Sunday, February 24, 2013

We're still here... (I promise I'll post a real update soon!)

We haven't dropped off the face of the planet.  We are just trying to adjust to being a new family of 7 and all that that entails - now add in an adopted child into the mix and we are in new, uncharted territory.  I promise to write an update soon, but in the meantime, please pray for wisdom for us as parents, for bonding for us all, and for Liliana to know that we are safe and her family.  Also please pray for her language skills - the language barrier definitely complicates things.  Thank you for all of you who have been praying for us, bringing us meals, running errands for us, checking in with us, listening to us, sending us gifts, cards, and encouragement.  We are so blessed by the tremendous outpouring of support from our family and friends and you have no idea how much it means to us.  Thank you!!!

Here are a few pictures of our first two weeks....
Sharing grapes


Liliana LOVES videos

What?  You don't eat popcorn with a fork???

All together


First pizza

Bedtime story

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Not a lot of time

We have been all back together for just over 24 hours and while it is going as well as can be expected, it is busy around here which hasn't given me a chance to blog.  The most I have done is to take a few videos to share.  I promise to catch up blogging soon though....

What I can say so far is that Liliana is an amazing little girl.  She can already say please, down, help, no, all done, more, hi, daddy, and mama.  She can repeat each of her siblings names too.  She can copy motions and signs very quickly and she has a great pencil grip, though her scribbles are very light and lacking much pressure.  By tonight, she was initiating play with Elianna and trying to take toys from Simeon :). I would say she is getting more comfortable with us.  She did a great job in church today, as did all the kiddos.

She has started initiating me holding her and playing with her.  She has a great smile and an infectious laugh.  I don't think she is used to as much physical movement as she got today as she was exhausted by the end!

Elianna and Janaya are quite taken with Liliana and have both told me how glad they are that she is home in our family.  Simeon has been very generous and sharing with Liliana and jumped in with Liliana and me to sing some songs today.  They also shared some fun times over dinner tonight...they both love to eat.  Myla has been a dream as always.

Please pray for lots of strength, energy, and patience for all of us.  It is a big transition and those things are always welcomed.  Our house is busier than ever and I wouldn't want it any other way.

Homeward Bound

Nothing is quite as sweet as the idea of heading home.  Whether it be the end of a day at work, a long weekend out with the family, or two and a half weeks away from the family on a trip to China, home is still the best place to be.  Home, like families, comes in many shapes and sizes.  No two homes are quite alike, and yet that is what makes each one of them "home" to someone. 
Most of us spend our lives on the search  for home.  We often do not realize that this is what we are searching for, but we know "home" when we find it.  Interestingly enough, home is not a place, an address, or house.  Home is a condition of the heart and is built through relationships. 
Finding home in the relationships of the here and now is nearly impossible.  Though we may have very positive relationships with many people that give us strength and provide us a taste of home, these horizontal relationships fall short of providing us with that ultimate realization of home.  It is only when we have a vertical relationship with God through Jesus Christ that we begin to understand what it means to have God as our Father. 
We need to move beyond religion, beyond traditions, beyond spiritual habits, and seek the One who knows us and calls us by name.  We need to look for Jesus as He calls us to walk with Him and follow Him so we may be found in Him.  Our Father has a perfect home, I do not mean heaven.  Our Father's perfect home is when He is in relationship with the Son and Spirit.  Throughout the gospels, we see Jesus pulling away from the crowds to get alone with the Father, and we see Him struggling in His mission on earth.  In many ways, I imagine this is because Jesus' heart ached for home.  He knew what a perfect relationship with the Father was like, and He missed it while here serving us. 
Our Father desires for us to be in relationship with Him as well, and as such, the Father calls us to come to Him through the Son and be empowered by the Spirit to be in relationship with Him.  Our Father though still blesses us with relationships here and now.  When we have found home in Him, finding home in our horizontal relationships becomes much easier.  It also becomes much harder to leave home.  Yes, Jesus was with me this whole time and provided home for me while in China; yet the main way He provides home for me outside of Himself is through Rachel and the kids.
So here I sit, 35,007 feet in the air somewhere above Japan.  In one sense I am a long way from home, and yet in another way, I never left home.  Still, the feeling I have right now is a longing to see those who God has blessed me with who make home for me.  So wait just a little while longer Rach, your husband is on his way, and hold on just a wee bit more Elianna, Janaya, Simeon, and Myla.  Daddy is almost home.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Hong Kong

We made it to Hong Kong at 3:23 pm local time (2:23 am EST).  The ride was smooth, comfortable, and fast.  At one point we were doing over 90 mph.  I am sure there were times where we were moving faster than that since I know there were times when I looked over the seat and could not see the needle.  Border crossing went off without a hitch.  It looks like we have two shuttle bus options ... one for the airport and one for a mall and dinner later this evening. 
Looking at the weather, our hope is that the snow stops early on Saturday while we are still somewhere in the Artic Circle so that by the time we turn south and begin heading to Newark the winds may have died down and the runways are clear.  This assumes that our flight stays in place.
Praying for the next part of this journey. 

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Snow Close Yet Snow Far Away

So apparently after a year or two of very mild winters with little to no snow, we're going to have the backlog of snow dumped on top of the Northeast/New England region at precisely the same time as we're trying to fly into Newark Airport.  Fabulous timing.  :)
I have very mixed emotions right now as I read the weather updates and talk to Rachel about what the forecast looks like.  This snow storm is no surprise to God, and He will guide us home.  It may or may not be the route we planned or wanted, but it is the one He will design.  I'd rather not have to deal with all of this especially with Liliana in tow, but somehow we will make it home.  I am even more concerned about three other adoptive families on the flight with us.  They all have connecting flights to get to.  So while I may be struggling with trying to land in Newark to meet my family and take a train home, these three other families have connecting flights to get to and an additional leg of their trip to take. 
Please pray for traveling mercies and that He clears a path like He once did through the Red Sea.  You know, Moses did not expect to take that route but it is the one that God provided.  So while I'd love to think that such a prayer would result in God parting the snow over Newark (which it could since He's God and can do cool stuff like that), He may have another route planned for us just as He did for Moses and the Israelites.  As long as His hand is guiding us, we will be OK. 

So who this Liliana anyway?

Reading through these blog entries, you definitely get a good sense of what we are doing here.  You get some sense of how I am processing things, but you may still be wondering who this little girl we call Liliana is.  I mean, I've been staring at her picture for over a year, but it was not until I met her that I got to know her, and every day I discover something new.  So let me give you a little peak into the girl I'm still getting to know.

Liliana is a happy girl who is quite curious about the world around her.  She looks to understand what is going on and figure out how things work.  Though there are clear developmental delays from her days as an orphan, this little girl is bright (forget that poor brain development diagnosis).  She prefers to sit back and observe at first and take in her surroundings.  She may not say anything for a while, but she is observing and making notes.  She can be a bit shy in new situations and takes a while to warm up.  But before too long, she is active and involved with what is going on.  She enjoys food.  Though her size does not show it, the girl eats more than any of our other kids ever have, and she is willing to try all kinds of new foods.  At the same time, she does have preferences and is not afraid to express her preference for one type of food on her plate over another with a simple "No thank you" type face and a pointing to something else. 

At times Liliana has an opinion on what she wants to do, and she struggles to accept when she cannot have it.  She definitely makes plans in her head for how to use her time.  Whether she is strong-willed or not is not clear though I am sure she will let us know in due time.  Liliana is very affectionate and give hugs (and an occasional kiss).  She enjoys tickles and laughing.  She also imitates Daddy.  Liliana is a determined little girl who fights against any physical struggles she may face (which is good because she's got them).  She's got lots of rough spots (like grabbing at things or crying when told no) that are clearly from her background and only love, time, coaching, and experiences within our family and with God will help these rough spots smooth out.  She's got a great giggle and a smile that lights up a room.

So that's Liliana at a glance.  Like I said, every day I learn something new about her.  Then again, I learn something new about a lot of people everyday. 

Paperwork Complete!

Today we traveled across town at 7:50 am to the US Consulate with five other families for our visa appointments.  The other six families went yesterday.  Jason and Kathy had us all complete the paperwork several days earlier.  So this was a fairly straight forward process. 
We went up to the fourth floor, through security, up to the fifth floor, through more security, and into the office.  The room was set up similar to a bank only the "tellers" were behind glass as well.  A very kind official talked to us for several minutes explaining what we should expect and then had us take an oath.  Our families were then called one by one to go through the documents.  I was very impressed with the officials here.  They were all very professional but at the same time, they realized what this was all about.  While they remained professional and checked every document, they also recognized that we were all adoptive families, and as such, the officials were very caring and welcoming.
Tomorrow we get our visas for our children, and by 1:00 pm our time, we will be travelling by van to Hong Kong for a quick overnight stay before flying home.
This afternoon has been filled with packing.  It feels so good to be laying out final outfits for our stay, having meetings about final travel plans and exchanging money back into dollars, and asking questions like, "Does this bag weigh too much?"  Of the twelve families here in our group, four of us will be on the same flight to Newark though we are the only ones who do not need to travel further.  It will be nice to have some traveling companions along as we all survive the very long flight home with our young ones.
This morning, several of us were talking about heading home, and someone mentioned how hard of a decision this must have been for Rachel and me to have to be away from each other.  The decision itself was actually not too hard in that it sort of made itself.  Once we were pregnant, we knew Rachel would be nursing and not be able to travel.  We knew Mom would be the best person to ask to come since it is recommended that a dad travelling without a mom should have a female who will be present in the child's life after the trip.  Since Mom lives so close, sees our family regularly, is great with kids, and is an experienced traveler, she made the most sense.  As great as this all was, accepting the decision of leaving Rachel behind was difficult.  Yes, in many ways it was a very good decision for our other children.  Though they miss their Daddy a ton and life is not the same around the house, it is much more regular because Mommy is there.  So that was good.  But this experience of picking up your daughter from China is one that really a Mommy and Daddy should do together if possible. 
Probably though the most difficult part has been living with the decision.  Not seeing your best friend for over two weeks is not easy.  Beyond that, going through all that we have gone through here in China without Rachel has been hard.  Some of it has been hard because there have been special moments that I wanted Rachel there for.  Other moments have been hard because they were difficult ones where I needed to turn to my wife for help.  I am sure Mom has felt the same way at times being away from Dad.  I am also sure that Rachel and Dad have had these moments on their side of this as well.  Nonetheless, God has and continues to sustain us until and beyond that moment when we are back together again.
So in a brief twenty-four hours, our travel days begin again as we head to Hong Kong and then to Newark.  Then begins a new adventure and challenge of becoming a family.  It will be challenging for sure.  Liliana has never lived in a family and really has no concept of what a family is.  She is starting to understand what a Daddy is but it is so underdeveloped at this point.  Outside of seeing pictures of Rachel and talking with her on Skype, Liliana has no concept of what a Mommy is either, and it may or may not be difficult for her to understand in some ways because she has had a Grammy already.  So now Grammy is going to go from a daily person to a sometimes person, and her role will change while Mommy is going to go from a distant person to a daily person and have her own role.  Sisters?  Brother?  What are those? 
The best Liliana can do right now is to understand that Daddy and Mommy are the best nannies she has ever had and her sisters and brother are the best fellow orphans she has ever known.  Yet that is not what a family is at all.  The relationships in a family are far deeper than any relationship Liliana has known thus far, and the only way for Liliana to understand that is to spend time in those relationships within her family.  In a similar way, we may decide to follow Jesus and be in God's family, but it takes time before we move from calling Him God to calling Him Father.  When we get that though, we get that we are truly in His family.  Such is the journey Liliana is on within both our little Meurer family and we hope also in the family of God.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Medical Exam and Pearls

Today was our day to get Liliana's medical exam at the US Consulate.  She had to go to four different stations: E.N.T., height and weight, general medical exam, and TB test.  She did a great job and did not even cry when they drew blood for the TB test.  I think I was more nervous about having documents and going through the process than Liliana was.  Oh, and we had to get a picture for her records at the consulate.  Unlike the last time we took a picture (for her passport), this picture took only a moment (quite literally). 
Waiting at the US Consulate for the medical exam...Liliana
loves tickles :)
Following this, some of us went out to the pearl market to purchase some pearls.  Our reps took us to a reputable dealer.  I picked up pearl necklaces for Liliana, Rach, and the girls at home.  For Elianna, Janaya, Myla, and Liliana, these will be put away and given on a special occasion.  Wedding day makes sense but if God calls ones of them to a life of singlehood, I don't want that one to miss out.  So perhaps we'll pick an older birthday of some sort ... we'll see.  I also picked up a pearl necklace for Mom as a thank you gift for coming on this trip with me.
This evening we are taking a cruise on the Pearl River, having dinner aboard the ship, and touring the city by ship.  It should be a fun evening.

Some Down Time

Last night's cruise was quite enjoyable.  The ship was a simple one that had all the feel of a cruise ship trying to be classy but missing the mark just a little.  Don't get me wrong, it was great, but it was a simple affair.  The linen white table cloths had a nice somewhat paper-like purple table cloth over them.  The chairs were covered in white linen as well though they felt a little like deck chairs.  The food was relatively good (buffet style), and I used chop sticks most of the meal since the plastic forks were tiny and thin (I've actually gotten fairly good with chop sticks ... for an American at least ... still need help with long noodles for sure).  So perhaps that gives you a better picture of the cruise.  After the meal, we headed up to the top deck and took lots of pictures.  Guangzhou has some interestingly lit buildings with lots of colors.  The haze made it difficult to capture what we saw but it was still good.  At some point there was a juggling clown downstairs juggling to Ricky Martin music in Spanish, but we stayed up top to look at the scenery.  Liliana ate a ton of food (first to start eating and last to finish only because Mom cut her off and in between the girl packed it away).  She also enjoyed the time up top.
Today and tomorrow we have some down time.  We do not have a consulate appointment until Thursday.  Around the hotel there is a buzz about heading home soon.  When we arrived here in Guangzhou, we ran into some old friends from Beijing who were adopting from different provinces than us.  We also ran into some other groups who are a few days ahead of us in terms of the process.  Hearing them talk about going home tomorrow or Thursday is indeed a bit difficult.  I don't wish the  time away or to short change our experience here, but the time away from Rachel and the kids is difficult.

Today some of our group went to the local zoo.  It was a beautiful zoo with lots to look at beyond the animals.  The grounds were just filled with plants that were a treat to look at as well.  Our reps had us hit the major animals in the park, and naturally we had to stop by the panda exhibit.  For being such a big symbol of China, it was really no big deal in the zoo.  There was only one panda, and apparently he was on break.  He laid there in the sun most of the time we were there only getting up to move to a new spot once.  The elephant and giraffes gave us a better show. 

It was interesting watching Liliana.  She does a lot of baby babbling (I only know it is baby babbling and not Chinese because people who speak Chinese even say it is mostly baby babbling).  She was interested in the animals and even seemed to be trying to imitate a few of them.  Our time at the zoo was short but it seemed to be just the right amount of time for everyone.

We came back to the hotel for some lunch and a nap while we waited for a phone call about the TB test.  She tested negative and is fine moving forward.  Right now Mom and Liliana are out exploring the hotel as they head down to exchange some money.  Mom's great like that.  She can turn a simple chore like exchanging money into a little adventure.  This evening we have a group dinner out together.  Tomorrow is another down day.  I imagine we will spend some of our time in the park across the street.

Tomorrow is also Janaya's fourth birthday. (Today by the time I posted this!) What an amazing little girl she is!  As each one of our children come into our family, it is difficult to imagine our family without them.  Such is the case with Janaya.  She has such a wonderful spirit filled with life, energy, laughter, and fun.  She is such a blessing to have as a daughter, and I love watching and helping her grow to love Jesus.  God has surely blessed us with this little girl we call Janaya.Because of Janaya's vision impairment, we found ourselves interacting with all kinds of people we had not interacted with before.  We suddenly had friends with children with all kinds of impairments be they vision, mobility, or something else.  One of the girls' favorite friends is a little girl who uses a walker, and to them, all of this is as normal as different colored hair, eyes, or skin ... no biggie to to them.  We also met Janaya's initial vision teacher who has adopted four children from China.  God also seemed to bring several other friends into our lives who adopted recently.  Through all of these people, God called us into this adoption. 

In many ways, it is fitting that I am here on her birthday.  Janaya's vision impairment led us into the world of special needs parenting.  When she was younger, plenty of people prayed for God to restore her sight fully and bring full healing.  Of course, God is God, and He can certainly do that.  I've seen Him heal people of all kinds of things that are only explainable by His intervention.  But I also know God is God, and sometimes He has other purposes.  Yes, Janaya having her sight healed would be wonderful, and God may choose to do that at some point.  But when we learned of Janaya's vision impairment years ago, I felt like God said to us that He had purposes and plans to use it for His glory.  So as much as we appreciated people praying in those early days for healing, we prayed more along the lines of, "God, use this as You wish.  If healing brings You glory, then heal.  If You have other plans for receiving glory from this, then go for it."

 In many ways, Janaya's vision impairment gave Rachel and I eyes to see a need in the world and what God was calling us to do about it. 

Had God healed Janaya's eyes early on, a little girl named Liliana would still be an orphan in the Louyang Orphanage, and there would be one more orphan in the world that God's heart cries for. 
There are many times when friends and family say such kind things to Rachel and me about how loving we are to adopt or how special we are or how generous we are being or what amazing people we are because of this.  We always appreciate the kind words, but the reality is that Rachel and I really are not all that special.  In and of ourselves, we have no special knowledge, talents, gifts, or abilities.  What we do have is an amazing God who called us to follow Him wherever He goes and who uses the simple to bring Himself glory.  Our prayer is that when people see us adopting Liliana that they see God's love being acted out.  It's not something we're doing but rather something He's doing, and He chose to use us as His vessel so that He might receive all the glory.

So happy birthday to my special little girl, Janaya.  You are more than the sum of your parts.  You are called by a King who is pleased that you are following Him and Who is calling you to follow Him all the days of your life.  I am sure in this life that God will use the gifts, talents, and abilities He has given you to bless others and bring Him glory.  Your eyes are one of those things that at times may seem like a struggle but know that God uses even our struggles many times over to bring Himself glory.  May this story of bringing your sister Liliana home to her forever family be just one of many times where you see Him using you and all of your special gifts. 

Sunday, February 3, 2013


Yesterday was travel day for us.  We left Zhengzhou in the morning to travel here to Guangzhou.  The China side of this trip is complete.  We have all of the files we need, made all of the payments we need to make, and have a Chinese passport for Liliana.  Now in Guangzhou the focus shifts to America.  We need to complete a medical exam and apply for a visa for Liliana to enter the country.
I was very pleased to see a sunny sky for our travel day.  It has been so long since I have seen the sun due to the fog and smog.  Most skies are gray here (at least during our stay they have been).  So this was a rare treat even if it was only for the morning. 
Travel in China is rarely easy.  Traffic is heavy on the roads and makes most trips take double the amount of time they should.  Flight times are more like dreams and wishes than a reality.  We were supposed to leave at 12:50 pm on our flight.  Our plane was still in its city of origin at that time and arrived at the airport some time around 2:30 pm.  We boarded around 3:00 pm and sat on the plane until about 3:30 pm or so.  Liliana was a trooper through it all, especially considering that nap time was in the middle of it.  We blew through it until she fell asleep during the last hour of the flight.  By the time we arrived we were all tired and worn.  We had a fairly long hike to our bus (not too bad though) and a 45 minute ride to the hotel.  I think we arrived around 8:30 pm or so.  We all grabbed something quick to eat and headed to bed.
Today we had breakfast, and I hung around the hotel to play with Liliana, exchange money, take a walk, and spend time with Rach on Skype.  Lunch and nap time followed and went well.  Mom decided to venture out and take a taxi to a church.  She found a Chinese Catholic service in all Chinese that she enjoyed and then headed to the market where she had a ball.  She was in her element I am sure.  When she arrived back here she was filled with stories to tell and new treasures to show.  Mom has such a love for life and adventurous spirit.  It is one of the reasons she is such a great person.
I am quite the opposite.  Though I love life and do take risks in some ways, when it comes to venturing out in an unfamiliar city in a country where I can't read, write, or speak the language all while trying to navigate public transportation, I'm just not there.  An experience like Mom had today would be more stressful than pleasurable for me.  Add to it the complications of a new child, and forget it.  Still, I am happy that Mom was able to go and have a great time, and to be honest I had a wonderful conversation with my wife and also took care of some tasks and had a good morning with Liliana.  Also, I was able to get her to nap well.  So I don't really feel like I lost out.  I just chose the type of day that suited my personality.  Besides, we'll venture out again fairly soon I am sure (but for me I will feel more comfortable with a larger group or with our guides, etc.).    
This afternoon was filled with completing the paperwork for the visa.  We did this with help from our CCAI reps (Jason and Kathy here in Guangzhou).  It was basically filling in blanks on one form and then finding and organizing all of the supporting documents needed.  It went smoothly, but it reminded me of teaching first grade in September only I was one of the students.  Despite the teacher giving only one instruction at a time, having a model up for us, repeating it, and having a second teacher there to support us as we went along, inside of most of us we had this need to individually check in.  Yes, I can see the form he is holding up now, and yes, I can see that I took the same form out of the folder filled with forms that Rachel prepared for me with lots of labels so it would be clear, and yes, I can see that my form matches the forms of two of the people sitting right next to me so I am clearly on track, and yes, the second teacher does not see a need to help me so I must be right, and yes, I am a college graduate who functions in society fairly independently on a regular basis and am able to perform basic tasks such as reading and writing fairly fluently on my own.  But despite all of that I have this need to raise up my form, look at my teacher, and say, "Is this the right one?"  ... just like my first graders would do to me those first few days and weeks of school.  I imagine it was just the nervousness we all felt because we know one mistake turns this process into a pain.  Still, when it was all over, and I was able to reflect on it, I just had to laugh.
A quick update for those of you praying for Liliana's sleep.  Last night went well.  She was so exhausted from travel that she fell asleep in Mom's arms while drinking her formula.  In the middle of the night, she stirred a bit.  I tried comforting her.  Mom had the bright idea of offering a bottle with some water.  That worked like a charm, and she stayed asleep all night with the bottle still in her mouth in the morning.
This afternoon for nap, Liliana was upset about going to sleep.  We laid on the bed after praying and singing.  I kept singing as I offered her the bottle.  She did not take it at first, but I was able to get her to take it within a minute.  This quieted the crying.  I sang for a few more minutes as I stroked her hair.   Then I realized that she was quiet, and I thought I would stop singing to see if she could get herself from just resting there to actual sleeping.  Within five minutes she was out.  We repeated the same routine for bed, and it worked.  So pray she stays asleep now as I write and go to bed, and pray that this keeps working.  Thank you so much for all your prayers for us.  We feel them out here.
Also pray that the Scripture and the Spirit are able to break through to her heart.  While our family is providing Liliana with an adopted family and home here, the best adoption comes when she is adopted by God into His family and when she finds her home in Him through Jesus Christ.  So pray that as we sing songs, pray, read Scripture, etc. that she begins to have a positive association with these things and that she leaves her heart open to Jesus.

Friday, February 1, 2013

A Day of Rest

Today was a day to rest. Many families took it easy today. Tomorrow morning we fly to our final destination in China to get things ready on the US side of this journey.

Though Mom and I planned to take it easy today, Liliana decided that taking it easy would start exactly at 6:00 am today when she woke up. When she did wake up, it was still dark in the room, and she began to cry until we got out of bed. She was slow on her feet and found herself falling down and having a hard time getting up until well after breakfast. I'm not sure why this happened, but her tiny legs are just barely strong enough to hold her body up. Her legs get tired quickly, and she currently has the stability and walking abilities of a child who is just starting to walk. She can walk without holding a hand, but it is much safer with one
.Our morning breakfast was leisurely. What do we eat here in China? Well, actually Mom and I have tried to keep our food choices fairly true to local customs. The breakfasts here in the hotels are a big affair. There is table after table of all kinds of food ranging from an omelet station to sausages and bacon, to Chinese vegetable dishes, to cheeses and breads, to pastries, to hard boiled eggs, to steamed rolls, to juices, to salads, to yogurts, to melons, to cereals, to ... well, you get the point. Your meal can be as American or Chinese as you want. I usually try to mix it up with a little of both. Lunches, dinners, and snacks are a mixture of things. Yes, you can get American fast food around here fairly easily, and you can also eat some great Chinese food as well.By the way, though she may be small, Liliana can eat! Some of this may be a result of being an orphan. Based on what we saw at Swallows Nest, she was fed very, very well, but who knows what memories she has from Luoyang. No matter what, the girl eats! She also does not feed herself much. So we are doing that for her right now. This is actually good because it gives us a chance to build relationship with Liliana as her provider. In time she will develop new habits, and in fact we have seen growth already.

We spent the rest of the morning talking with families, packing bags, helping Liliana nap, etc. This evening, we went out for an early dinner (had some great dumplings and Chinese dishes). After dinner we strolled a few blocks. Liliana had her first time out in the baby carrier, and she did quite well. Up until now, Mom or I have just carried her. Today I strapped her on my front facing in to see how she liked it since we will need it tomorrow when we go to the airport. While strolling the streets we got some stares from locals (that's natural). We simply greeted them with smiles. Traffic in the streets was heavy. One intersection had three police officers, a traffic light, and at least one crossing guard. 

Traffic on the sidewalk was also busy. Yes, the locals ride their motor bikes on the sidewalk. So at any time, you might get run over just by walking on the sidewalk. Did I also mention that they park their cars on the sidewalks too? Taking a stroll is a risky affair.

This evening when we returned I received Liliana's Chinese passport. She will travel back to the US using it. Once she lands, it is null and void because she will be a US citizen at that point.

Putting Liliana down this evening was difficult. Rachel was on Skype for a few minutes of it before we lost the connection. This was probably the most difficult going to bed session yet. Mom saw it coming based on how Liliana was acting just prior to bed. She is starting to pick up on our routines. After we prayed and sang, I rocked her in my arms as she cried. Previous nights the crying was more of a whimper and lasted only a while. Tonight is was an emotional release and took much longer. She eventually did go to sleep
Though difficult to go through with her, the reality is that that cry as probably a very good sign of some healthy bonding. You don't let your guard down with people you don't trust, and you don't do things like cry real loud with caregivers about whom you are unsure. So I am praying that this was a breakthrough. I'm sure there are many more similar nights to come, and I pray that in those moments I am able to remember this little paragraph and allow it to mold my thinking and actions.

As I stood there rocking Liliana to sleep, singing and humming to her to comfort her, God showed me how this really was a picture of Him and us. This is how we should come to God ... with all of our brokenness, flaws, and pains ... to lay in His arms and cry out to Him so He can bring perfect peace and rest. Over time as we do this, He brings healing. So often we try to fix ourselves up and get ourselves ready to be with God when really we need to come us as we are and lay in His arms.

Liliana's Finding Place and Maria's Big House of Hope

Several families from our adoption group have children who spent a portion of their time as orphans at Maria's Big House of Hope. Liliana is one of these children, and in fact it is also the place where she picked up the name Liliana and where she met a young (now college freshman) girl named Sarah, who Rachel and I credit as being one of God's instruments for moving our hearts towards adopting Liliana. Her prayers for Liliana and her writing on her blog are a wonderful part of Liliana's story that I love telling over and over again.Of the families here that have children that spent time at Maria's, two of us wanted to visit along with someone whose child did not spend time there but she wanted to see the place. Maria's is in Luoyang, the same city as Liliana's orphanage. So the group of us decided to travel back out there today but before getting to Maria's, we stopped at Liliana's finding place.

A finding place is aptly named as it is the place where an orphan is found when s/he is abandoned. So here's what we know: On April 11, 2010, Liliana was found in the Shiji Huayang Square at the intersection of Jiudou Road and Lixin Road. She was taken to the police and placed into the orphanage. They estimated her birth date to be March 27, 2010. An investigation was completed. Her parents were not found, and she was officially declared abandoned. An ad was placed in the local newspaper with her picture and the name they chose for her (that name is Dang Cai Tong and yes, we now have a photocopy of the ad). She was never claimed by her birth parents or relatives. How sad it was to see the ad because it appeared on a page with about thirty or more other ads for abandoned babies. This province is filled with abandoned babies.The people in our little group heading out to Luoyang knew how important is was to me for us to get to Liliana's finding place. I wanted to see it, smell it, feel it, and hear it for myself. I wanted to capture it as best as I could for Liliana so when she asks about that place years from now, I can show her pictures and speak about it. Although both Maria's Big House of Hope and Liliana's finding place are in the same city, going to Liliana's finding place added a lot of extra time to the travel, especially with traffic. In addition, the fog has been extra thick this week (Clay said this has been the worst it has been in years). So driving is not easy (plus all of the traffic and crazy drivers). So I am forever grateful to our driver, CCAI rep., and the families who trekked out to Liliana's finding place with us. They were so kind and loving to allow me the opportunity to get to Liliana's finding place and go through all of the trouble of getting there. I cannot thank them enough. It was not just a kind gesture but in fact a gift to Liliana as it helps me fill in another gap in her story.

Picture of the intersection
Our CCAI rep. told me in advance that the square where Liliana was abandoned was a very famous and busy area of the city. When we arrived, I stepped out of the van with Liliana. The emotions hit me hard. Think back to what you were doing in April of 2010. I was just finishing my second year of teaching third grade. Rachel was newly pregnant with Simeon. Elianna was about to turn three years old, and we just finished celebrating Janaya's first birthday that February. At the same time as I was living out my quiet little life in Morrisville, Pennsylvania, the daughter I did not know I had was being left in a public square by someone (most likely her mom ... maybe her dad).Two years, nine months, and twenty days. That was the last time my little girl was in this square, and now here she was. Back for the first time since she was abandoned, and here I was setting my eyes on a place that changed my life forever before I ever knew it existed.I tried to take it all in. I first grabbed as many photos and videos as I could. Some included Liliana (alone, with me, with Mom and me). Many were just pictures of the intersection and surrounding area. There's no way to know exactly where in the square she was left. We do know that this is a more upscale section of town, and the large hotel on the corner is one of the nicer ones in town. The imax theater across the street did not exist at the time. There are also many tall residential buildings in the area.
Street sign at Liliana's finding place

Liliana at her finding place
When I finished with pictures and videos I just sort of stood there, walked around, and tried to take it all in. Mom had Liliana at this point and was heading back towards the van. I wept openly as I stood there. My heart just broke for what was lost here that day in April. It still hurts, and I find it difficult to even write about it now. I don't know why Liliana's parents abandoned her. I assume that they were from another part of the city (or another city completely) and chose this location because they were wanting their daughter to be found by someone better off than themselves (many make this choice). I assume that for some reason they could not keep their daughter but they wanted something better for her, and so they chose this spot. I can't ever know if my assumptions are correct, but they make sense given the circumstances. I wonder about her parents. Were they just not able to afford her? Did they already have a daughter and now needed a son so they would have someone to take care of them when they were older? Was it harder for mom than for dad to abandon her? How was the decision made? Did one of them bring her or did someone else? What did they think if/when they saw her face in the newspaper? Where are they now? Have I seen them while I have been here? Do they think about her and have a story they tell themselves about what happened to her?
Another intersection picture

It's easy to get angry at these types of parents and to look down at them in judgment. I mean, what kind of parent abandons his/her own child, right? Yet, I do not feel any anger at them at all. Rather, I am grateful for them. I don't know their story and the circumstances that caused such a difficult decision to be made. So, I can't judge them. They made the decision that they made. For Liliana's sake, I wish they would have held on to her and kept her in their family. As much as we love her and as much as she is now fully a part of our family, the reality is that her birth parents family was the place God designed for her live and grow originally. Though they abandoned their daughter, the reality is that Liliana's parents gave her one parting gift when they left her in that square that day ... life.Not every child gets the gift of life. Far too many babies never get the opportunity to live life outside the womb, but Liliana got that chance, and look what God has done. Yes, not every story ends as happily as Liliana's story does, but just because us adults are not doing enough to ensure happy endings for all children does not mean that all children don't deserve a beginning. So wherever Liliana's birth parents are right now, let me take a moment to thank them for giving her life. We pray that she will use that gift to live her life fully devoted to Jesus Christ and that one day they too would know this faith.

So the journey to Liliana's finding place was long and rough. The time there was filled with difficult emotions, but the trip was well worth it. When I felt like there was nothing more I could take in and when the crying stopped and my eyes were a bit drier, I walked back to the van, loaded up, and headed off to Maria's Big House of Hope.Maria's House was a completely different experience for me. At Maria's, we were able to take a brief tour, and we got to find our children's rooms. Liliana stayed here between nine months and seventeen months old while she was very sick. She was in the Tinkerbell room on the first floor mostly (she may have spent some time in another room upstairs briefly). We toured nearly the whole place and got to see the room of the other family with us on this trip. Near the end of our tour, we got to Liliana's room. When we entered her room, I recognized some of the toys from pictures I had seen. The nanny in the room did not seem to recognize Liliana too well, and Liliana did not respond to her like she did her nanny at Luoyang or nannies at Swallows Nest. There seemed to be a meeting of nannies in another room at the time. So perhaps this was a second tier nanny. Still, she held Liliana, offered her a candy, and played a little with her. We took some pictures together, and then needed to leave to get home before the fog closed the highway and we needed to spend the night in Luoyang.

 I am so grateful for the ministry of Maria's Big House of Hope. They took care of our daughter when she was quite ill. I don't yet know how sick Liliana was but clearly it was bad enough to warrant going there. Without their work, who knows what would have happened to Liliana. We will be hopefully getting more information and pictures on her stay there when I get home. In addition to this, their partnering ministry, Show Hope, gave us a grant towards our adoption and also gave us a ton of free DVD resources from Dr. Karyn Purvis (an amazing and brilliant woman). So Maria's House, Show Hope, etc. has been a real blessing to us in this process.

Both times we were in Luoyang, Liliana got a bit upset. I'm not sure exactly why, but I think either somehow she knew where we were or some spiritual warfare was happening. In ether case, we were able to pray over her and reassure her that she was safe. Riding in the van seems to be difficult as well. Think about it though: van rides always meant change for her. So this is a normal reaction. Lots of snacks seemed to provide good distraction.Liliana also still does not want to go to sleep. She is a bit afraid too. We've been praying over that, and tonight went fairly well. We discovered that rocking her to sleep is the only way to get beyond the emotions/trauma. So this evening I spent a lot of time rocking her to sleep.

 As for me, I am missing home as any husband and father who loves his wife and kids would. This week has been all about filling in gaps in Liliana's story and saying good-bye ... good-bye to being an orphan, good-bye to Luoyang Orphanage, good-bye to Swallows Nest, good-bye to Maria's Big House of Hope, good-bye to the Shiji Huayang Square. Next week our focus shifts and we get ready for saying hello to our future.With this shift comes a deeper longing for home. Perhaps the biggest reason I want to see us home soon is Rachel. Liliana needs to meet her Mommy. She is going to fall in love with her Mama. Right now she gets to see her on Skype at least. She already places value in that relationship. She loves the hat Rachel made for her. She was looking for it earlier this evening and was sad until I got it for her. She brightened right up as she ran (as best as she can) towards it. Later when I went to put her to bed, she asked for it and seemed to be comforted by it greatly. Hold on just a little longer, Liliana. You will meet your Mommy soon, and when you do you will be blown away! She is more amazing, more brilliant, more loving, more kind, and more sensitive than anything you could have dreamed about a Mommy being.