brought us together and who we share.  Fill in the gaps in her story and not just for me but for her. 
Liliana's crib

Try tearing a bunch of pages out of the first few chapters of a book and reading it.  As a storyteller myself I recognize that incomplete stories are the worst kind around.  So much of this week for me is about trying to find those pages of Liliana's and glue them back in for her.  The first three years of this little one's life have been spent in three different places, and I need to scoop up as much as I can so that when she gets older and begins asking questions about how her story began, I can give her some answers.  One thing I am grateful for is that as I am looking for these pages of hers, I am finding that God's hand has been in this little girl's life this whole time.  For example, when we first decided to adopt Liliana, a wonderful high school girl named Sarah spent a week with Liliana while over here with a group.  It was then that God made it clear to her that Liliana's nickname of Liliana was tied directly to Matthew 6 where God talks about how He takes care of the lilies of the field and therefore will take care of us.  This week I am finding loving care givers in multiple places as well as people in Liliana's life who will most likely not see her again on this side of heaven but who will certainly, as long as Liliana chooses to follow Jesus herself, see her again once we all get there. 
The room Liliana slept in

Our time at Swallows Nest was wonderful.  We got to see Liliana's old home, meet some women who were mothers to her, eat some food together, and just share time.  The nannies were quite pleased about the home and family Liliana was going to be with.  We thanked them several times from behind tear-filled eyes for all they had done to love her and prepare her for our family.  Liliana for her part enjoyed some time with her old friends  She spent time in both nannies arms but returned to me several times throughout the visit.  Even when they were offering her food, Liliana decided to sit down leaning on me to eat it.  Why?  Because I'm her Daddy and that's what little girls do when their Daddy is there.
As we went to leave, our hearts grew heavy.  I held Liliana in my arms as we hugged her nannies good-bye.  We adults all shed tears as we embraced.  I cannot adequately put into words the feelings I felt at that moment.  I just know that I am thankful to God for sending these loving women into Liliana's life and for sending Clay and Pam to China to start this little thing called Swallows Nest that has such a huge impact on so many.

Liliana with her nannies (mom on the couch)
As we walked out the door, Liliana sat up straight, put up her hand to wave, and with a big smile and a clear, happy voice suddenly and unprompted said, "Bye-bye!"  I could not have asked for a better way to walk out the door with her.  Thank you, Father.

Though our visit was done, our time with Clay was not.  He took us on a short adventure through an authentic Chinese market.  Mom loved this time and probably would have spent the next two days there if she did not have other things to do.  The only foreigners we saw were ourselves.  Clay was a wonderful host and treated us to some local fruit and cuisine since we enjoyed it when we ate some at Swallows Nest.  The adventure of getting a taxi again was great, and if I had more days and time, I would certainly spend them with Clay.  He's a great guy, and I thoroughly enjoyed meeting him.

Back home we had a light dinner and prepared for bed.  Liliana again had the same reaction of crying when she went to bed.  We're not sure if it was emotions or something else, but for some reason, something bothers her when we go to bed since today.  Please keep that in your prayers for her.  I tried helping her for about an hour but had no luck.  Mom tried a few different things next.  She was not able to get her to sleep either but had her sitting in bed calmly.  When I came out of the shower, I took her in my bed and let her sit up while I typed this blog in the dark.  She sat there leaning against some large puffy pillows.  Eventually her body wore out, and she fell asleep.  Quite a big day for little Liliana. 
Tomorrow we head back to Louyang with some other families to go to Maria's Big House of Hope and fine Liliana's finding place.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Busy and Productive Day Filled with Celebration and Mourning

Today was such a busy day. Things will die down tomorrow since the paperwork isslowing down, but today was still very busy. The day started on a high note with all of us traveling back to the registration office to receive our official adoption certificate. So as of this morning, Liliana legally became our daughter. This was a highlight of the day. It was filled with tears and claps and many pictures. We also traveled to the notary office to complete several documents there as well. In both places we had to pay fees and present some gifts.

We stopped back at the hotel to grab a quick bite to eat before heading back out to the bus to head to Louyang, the city where Liliana's orphanage is. We had togo to the city for completing her passport. The ride was two and a half hours long on bumpy roads with crazy traffic in a private bus that felt like it was stick shift and missing several gears. Liliana napped on the way.When we arrived in town, we headed to a police station. The place was mobbed with people conducting all kinds of business. Getting Liliana's passport photo took forever. The people taking the picture had too many jobs to do and so they were multitasking way too much. The computer they were using had a slow processing speed, and the program they were using had difficult requirements for us to meet in the photo. Basically, the person at the computer clicked the photo but the program judged if it was picture that we could use or not. It took two photo shoots and a break in between because the photo people missed so many possible shots and also made Liliana cry (I had some respectful but direct words for them ... amazing how fast that Daddy Defense Button kicks in). In the end, it took me sitting her on my lap and holding her head in place along with one of our guides talking to her and making her doll dance above the camera to get a good picture.

The next things we needed to do was re-photocopy several pages because this particular office decided last week that it wants only photocopies on A4 paper (which is slightly larger than our standard 8.5 x 11). Once that was completed, an officer inspected our documents, quizzed us as to why Rachel was not here, and eventually approved our passport request. Thank God for CCAI and their rep Rita for guiding us through that experience.

Once finished, we headed to the orphanage where Liliana spent the first nine months of her life as well as months seventeen through roughly twenty-four. The time in between was spent at Maria's Big House of Hope getting treated for an illness and the months after twenty-four and to the present were spent at the Swallows Nest. So this orphanage is where Liliana spent the first nine months of her life as well as several months leading up to her second birthday.Liliana did not seem to recognize the outside of the building, but once inside she did say several things in Chinese as she pointed to different play rooms. Iheld on to her the whole time and reassured her that we were just visiting and we would leave together. It was crazy to see rooms I have seen in pictures and on short You Tube videos. But there they were. The last room we visited was the crib room. Several nannies were in the room. They appeared to have positive and gentle interactions with the children. One was sitting in the corner feeding a child his/her evening bottle and holding the child closely. The room was fairly clean. Two babies were in each crib. The cribs were rather large and well made. Since it was getting close to bedtime, all of the children were in their cribs. So many orphans being left behind. That was difficult. How I pray that each one of them would be adopted by someone.

While in this room we met a nanny who turned out to be Liliana's nanny. She remembered Liliana clearly, and I recognized her from a photo we have at home. Liliana recognized her as well. We got to spend a few minutes together to greet each other and say good-bye one last time. We captured several pictures of her with us. Both Mom and I gave her hugs and thanked her for taking care of Liliana. Mom was able to give her one of the extra gifts we have here ... such a small token considering what she gave us. She was such a sweet woman, and I am so thankful that she cared for my daughter while God worked on bringing her to us. May she know Jesus and be a light of peace for him in a very dark place.

By now it was time to leave. We had snapped so many pictures, and it was getting late. As we got on the bus, Liliana began to cry. She's such a deep little girl, and I am certain she was mourning her loss. Yes, it is an orphanage, and yes it was cold and dirty in some parts, and yes it is nowhere near as good as being part of a family, but for our little girl, this was once home, and home is never easy to say good-bye to. One day Liliana will be able to look back at this orphanage with the perspective that age, time, and wisdom bring - today though she is just sad to say bye-bye to a nanny that loved her well.

As we drove out of town, I sat there with my daughter on my lap, wiping away tears, holding her close, allowing her to mourn, and praying God's peace over her life as I myself shed a few tears both for her loss and for her inability to truly know what joys lay ahead. How often does God shed such tears for us as we travel this life not knowing the joy that He has laid ahead and mourning the losses of this life?

The bus ride home was long, dark, and bumpy. I think we left parts of that rickety bus all over the highway. Tomorrow we hope to go to Swallows Nest, and since that is where Liliana spent the last ten months of her life, I am sure it will be a more difficult visit. Pray for our little girl. She had two big days these past two days and another big day coming up filled with emotions a two year old should not have to face. Yet in that sorrow God can still be found. He is nearer than we often think, and the trials of the orphans are close to his heart. 

Monday, January 28, 2013

Kiddos Meet and a Monday

Monday morning, B.J. called us and I woke Janaya up so she could meet Liliana too (Simeon and Elianna were already up).  The kids were so excited to see her with Daddy.  They kept saying "ni hao" and "Wo ai ni" (I love you) - even Simeon.  Liliana kept pointing at the screen and saying their names - sometimes referring to them as sister or brother in Chinese but other times calling them "Nana", "Naya" and "Simee".  Myla wasn't really that interested in meeting her, but Liliana called her "Baby".  Janaya kept saying she couldn't wait now to get her home to us.  They kept crowding around the camera on the iPad wanting to see her as she sat on Daddy's lap all snug in her pj's.  She seemed more comfortable with B.J. than she had been when we spoke earlier.  It was good to see and the kids were so taken with her that they almost forgot to talk to B.J. :)

Junk food central
We spent our day after the phone call getting some schoolwork done, cleaning, and playing.  Aunt Lydia came over and offered another pair of hands.  I had canceled a play date due to the impending 'hazardous' weather (that never materialized), so I was really looking to do something fun and spontaneous to do.  We set up cushions and our beanbag chair and a mattress pad to substitute for gym mats and the girls played gymnastics for a while and then I got a great idea.  I took Elianna and Janaya to Giant (while Lydia stayed home with the two younger ones) and we bought some treats/junk food (gasp!) and rented a movie (double gasp!) and once Simeon got up, we all sat in the living room and watched the Odd Life of Timothy Green (great movie by the way!).  The kids thought it was pretty neat to get to eat junk food and watch a movie.  TV is pretty much a non-starter with the kids since they never get to watch it and I only turn it on after they go to bed, if at all, so something like a movie is a huge treat.  They loved the movie and it was nice to do something fun and different from our normal routine.  We definitely needed the change up.
Cuddling with Aunt Lydia

The kids have been doing okay with B.J. gone - though they miss him lots and the behavior has been a bit of a challenge lately.  Single parenting is hard and I have a whole new level of respect for those parents that live this life all the time.  Though I know some of the kids' behavior is due to missing Daddy, I also know that times like this squeeze us and show us what is inside and we have some work to do - nothing major, but nothing I want to leave un-addressed either :)  Of course, that squeezing works both ways and God has been showing me areas of my life that I need to work on too.  Fortunately, we have 12 more days to perfect these issues before B.J. gets home - piece of cake, right ;)

Thank you for all of your ongoing prayers and meals and notes and support and phone calls.  It is such an encouragement to us all and we feel so loved by our friends and family in the body of Christ!

'Meeting' Liliana (Rachel)

So, since it was after 1 am before we finally got to Skype, I am a little tired today.  Fortunately, Lydia came to hang with me today, so I had an extra pair of hands and we also did a junk food/movie afternoon which we NEVER do :)  The kids loved it and I have to admit that the Odd Life of Timothy Green was a very sweet movie with nothing offensive in it at all.  However, that was all just a blip in comparison to Skyping with Liliana today.

I was determined to stay up on Sunday night - certain that by midnight, I would hear something (that would have been 1 pm in China and I knew they were meeting at 9:30).  So I tidied up the house as usual and then made a car seat blanket for Simeon (something I have been needing to do for months) and even started knitting an American Girl doll outfit - all the while checking Skype for B.J. to be online.  Nothing.  So I started checking the Facebook and blog posts from some of the other people in the group.  Nothing.  I knit some more and checked again.  Still nothing.  At this point, my face was literally cramping from trying to hold my eyes open and I realized I wasn't going to be able to stay awake (this was about 12:40 am).  So I messaged B.J. and let him know that I was going to bed but to PLEASE Skype me as soon as possible and to keep calling in case I didn't wake up right away.  Of course, I knew that wasn't a chance.  I was so keyed up to meet Liliana and I couldn't wait to see her with B.J. and Mom.  B.J. has talked about her being in a picture and that has been very much the reality.  I figured that seeing her with Mom and B.J. would make it less of a picture and more of a reality.

I set up the iPad next to my pillow, speaker up so I would make sure to not miss the phone call.  Well, they started calling me around 1:20 am and I didn't even hear a single call until around 1:35 am.  Fortunately they persisted :)  I swiped to answer the call and there she was.  My baby girl (with little pigtails!) was sitting on Grammy's lap looking right at me!!  I literally got a shock through my whole body and I could not have smiled least that is what I thought and then I saw her mouth/whisper "mama".  My heart just melted and I wanted to jump through that screen and hold my baby girl.  She pointed at the screen again and whispered "mama".  It was such a surreal moment.  I hadn't even thought to pray that she would recognize me.  I was focused on praying that she wouldn't be scared of B.J. and Mom and God saw fit to answer above and beyond my limited prayers.  That is so like our God.  We think we are praying for this hard, impossible thing and then he blows us out of the water with an answer that makes the faith we thought we had in asking seem like such a small thing.  We serve a great God who is bigger than we can fathom and I am continually in awe of what he does for us - even things like a little girl recognizing her 'mama'.  It was such a sweet sound.  She has the sweetest voice.

Of course, even though I wasn't there and our little girl is closer to three than a newborn, I wanted to do what every parent does - study and watch your new little one to learn as much as you can about them.  I wanted to know how she walked, how the hand-off had gone, if the hat I made fit her, if they noticed any of the possible one side weakness the doctor was concerned about, etc.  I was studying how she was chewing the food they kept feeding her.  I watched how she checked in with Mom and towards the end started checking in with B.J. to see how to react to situations.  I couldn't help making notes of developmental tasks, social interactions, physical abilities, etc.  There were so many unknowns going into this and so many concerns in her file that I wanted to see what was for real and what wasn't.  She was eating the whole time we talked and man was she hungry!  She had missed her morning snack and lunch and was clearly hungry.  She was eating perfectly.  So much for concerns of being able to eat!  They gave her some water and she did okay with a cup - though it was more like a 10-12 month old who has had a few drinks from a cup.  She had clearly sipped from a cup before but wasn't proficient.  She was clearly happy that everyone figured out that she was thirsty though.  Mom put her hat that I made her on her and it fit perfectly.  It is really cute too :)

I kept talking to her and was rewarded with more "mama's" and whole face smiles that light up a room.  She has thoroughly captured my heart by now.  Around 2:30, B.J. had to leave to go do some paperwork, so Mom and I and Liliana got to chat.  Mom pulled out some toys and Liliana really seemed to enjoy them.  Her skills are very good and she had no difficulty with the fine motor tasks.  As we played, she warmed up more and more and started walking around the room and gabbing like crazy!  For a little girl who has only been reported to have a few words, she was full of words - some of which I recognized but I couldn't remember what they meant.  Her walk was very stable and not slow at all.  Her feet are very flat and point out a bit, but it doesn't seem to slow her down. All while she was playing, she would occasionally look at the tablet screen and say "mama".  I sang "Jesus Loves Me" to her and she seemed to really enjoy the singing.   She LOVES her new baby doll from a dear friend of mine and it was the perfect size for her little hands.  The 18 month clothes we bought fit perfectly in length but they are way too big on the waist.  I figured that would be the case - though we didn't get to see her in those clothes until Monday morning (our time).   Liliana is clearly a Meurer - she loved the cheese and bread and fruit and singing and one of the toys that each of our other kids has loved.  She is going to fit right in :)

Around 3:45, Mom told me I needed to go to bed (some things never change ;)  I knew she was right and that morning would come long before I was ready (like 7 am) but I couldn't bring myself to end the call.  I just wanted to stay awake and watch her (just like a newborn :)  I couldn't get enough.  So, we agreed that the next time Skype dropped (it does that a lot) we would end it.  I blew a kiss and said bye bye and she blew a kiss back and said something (I think it was like bye).  I am so in love with this little girl.  We are so blessed!!!  I wish I had pictures, but B.J. has the camera and though I could have taken one with my cell phone, I have no idea how to get it off of my cell phone anyway, so I didn't bother.  Mom did some videos and pictures on their end of our conversation.

Sunday evening, on Facebook, a friend of mine told us that her daughter had prayed to ask Jesus into her heart to be her Lord and Savior and she mentioned the angels rejoicing.  Immediately, I thought of Gotcha Day.  What a celebration and the start of a new life.  I am eternally grateful to God for His adoption of us a children of God.  Going through the adoption journey has given me a new appreciation for the adoption that He offers us through Christ.  What a tremendous gift!

Gotcha Day! (B.J.)

What a day it has been!  I woke up early, had butterflies of excitement all through breakfast, and just could not wait for the time to pass to get to 9:30 am when we would be leaving for the registration office to get Liliana.  My diaper bag was packed.  I had the appropriate paperwork, gifts, and money set aside.  Camera batteries were fully charged.  I checked and rechecked everything multiple times, and then finally we were on the bus headed to the registration office.
When we arrived, we entered a bright white room with one red wall, a very tiny play area, and cold white marble floors.  A cherry wood desk sat at the front.  Eleven families were here this day to pick up twelve children.  The children were coming from different orphanages.  So they arrived at different times.  When we arrived, two had already arrived, and the tears, hugs, and pictures began.  I found myself crying immediately despite the fact that I had just met this group of adoptive parents only  few days ago and I did not know their adopted children other than the brief stories we have shared.  Yet in the world of adoption there are heart strings that tie us all together and that are pulled often at the same time.
As the morning continued more children arrived in drips and droves.  More tears came. More photos came.  More hugs and kisses came.  Some children reacted with smiles to their new parents.  Others with tears and screams, which is actually a good thing in some  ways because it shows a healthy understanding of relationships.  Soon the treats and toys came out, and parents were playing with their new children.  Our guides helped with exchanges of gifts, money, and paperwork in a simple and orderly way.  Within time we had our first poopy diaper of the group ... and of course, the award went to our only all male couple, a Daddy and Grandpa duo.  As the joy spread, the several families from the Louyang orphanage waited.  Louyang is at least two hours away.  Deep sfog made driving conditions difficult, and once in the city, the Louyang group needed to pick up Liliana from Swallows Nest and come across town, and with traffic this added an extra hour or more to their arrival.
So there we sat, the last few families waiting for our children.  Our guides told the other families they could get on the first bus and head back to the hotel while we waiting.  One person in our group, John, piped up and asked if the families could stay because we collectively were a family.  I cried.  So did several others of us waiting.  It's those small moments that say, "I'm in this with you." that touches an adoptive parent at the core.
So there we waited ... and waited ... and waited ... and waited .. and waited ... until finally a small van pulled up with several children.  Liliana was taken out first and placed on the ground standing.  There she was.  Just beyond the glass door.  Mom was already outside taking pictures.  I had never been so close to Liliana, and now she was here. 
As the other children were picked up, Liliana began to cry just for a moment until a worker picked her up too.  She was second in the door, and when she was handed to me, she began to cry and held tightly to the orphanage worker.  I gently took her and began trying to comfort her with a slow bounce and the few Chinese phrases I know such as "Hello", "I love you", and "safe".  She looked at me and cried with her little black pigtails.  She was dressed in roughly five layers of clothes with a bright red Thomas the Tank Engine sweatshirt of top.  We had bought a batch of sweatshirts for her friends at the foster home for Christmas.  Her breath had a slight stink to it, but that was OK by me.  I tried comforting her with the small scrap of fabric from the blanket Rachel and Mom made her that we mailed over several months ago.  She clearly recognized it, and it did help but only minimally.  I also tried a few other tricks to no avail.  Mom tried to comfort her with a few snacks.  They helped stop the crying momentarily, but not fully.  She eventually threw her body towards Mom.  I let her go knowing that she was probably more used to females caring for her.  It was hard to do but I knew it was right.  Oh how I wonder how often God experiences such a thing when He tries to draw one of us near Him and we simply refuse.
We sat down on the floor in a corner of this cold room.  Though I still heard the noise around me, I certainly could not tell you about anything else that happened in that room at that moment.  We eventually pulled out a little Asian doll we brought ... big hit!   So was the bouncy light up ball.  Liliana sat in Mom's lap and rested more calmly though still unsure.  I needed to sign papers at the cherry wood desk for several minutes.  When I returned, some tears came from Liliana, but in a few minutes we were able to get her to sit in my lap as long as she was facing outward.  We then went for a mandatory picture.  I was expecting the screaming kid on Santa's lap type picture, but she handled it fine. 
We spent a few more minutes here, and then needed to board the bus for home.  I continued to hold Liliana as we boarded.  Once on, you could see how much Liliana was just taking everything in.  Actually, you could see she was doing this from the start, much like Elianna does.
Daddy (aka Baba) and Liliana looking through one
of the picture books she received from us while she was
at Swallow's Nest.  She clearly recognized
our family and was able to match names and faces.
Thank you to her caregivers at Swallow's Nest!
Remember when I explained the game "Does my car fit there?"  Today on the bus ride home we got to see how the game worked when the answer was "No".  About halfway home, a small van cut us off and hit the brakes.  We hit him though not too hard.  No one was hurt, and in fact we barely moved.  Though we still clearly dented his van.  So mark down baby's first car accident in Liliana's baby book, Rachel.  We sat there for what seemed like fifteen or so minutes.  During this time, Liliana fell asleep in my lap holding her blanket, doll, and my thumb.  Oh, how I longed for a moment like that and now I had it.
When we finally arrived home, Liliana woke up.  We headed upstairs to Skype Mommy.  I will let her write about that experience.
Liliana changed into pajamas and playing with some
new favorite toys
The rest of my day was filled with preparing paperwork for tomorrow and helping Liliana get used to me.  She favored Mom most of the day but slowly transitioned to me in different ways.  She would not eat from me to start, but by the end of the day she sat in my lap for dinner and I also gave her her bottle as we cuddled.  She only played games with Mom, but now she seems to include me also.  She seemed to be turning to Mom looking for emotional cues, but late this evening I saw her checking me out for some of them as well.  Mom, for her part, has been wonderful.  She's playing a difficult role in this trip.  She's the female here but not the Mom.  She's the one Liliana sorta felt/feels more comfortable with, and yet she needs to help Liliana attach to me.  She needs to comfort little Liliana during a very difficult time, and yet challenge her to take risks like go to Daddy.  For a first day ever doing this, she did fantastic.  I am so blessed to have her here helping me with this.

Liliana had quite a busy first day with us.
Here she is all tucked in and asleep.  Goodnight, Liliana
I want so much to write about so many details of the day, and in due time I am sure I will, but for now, I need to rest.  So off I go to snuggle with a little girl named Liliana who I now call my daughter.  Praise be to God for His faithfulness.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Thank you for the Home Front Care (B.J.)

I wanted to take just a moment to thank everyone who is helping Rachel and the kids while I am away.  So many people are blessing us with meals, babysitting, bath help, Sunday morning help, play dates, fun outings, and prayers.  I can't tell you how much it touches our hearts to be so blessed by so many of you.  No thank you card or gift could ever really express the depth of gratitude we have for you.  Sure it may seem like just a meal or just a play date or just a simple task, but it really isn't just any of those things. 
What you are really doing is standing with us and declaring that you want to see our little girl come home to her forever family and you're willing to do what you can to make that happen.  Nothing declares the Gospel of Jesus louder and better than love put into action.  We simply just feel so loved by all of you, and that's not something every family who adopts can say they have.  So if you are one of those people who donated money to us, donated money to our Both Hands project, came to our Both Hands work day, prayed for us regularly, sat and listened to us talk or cry or celebrate through this process, made a meal, babysat, helped with baths, sat with our kids on Sunday morning to help Rachel out, provided our family with a fun outing or play date, or anything else similar, thanks so much.  You have touched our hearts in a deep and profound way, and your actions touch the very heart of God and His desire to see every orphaned child with a Mom and Dad.

Transitioning to Zhengzhou (B.J.)

Today was a day of transition.  We left Beijing and all of its attractions and fun behind and flew to Zhengzhou in the Henan province.  Somewhere in this city, about 15 minutes away from where I type this email, my daughter Liliana is sleeping her last night as an orphan in China.  I can't believe I am this close to her right now and that tomorrow she and I will finally meet.  I'm not sure how it will go and what transitioning will be like, but I know that this difficult road ends in a place of peace and joy.
Zhengzhou ... a dusty, busy city with way too many cars on the road (like other major cities in China).  The locals here (and in other major cities) seem to believe that the rules of the road are merely suggestions.  Sidewalks here in Zhengzhou are actually the perfect place for motor bikes to ride despite pedestrian traffic, and anyone who owns a car seems to enjoy playing the game "Does my car fit there?"  To play, a driver must find a difficult place to merge or change lanes.  It is preferable that such a place include parked vehicles, pedestrians, an intersection, and several larger vehicles like buses and trucks.  Once a driver has found such a combination, s/he must find a spot where his/her car should not go because to do so would cause an accident and then race for that spot nearly causing that accident to happen.  It looks like great fun for the locals :)
We arrived here in Zhengzhou quite late as our plane was delayed by dense fog.  We suspect it was more smog than fog.  So let's just call it sfog and forget about it.  Once we arrived, we received a one page back and front document about our child.  I am not sure how accurate the information is because Liliana's orphanage in Louyang had to complete it, but she has not been with them for roughly 10 months now when we had her moved to the Swallow's Nest foster care house.  Some of it sounds accurate while some of it sounds like standard issue comments.  Only time will tell.

Does your Walmart have large, open, wooden boxes of rice for scooping?
No?  Well mine does :)
Based on this document, we all went to Walmart (yes, they even have one here) to get some supplies.  Walmart turned out to be a three story store with lot of overcrowded aisles all decorated in red and gold decorations from floor to ceiling in preparation for the new year.  As if this visual stimulation was not enough, there was loud modern Chinese music being blared out from the PA system.  Voices of unfamiliar words filled the air, and an added bonus ... Walmart workers who had microphones to announce products they were offering samples of.  At one point I counted five of them standing around me all using their microphones.  So slightly overwhelming but we survived.  On a side note, I have a new appreciation for the struggles of all of the non-readers I ever taught.  I found myself using picture clues and my limited schema to make sense of so many products and found myself falling short many times.
Not a bad steak for not being able to communicate much with
the waitress
Coming back from Walmart, Mom and I stopped in a steakhouse that one of our new CCAI guides recommended to us.  Almost no one in this place spoke English, and it took a cook in the back who happened to be taking English classes and working part time to make sure our order was correct.  We enjoyed the experience none the less and walked away quite full and with some new friends.
We had some time to get things ready for tomorrow and Skype with the family as usual.  It helps to have the internet for free in our room in this new hotel (the last one cost money in the room so we just used the free wifi in the lobby).  Now it is about time I settle in for the evening.

Our Zhengzhou home for the next week

Tomorrow is a big day.  There's no real way to explain how I feel right now.  If you are wondering about the timeline for tomorrow, at 8:30 pm EST on Sunday night, I need to be downstairs ready to leave (that's 9:30 am Monday here).  I do not know exactly the time I will get Liliana, but I imagine that by 11:00 pm EST Sunday night, I should have her.  I am no sure exactly what the schedule is like tomorrow, but I know that these next two days are very busy with paperwork.  Please pray for Liliana as tomorrow will be a very difficult day for her.   

Saturday, January 26, 2013

On the homefront... (aka: I am blessed)

Things have been going pretty well here at home.  Of course, we miss B.J./Daddy a LOT, but God has been so gracious to us.  It has been awesome getting to experience the Church coming together and blessing us.  Our friends and family have overwhelmed me with support - from phone calls to check in on how I am doing, to meals, to outings and activities to keep us busy, to family coming over at just the right time, to prayers and notes of encouragement.  Jeremy even took the girls to play on the pond this afternoon which wore them out enough to go right to sleep tonight.  SCORE!  It has been awesome and humbling all at the same time.  I am naturally someone who does NOT like to admit when I need help and want to do things on my own, but God has been teaching me the joy that comes in accepting help from others and reaching out when I need help.  It has been a good lesson for me :)

We have been able to skype about twice a day with B.J. and that has been nice - though the 13 hour time difference makes that a little tricky.  Our days have been full with life - chores, schoolwork, me nesting.  Oh yes, nesting  happens with adoption too - except there is no 9 month belly to contend with this time (okay, honestly, maybe a couple month belly is still hanging on...).  So far, we have organized the sippy cup cupboard, the main drawer in the kitchen, the drawer in the bathroom, and I have sorted through my dresser clothes.  Oh yeah, and I am s l o w l y catching up on laundry.  Not bad for four days.  Oh yes, and I still have four kiddos that need me....  It can be tough balancing my desire to accomplish much with my need to be with my children - not just there but actually with them.

I have really appreciated everyone's prayers.  I am the type of person that doesn't even like when B.J. goes away for a weekend because I get cranky with my kids and nothing much good comes from it.  However, so far, we are doing well - better than I had hoped and more like what I imagined it would be like.  Which, especially if you are a mom, NEVER happens like you imagine it will (unless you can imagine all the frustrations, interruptions, etc. that come...)  I know that that is all the grace of God.  He has helped me to hold my temper when I was starting to get angry, and He has helped me keep calm when all four kiddos need me at once.  That is not my natural instinct and I have felt God's presence acutely.

In a few short (relatively in comparison to our year of waiting) hours, Liliana will be in B.J.'s arms and I will get to see her with Skype.  It is so surreal.  I am inexpressibly excited about that.  She will finally be ours and the year of paperchasing will be over.  However, the real journey will have only just begun.  Liliana is about to have her entire world turned upside down in a way that few of us can relate to.  She is going to be with complete strangers who don't know her, can't communicate with her, smell different, and even act differently than anything she has known thus far.  While we covet your prayers through this process and through B.J. being in China, that is really just the beginning and the 'realness' of adoption will kick in later.  Please pray for Liliana and all of us as we head into this transition.   Pray for grace and understanding and a sense of His Spirit in our lives.  And please continue to pray for us even after we get home.  Adoption is not really the fairy tale ending like we see in the movies.  It is work.  It is hard.  And it is so worth it.  Anything is when it is what God has called you to do.

And, just because his little dance is so cute and I was so grateful for Daddy, Grampy, and Jeremy coming to help with kiddos on bath night, I figured I would share this video.  And yes, that is Simeon switching to whining at the idea why.

Heading to Henan (B.J.)

We're here in the airport waiting for our flight.  This picture is the group of us going together since our children all come from the same province.  A smaller group of us are headed to other cities, but we will meet up again on the tail end of this trip.  Clearly our focus has shifted from resting and touring to getting our children (though in reality that's been on our minds this whole time).  Tomorrow is the day!!!!

Monday Changes Everything (B.J).

You may have noticed that I have not sent any pictures of myself or Mom for posting on the blog.  This is due to two different reasons.  First is a technology-based one.  While we both have cameras here and are taking pictures of each other (or having them taken of us), I am only sending pictures for blog posting that I take with my tablet.  So I try to take a few pictures with the tablet and then rely on my camera for everything else.  Sending pictures via email is just easier when it is from my tablet versus from my camera, and since China's firewalls block access to blogs, facebook, etc., I am relying on sending emails to Rachel for her to then post.  So that's the technology-based reason.
The other reason, and the more important one, is that really this trip is not about this part.  While I am enjoying it and see great benefits to having these days in Beijing, the real reason for this trip is what happens Monday.  Monday changes everything!
Monday is the day Liliana becomes part of our family (though she already is part of our family in our hearts).  It is the day that Liliana goes from picture to person.  Monday is the day when I first get to hold my daughter!  So in many ways, I'm not interested in being seen in pictures online until I have her.  Once I do have her, you'll see my face and Mom's face as we welcome Liliana into the family.
Monday begins a new chapter for all of us.  It is a watermark moment.  Often referred to as "Gotch Ya Day", Monday is when we get Liliana, and she will be with us the rest of the trip.  I've read blogs, listened to adoption experts, spoken to adoptive parents, and even have a few second, third, and fourth time adoptive parents here with me.  Doing our homework is good, and yet I do not think it is something that anyone can really be ready for.  Thankfully, the families here all have each other to lean on to get through the thick and thin of those early days with our kids, and as always, the Lord is there to lean on at any moment.
One thing that has struck me from the beginning of this process is how much adoption is like our adoption into God's family through Jesus Christ.  I remember when Rachel and I clicked on Liliana's picture online on the CCAI website.  I recall realizing days later that that one click changed everything and realized the power (for lack of  better word) I had in just that one little click to totally transform the life of a child.  Liliana's life was going to be forever changed because we clicked on her photo.  In the same way, God chose me and touched my life years ago offering me the opportunity to be adopted into His family through Jesus Christ, and because of that, I have been changed forever.  Rachel was touched by God as well and made a decision for Christ years ago as a child.  Elianna and Janaya have both also felt the hand of God reach out and call them into His family, and my prayer is that each one of my children will feel that touch from God and accept that offer of adoption into His family through Jesus Christ.  For truly, we were made for this purpose: to be in relationship with our heavenly Father both now and forever.  Monday changes everything, but Monday is just the beginning!

Touring Beijing More (B.J.)

Today's events were much like yesterday's in that we started off with a filling breakfast and then headed out for some sightseeing and cultural tours.
We first went to a jade factory.  Prior to arriving, George explained the historical significance of jade to Chinese culture.  Similar to the silk factory yesterday, we took a brief tour to learn about jade.  Following this, we were able to make some purchases in the store.  Both the silk factory and this jade factory were government run providing some assurance, according to George, that the quality of what you are purchasing is better than a street vendor.  One Chinese tradition is that on her wedding day, a bride receives a jade bangle from her family.  I had learned this earlier (not sure when) and thought this would be a great cultural tradition to carry over for Liliana and was in hopes of finding a bangle for Liliana.  Two things prevented me from doing this though: the prices of the bangles was high and I was concerned about getting the right size.  Somewhat disappointed, I decided to continue looking.  What I did find was some jade bracelets much more reasonably priced and since they were bracelets they were much more forgiving in terms of wrist sizes.  So, I chose one out and plan to tuck it away for that special day.  Perhaps by then I may take her out to go bangle shopping anyway, but I will still give her this bracelet since it comes from her homeland of China and now holds some significance in that her Daddy was thinking about her future even back then (which currently is now).

A cool statue at the jade factory
Also at the jade factory, I found what is called a happiness ball.  If you recall from my blog post yesterday about the meaning of happiness in Chinese, this ball fits well with it.  It is a solid jade ball that has holes cut through it similar to swiss cheese and carvings on the outside.  However, inside, a second ball can be found also with holes.  Inside this second ball, a third ball can be found.  Depending on the size of the first ball, you may have many balls inside of balls.  Each ball represents a new generation within a family.  So the outside ball represents the parents.  The second ball is the children.  The third ball is grandchildren, and so on.  The visual of seeing the generations wrap each other and hold one another close is beautiful.                                                                                                
More statues at the jade factory
I ended up purchasing two of them: one for my  home and one for my office at school.  I have found that throughout my teaching career, I have spent, and continue to spend, a lot of time talking about family life and the importance of raising up the next generation.  The Bible talks so much about the importance of the family being the context for raising children (Deuteronomy 6:6-9 is one example).  Yet in today's fast-paced American culture, the family is being torn apart.  As much as I love what I do each day at school and see where it has value for families, the reality is that family life needs to be the center of a family's focus.                                                                                    
The section of the Great Wall I climbed...if you start at the green roofed building in the lower right corner with the gold outline on the roof as well

A section of the Great Wall (the less steep side I did not climb)
When we finished up at the jade factory, our bus took us to a section of the Great Wall.  We had a lot of time to explore the Great Wall.  I was able to climb a decent amount though even only a few steps was tiring due to the incline.  I took a lot of pictures while I was there, and one picture I am sending Rachel to post with this blog entry is a picture of where I started and looking up towards a tower where I climbed.  It was steep going up and down, and the stairs were well worn and not built to code.  When I reached this tower, I spent some time up there enjoying the views and soaking up the history (along with catching my breath).  Mom took things slow and steady and eventually joined me at this point. This was the steeper of two possible climbs.  Some in our group went to the flatter side.  Others in our group tried to go as far as they could.  Though I would have liked to have gone farther, I wanted to spend my time taking in the experience rather than rushing through it.  I guess for someone with a different personality, climbing farther is the experience.  Throughout the climb I could not help but think of Rachel's brother Jeremy.  He would love the climbing, and he would capture some amazing pictures.
Another view of the steep section I climbed
After the Great Wall, we headed to lunch for another authentic Chinese meal.  So far, meals have not included anything all that crazy.  Though we were warned by George not to eat any of the food from the street vendors because the grease they cook with would give us the runs.  Some of the street vendor foods were quite crazy ... name the animal or animal part, and you could probably find it friend and on a stick on this one road near our hotel.
Following lunch, we stopped by the 2008 Olympic Stadium (the Bird's Nest) and walked around a little.  We then returned to the hotel.  A few people are going out tonight to see some Chinese acrobats.  Most of us are staying in for the night and preparing for tomorrow.  Mom and I are both feeling good but tired from our busy day, and I imagine it will be an early night for us.  Tomorrow morning we fly to Liliana's province (Henan), and then Monday (Sunday evening EST), we get Liliana.