Wednesday, September 19, 2012


First of all, I would like to go ahead and confess ... I am a bad blogger. I didn't have access to the blog while we were in China, and it has taken me a couple of weeks to get into enough of a groove (and process my thoughts) to write anything. Thanks to my husband for buying me some time with his awesome posts. He is definitely the writer in our family! This trip was a life-changing experience. It was wonderful, and exhausting, and hard, and completely amazing all at the same time. It may take a long time to really process and fully understand how God will use every aspect of it for His glory, but I truly believe He will.  

"Gotcha Day"

This was a term I've heard and highly anticipated experiencing for a long time. Since we got the boys the day they were born, we didn't exactly know how to define "Gotcha Day" for them. Should we celebrate it on their birthdays or the day we finalized their adoptions ... which seemed more like a formality since we had "gotten" them months before?

But with Charlotte, we've been looking at pictures of a real little person who was getting bigger by the day. We've been longing to see her and wrap our arms around her for so long, and "Gotcha Day" was the day that dream would be realized. I've watched enough videos and read enough blogs to know that every child reacts differently on Gotcha Day. I've seen babies go straight to their mama's arms without so much as a whimper. I've seen the new parents peel them off the nanny as the poor child screamed in terror. So I tried not to have any expectations for how the day would play out. I was ready for anything. Prepared.

But I so wasn't.

There is a song called "What Now" by Steven Curtis Chapman that has haunted me for years. Every time it would come up on my playlist over the past few months, these words would just about do me in:

I saw the face of Jesus in a little orphan girl. 
She was standing in the corner on the other side of the world. 
And I heard the voice of Jesus gently whisper to my heart, 
"Didn't you say you wanted to find me? Well here I am. Here you are. 
So what now? What will you do now that you found me? 
What now? What will you do with this treasure you found? 
I know I may not look like what you expected. 
But if you'll remember, this is right where I said I would be. 
You found me. What now?

I tried not to have expectations for how Charlotte would react, but I did expect a profound experience. I sort of pictured this ray of light shining down from Heaven. :) I thought I would feel a sense of completeness ... like this was the moment God had been preparing me for all my life. I really thought we'd be in a crowded room in some kind of government building with lots of other parents receiving their children at the same time. People have told me it's pretty chaotic, but so amazing to see all these families coming together. If I'm being honest, I expected a little magic.

It wasn't like that at all.

We flew into the capital of Jiangxi, Charlotte's province, on Sunday, August 26. Our guide, Mary, met us at the airport and told us our daughter had fallen at the orphanage a couple of days earlier and had five stitches in her forehead. Not great news, but we tried not to be too worried. We were driven to our hotel and told to unpack and relax (yeah, right!) for about an hour until we received the call that the orphanage director had arrived with our child.

After a very anxious hour or so, there was a knock on the door. No heads-up. No phone call. A knock on our hotel room door! Scott scrambled to get the camera ready while I opened the door for Mary, three official-looking people from the orphanage, and one scared-looking little girl.

They had her in this fancy dress (complete with blue socks and black sandals!) and one of the women held her hand and tried to get her to walk toward me while saying emphatically, "Mama! Mama!" She was having no part of it! She cried and backed away ... as any two-year-old should if someone is pushing them toward a stranger! I wanted so much to put her at ease, so I knelt down and sat her in my lap rather than pick her up.

It all seems like a blur now, but over the next few minutes Mary introduced us to the two women and the male doctor who had traveled with Charlotte since she was injured and on medication for bronchitis and a lung infection. She went over some paperwork and instructions for her medications and having her stitches cleaned. And then they left.

We were alone in our hotel room with this sad, confused little girl in a fancy dress. We spent the next few hours trying to entertain her with toys and books. Our guide brought us dinner, and Charlotte ate her first meal with her new family. Stuffed-crust pizza. She wasn't really upset. Just kind of blank. She was out cold before 7:00 ... exhausted from what must have been one of the scariest days of her life.

There was no beam from Heaven. No magic. The whole day was kind of ... awkward.

Of all the emotions I thought I would feel on "Gotcha Day," the one I least expected was fear. I laid awake the entire first night we had our daughter ... so afraid. Not because I didn't love her. I was afraid she wouldn't be okay. Maybe she had been "shut down" emotionally for too long. I was afraid the trauma of her first two years of life – two years that we know so little about – had scarred her irreparably. And I was a little afraid that there had been no magical feelings.

Did this mean we were wrong somehow? If this is where Jesus was, then how come all I saw was a wounded little girl? How come I didn't recognize him?

34 “Then the King will say to the people on his right, ‘Come, my Father has given you his blessing. Receive the kingdom God has prepared for you since the world was made. 35 I was hungry, and you gave me food. I was thirsty, and you gave me something to drink. I was alone and away from home, and you invited me into your house.
36 I was without clothes, and you gave me something to wear. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.’37 “Then the good people will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and give you food, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you alone and away from home and invite you into our house? When did we see you without clothes and give you something to wear?
39 When did we see you sick or in prison and care for you?’
40 “Then the King will answer, ‘I tell you the truth, anything you did for even the least of my people here, you also did for me.’

I wish I could say these verses came to me right then. They didn't. I spent that night begging God to make her okay.

And though I have no promises that she'll ever fully recover from her trauma, or feel secure in this forever family, or know without a single doubt that her mama would never abandon her, God has given us hope each day as we watch the spirit of a lively, giggly, curious little girl emerge from behind those sad eyes we looked into on August 26th.

I saw the face of Jesus in a little orphan girl. I didn't recognize him because I'm not as familiar with the "least of his people" as I should be. The "least of his people's" pain has never been so personal to me. It's never kept me up all night begging God to make it stop.

The first time I looked into my daughter's eyes wasn't the divine moment I was expecting because the "divine" has been watching this face ...

turn into this face. 

The divine will be watching God heal the deep wounds in this child's heart for good ... and knowing He's changed her name from orphan to daughter.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Bless the mess

[From Scott]

Of all the words Amy and I use to describe our home, "neat" makes its appearance later in the list. It's cleanest times are when company is coming over (provided no one deducts points from the three laundry baskets on the far side of our bed or opens the hall closet). Other than that, our home's appearance resembles the locker room of a minor league hockey team – should that hockey team really be into Nerf guns, Barbies, and Happy Meal toys.

This morning I was working on the computer and had things set up the way I like: notebook on the open drawer to my right with a full cup of coffee sitting on the desk just above. Amy and I were preparing our China Mac book when our newest addition toddled up and began pushing on the drawer holding the notebook, which nudged the board where my notebook sat straight into my full cup of coffee, setting off a caffeinated tsunami.

This was one of those events where you don't get upset at your kid, but yourself. I'd forgotten how curious two-year-olds could be (And why wouldn't I? It's been almost four months since I had one that age.). What bothered me the most about the spill is it washed into several of my journals. When a lot of your friends are into hunting and fishing and fixing up cars, keeping a journal is one of those things you don't want other guys to know you do. My replacement phrase in conversation for "writing" is "working on my bow staff skills."

I have my reasons, though. In addition to the fact that arranging words in a creative order seems to be my only marketable skill, I want my children, grandchildren, and so forth to have a written record of what life was like through my eyes. My journals contain thoughts on where our family is at the moment and what we want to become, sermon notes, Bible study notes, random jottings on what I did/need to do that day, etc. It's random – a lot like life.

So when the coffee wave hit my stack of journals (above), I had a flash of anger. Not now, but I saw a day in the future when my kids and their kids would read through these. They'd look at the words I wrote in my own hand, not something left on a computer screen. With God's mercy and grace, I pray I've left a Christlike influence on them and they would be inspired in their own faith journey as they read of my personal victories and failures, hopes and fears.

Now they were ruined. A light brown stain would always be on these particular notebooks.

And that's where I caught myself, for the chipped tables, scratched furniture, dented car door, and yes, coffee-stained notebooks are part of the story themselves. Much more so than whatever words I write. Ever watch people compare their scars? Each has its own history and takes that person back to a time where, in the moment, it wasn't pleasant. But they learned something from it and in time almost developed a fondness for that physical reminder that will never leave.

We say clean and neat is our preference, but if that's the reality we miss out on so much. We miss out on the risk of loving others. We miss out on seeing just how much we can give. Ultimately, we miss out on the resulting mess that more often than not brings a blessing.

Writing this post took some time as I had to constantly break away to tend to a little one's snotty nose and another's whining. Charlotte wouldn't give up until I placed her in my lap. If you've ever tried to type while holding a two-year-old who all of a sudden thinks the keyboard is an awesome new toy, you know the high degree of difficulty that entails. You may also eventually become aware you're so distracted by writing that for five minutes said two-year-old has been stuffing Cheerios from Lord-knows-where into your mouth (which you're mindlessly eating).

I look at my journals. Not stained anymore, but with new beauty marks. Ones that will, one day, continue to tell a story.

Monday, September 10, 2012


Thank you all sooo much for your prayers in our adoption journey! We arrived home late Thursday night and are still feeling the ill-effects of jet lag (it's bad enough as a grown-up, you can imagine how a 10-year-old and two-year-old are handling it). I'll be catching you up on our China trip in several installments. My husband, Scott, will be blogging along with me to recap the trip as well as offer a guy's/husband's perspective. He starts off today.

This was a trip of many firsts. The obvious being our first international adoption. This was also my and our daughter Rylee's first trip out of the country and her first plane ride. Speaking of which, I have some observations on making it through 14 hours in a metal tube at 31,000 feet, but that may come later.

The adoption part of our China trip would start in Nanchang, a city of five million. Before that, however, we spent a couple of days in Shanghai to acclimate – at least a little – to the new time zone before meeting Charlotte.
The Astor House Hotel

Here's where I show my cultural ignorance. Before actually staying there my most memorable association with Shanghai was the opening scene to Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, where Indy escapes being poisoned while recovering a precious jewel and we're introduced to his sidekick, Short Round. Yeah, sad.

Going by nothing more than online recommendations, we stayed at The Astor House Hotel very near The Bund. For under $90 a night we stayed in the first Western-style hotel in China that represented the country's opening up. Charlie Chaplain, Einstein, and Ulysses. S. Grant were guests. No health club or pool, but I'll give those up to be basically on China's front doorstep with the world.

I try to not be the obvious tourist, but that was impossible. Each hotel we stayed in had a buffet, so I didn't do myself any favors by relishing the role of large, gregarious American eating everything. Also, when you have a goateed man a head taller than anyone else, a redhead, and a blonde daughter (more on that later), you stick out. Accept it.

People. Lots and lots of people.

There were two things we anticipated but were still amazed by: traffic and crowds. Sure, those would be expected in the largest city in the world (23 million), but it was way more than anything we experienced. To be succinct, we also realized quickly the popularity of smoking among the Chinese, the fact that crosswalk signals are regarded as suggestions, and that KFC is a really, really big deal.

The skyline across the Huangpu River
People will also hand you paper fliers and cards. I learned should you, perhaps out of courtesy, take a card from someone who keeps intermingling the words "tour guide" with whatever he's saying you have accepted his offer to follow you along the street and explain which stores are what. This will continue even if you duck into other stores as he will wait for you outside. The transaction is apparently dissolved once you hand back the card (in my case, just a few minutes), mutter "bye", and quickly walk in the opposite direction.

We learned about the fascination of little girls with blond hair. No matter where we went, Rylee drew attention. Little boys – sometimes at their request, sometimes at the urging of their parents, sometimes both – wanted to have their picture taken with her.
Walking down Nanjing Road, a highly-popular tourist spot. 
Didn't realize we'd brought a celebrity with us.

We'd questioned whether or not to add the Shanghai section of the trip, but that ended up being the correct move. It took 38 years before I (Scott) traveled to this great land (Amy has actually been to China before on some kind of "ambassador" program in high school), so there's a fairly good chance there wouldn't be another. And more practically, we needed a couple of days to acclimate before meeting our little girl.