Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Blessed times four

Y'all, I am sorry if I scared you into thinking that things are bad. (Please excuse me for regressing to my younger years in the south, especially after hanging out with my friendly southern adoptive peeps)

Let's just say things are a little jet-lagged. A little crazy.

But they really are a good crazy. We went into this full well knowing that there will be challenges. You don't bring home a five-year old who's lived in an institution his entire life without expecting big change...for all involved. We are also fully aware that every single day will bring progress.

Look, Joseph could be balled up in the corner, and a very sad child. But, he's not! The blessing is that he's not! He is FULL of life! And yes...he is a little tiger showing his stripes every day, in hopes that we will still love him after. He is giving us his meltdowns of meltdowns to make sure that we will properly console him and set boundaries. Each outburst is an opportunity to show him that we love him and that we will continue to love him.

Our biggest issue, as you might imagine, has been sleep, or lack thereof. Joseph did fine the first three nights, probably due to mere exhaustion, and slept through the night. The past two nights have brought him wandering into our room before midnight. The first time, I carried him back to his bed after an hour or so, but he woke up and cried and it was somewhat traumatic. So, last night, Jimmy suggested that we just let him be. My wise husband knew that I would likely sleep better and so would Joseph. And he was right. We certainly don't want to make a habit out of pulling him into our bed, but we do hope that giving him the comfort that he longs for now will make his adjustment easier and our bonding process smoother.

I love, love, love this quote from one of my fellow adoptive mamas and travel partners, Melanie. Even though she wrote it about her daughter, it applies to all our kids,  "Loss. Great loss comes with adoption. Oh there are beautiful gains by adding a child to a family who loves her, but I can't ignore the real pain that also comes with it. The coming days, weeks and months will be filled with laughter and love…but also with great transition and trust-building. I continue to be in awe of the fact that God chose me to be her mom. And I found myself catching a glimpse of her tonight that made me think that maybe her mother had that same look in her eye before she said good-bye to her for the final time. That is hard stuff. There is loss all around adoption. But God is a redeeming God. He is a loving God. He created Emaleigh to be strong and brave. And she is."

And he also is...our little Joseph! He IS strong--he IS brave. We love him for that.

So, with all that said, here's some more about our new son...

Joseph is a homebody. He loves coming back home after we take the kids to school. We will start branching out soon, but for now I am just thankful he's embracing his new digs.

This kid LOVES the pantry. He stalks it constantly, so we have to monitor his intake. He seems good with it though...and seems to love the right foods. He ate four bowls of sweet peas at dinner last night!

He is a SILLY boy! He LOVES to play! So...Madi is struggling with her new "shadow" (seriously...he wants to be her shadow) so we are really trying to make her see what a compliment this is! He adores her! She was his first responder on Face Time, and he is always so excited to see her.

He's been hoarding a few toys, mostly little cars, in his bed. Not unusual behavior for a child who's never owned his own things. Thankfully, Charlie's been a trooper about it, since he really doesn't have a love for possessions.

Communication is getting better every day! He can say: fork, knife, spoon, thank you, no thank you, all of our names, and more that I don't recall at the moment. Luckily, we can usually figure out what he's trying to say if he points us in the right direction, and he still tries to mimic much of what we are saying. We can't believe how quickly he's coming along, really! The best news is that he clearly understands our friend, Margaret, who speaks Mandarin! He has met her a couple of times and he was quite chatty with her yesterday when she visited. Because of his dialect, she didn't understand every single thing he said, but she's able to discern most of it, and he is well aware of his new life and his new family dynamic.

Yes, it is a busy season for us. But it's a season of learning, and more importantly, of giving. As we sat around the dinner table last night--a calm family of five--the reality seemed more beautiful than stressful. We are getting there. We are extremely thankful for our friends and our awesome community. We have received dinners (which I really didn't think we'd need, but have been so helpful this week!), special gifts, and a friend even came to clean our bathrooms yesterday (yikes!)

Mostly, thank you (once again) for lifting our family up in your prayers. We have been blessed by them and they are working! We do hope to return the favor when you are in need.

 
 
 
 

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

See you soon.

Tomorrow's going to be a LONG day. We've been instructed to have our bags outside our room at 5:30, and we will board out first plane from Guangzhou to Shanghai at 9:00 a.m. We are thankful to learn that another family in our group has the exact same flight schedule, and we are happy to have comfort in numbers to get each other through each phase of this long stretch of travel.

We have quite the layover in Shanghai (5 hours) and leave for the States at 4:20 p.m. on 9/25 (China time...you will hopefully still be sleeping!). We hope to hit U.S. soil in Detroit, as planned, at 6:15 p.m. on 9/25 U.S. time!  I am pretty sure we will be kissing the ground. 

We have very short time to claim our baggage, make Joseph an official citizen at immigration (yahoo!), clear customs, recheck our bags, and then board our final plane for HOME. Just typing that word makes my eyes fill to the brim. 

Our prayer request is that all of our flights are smooth, and that we make our connecting flight (DL 1663) from Detroit to Fort Lauderdale, which is scheduled to arrive at 11:00 p.m. Lord, I can't wait to see those kids. Please, also, pray for Joseph. He had a tough day filled with nervous energy about his new future. It was painfully obvious, and we pray that he is able to rest and find peace during tomorrow's hectic schedule.

This is the part that makes me a little more teary-eyed. It's been such an amazing experience, and so many of you were right here with us, praying us through each and every moment--the grace-filled ones, and the tough ones, too. We are blessed by you, and we are so grateful to our Gracious and ever-loving God, who gave us exactly what we needed--at every turn--to make this happen. Any of you who wish to greet Joseph at the airport are WELCOME. We can't guarantee how any of us will feel (or look, lol), but if you want to be there, we want to see you.

Now comes the next chapter...the most important chapter, our new life at home. We'll see you soon.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Safari Park!

We had a moment of temporary insanity when we thought, perhaps, we would skip the safari park this time. When we woke up feeling fresh that morning, we realized that that would be a mistake to miss that for our son's sake!

We hopped on the bus with our group at 10:00 a.m. I think Joseph is really getting tired of the bus rides. He seems to become quite antsy whenever we're on one now.

We started the zoo tour with a poor choice on our part...the animated Jurassic Park section. Yikes. I wished that I'd know how to say "pretend" in Chinese, ugh, but I just kept telling him everything was okay. He seemed to handle things fine until one of the dinosaurs spit water at us. I should have seen this coming when I saw the people in front of us ducking! Joseph was pretty upset and scared, so Jimmy quickly scooped him up and carried him through the rest of the forest.

Next we moved on to the rainforest section, another unpopular choice for Joseph. It was cool to us, though, to see the snakes which we'd not seen on our past trips. There was one section with a glass ceiling and boa constrictors yielding a girth of about 8" round. Very creepy.

Now the fun stuff...

The tigers! The pandas! The hippos! Oh my!

 
 

But I know what you really want to know...did Joseph cry at the giraffes like his two brothers that went to the Safari Park before him?

 

 

Nope. Not a tear! I think it's the age...and the fact that the "cháng jǐng lù" (giraffe in Chinese) is his favorite animal!

Joseph had a great time on his first zoo trip, and here's some hammin' it up for the camera to prove it. Oh...and the souvenir of toy animals and a train didn't hurt either!

 

Sunday

How dare I leave you hanging! There is simply so much to tell, so I will have to back up quite a bit to Sunday.

We spent our morning by taking a taxi over to Shamian Island where we used to stay in our past adoption trips when the White Swan Hotel was our home for the week. It was somewhat nostalgic to be there again...to remember our past trips with the kids. We were sad to find that, since the White Swan has been closed for renovations for two years, many of the shops are now closed, including Jordon's Place (I wrote about him in With an Open Heart). 

 
 

We walked around the island to a few of the local shops, including Jenny's Place, and then walked over to the small Catholic Church where we'd visited and attended Mass in the past. I planned to only walk in to say a prayer, but when we got to the side entrance we could see that Mass was taking place. As I popped my head in the door, with Joseph at my side, I heard a man making the announcements in English. At that very moment, he asked if there were any guests present. You know I couldn't resist. I raised my hand high (actually, I think the Holy Spirit pushed it up there because I really didn't have time to think), and he asked where we were from. I told them who we were and introduced Joseph as our son that we'd just adopted. The whole congregation clapped, and the look on our son's face was sweet. It was like he knew something special just happened! A few moments later, Mass ended and we were on our way. Sometimes I make myself laugh. Yes, I am loco.

We ate some lunch at a familiar spot that almost all adoptive families know--Lucy's. When Chinese food is no longer so appealing, you can escape to a place with some comfort food from the U.S. including burgers, fries, pasta, you get the picture.

We took a taxi back to the hotel in time to clean ourselves up, and headed out to Sacred Heart Catholic Church for 3:30 Mass. I've had this in the plan since before we left home, and our guide wrote the address on paper for us to give to the driver. It took us about twenty minutes to get there, and it was apparent we were getting deeper and deeper into the heart of the city. I have to say that I was growing more nervous by the minute. I don't know how to explain it really, but there were so many people and the further we went from the hotel, the more uncertain I felt. With every turn, the road seemed smaller and the area seemed more congested. I was seriously ready to tell the driver to head back if we felt uncomfortable upon arrival.

But then we finally pulled up to the Cathedral, and it took my breath away. This place was AWESOME. People were everywhere taking pictures, which was so nice to see that it is respected as such a magnificent landmark, dating back to the 1800's. We made our way to the front of the building, and realized that we were a few minutes late. The cathedral was already packed full. The man (who seemed to be somewhat of a guard) at the front took one look at Joseph, though, and allowed us to enter through. We found an usher to helped us find a pew to squeeze into, and as we looked around, we learned that Guangzhou has a large African population (probably 70% of the attendance). It was nice to see such diversity in the city, and in the Catholic Church! When we did the peace (shaking hands with all around you), Jimmy noticed that the man behind us was wearing a shirt with a logo from a car dealership in Palm Beach, Florida...HOME! What are the chances of that??? Mass was beautiful, of course. I love that wherever you are in the world, the Mass is the same. It felt quite special to attend Mass with Joseph for the first time. 

When Mass was over, we took some photos of the cathedral and headed out. Crowds were still gathered but we made our way around them to the street. We tried to find a taxi for about five minutes, but no luck. I started to get slightly paranoid. Jimmy suggested that we cross the street, which we did, and it still seemed that no taxis were coming by, and the ones that did drive by were either full or out of service. The "slightly paranoid" started to drastically intensify. The streets were full of people, and we decided to walk further down the road to what looked like more of an intersection. The further away from the Cathedral we walked, the more unsettled I felt. Several more taxis passed us by, and now I was in full-blown panic mode. It was awful! I kept thinking that if someone took Joseph there would be no way to find him. I started to think about the fact that we had no I. D. and no phone number to our guide. Can you imagine? After just leaving church??? Where was my faith, LOL????!!!!!

Anyway, after about fifteen minutes of this, and actually being denied by a couple of cabs once they looked at our destination on paper, I finally pretty much threw myself in front of the next taxi I saw. He rolled down the window, and I begged him to take us in. I even used the fact that "I have baby!" (pointing at Joseph) He threw three fingers up to say that he wanted 30 RMB. Honestly, I might've paid 3,000 RMB at that point. Praise the LORD, he agreed, and I hustled Joseph in that cab with Jimmy behind us. Oh my goodness, it was crazy. Of course, my husband made fun of me the whole time. I know...I am losing my marbles. I think it's time to come home. You have no idea how relieved I was to make it back to our hotel and take a shower after that. We opted to stay close to our temporary nest, and ate in the Executive (free) Lounge for dinner that night. 

Once we were safely back and relaxed, I could really reflect on the beauty of that Cathedral. Just look at these photos! Breathtaking!

 
 

Saturday, September 20, 2014

A few (not so good) firsts...

Thursday morning, we took one last walk through the local park in Kunming with our new friends, Dave, Tricia, and Max, and said our goodbyes to them. Joseph seemed really enthused about the events of the day, and every time it appeared as if it were time to leave for the airport, he would run over and put his backpack on. We met Jane in the lobby at 12:30 to go to the airport. She explained many things to Joseph about the trip, in Chinese, and his responses were all positive.

Jane helped us check in at the ticket counter and guided us to security, at which point we said our goodbyes to her. I always find it difficult saying goodbye to these guides! They are such wonderful resources and you can't help but bond with them over the course of the week. They are your lifeline in many ways! We made it through security, and Joseph was a champ. He insisted on wearing his heavy backpack the whole time. He started to get a little antsy at the gate, and reasonably so. We had two hours to kill, and he wasn't about to nap. We tried our best to entertain him, and since the great big airport was new for him, he really wanted to check out his surroundings.

We finally boarded the flight at about 3:30 p.m. This was already 2 1/2 hours past Joseph's regular nap time, and he still wasn't showing any signs of sleeping, yet he was exhibiting many signs of being overtired. We found our way to our seats, and decided to give him the window seat since he seemed so excited about his first airplane ride. Bad choice on our part.


Our first major parent/child battle began when he became defiant and refused to fasten his seat belt. We went back and forth with him for about five minutes, but he continued to resist, and finally Daddy had to play somewhat of a tough guy to get him to keep it fastened. The look on Joseph's face was of both anger and betrayal. He hadn't seen much resistance from his parents until then. And it was such terrible timing.

He faced the window and seemed occupied with the outside happenings. As we began to taxi the runway, his fingers were plastered to the windows, and I couldn't get him to turn around...it bothered me. We figured he was still angry, so I rubbed his back a bit in hopes that he would warm up. Not so. Moments later, the plane began to gain speed until the wheels went up. I thought maybe he'd fallen asleep, and I could see through the crack in the seats that the man behind me was kind of pointing at him. Jimmy thought maybe he was going to get sick. By this time, our son's fingers were completely gripped to the bottom edges of the window. I tried to get his attention again, but he wouldn't turn, even with slight force, and not even for a lollipop. When I finally managed to peel him away and turn him back towards us, we realized that our son was completely terrified. He had tears running down his cheeks and drool on his chin. I hugged him and consoled him as best I could. Jimmy and I felt like the worst parents on earth. Thank God, he was back to himself within about ten minutes (seemed like an hour). I am happy to say that the rest of the flight was uneventful, and our son was calm.

We shared our van ride to the hotel with an awesome woman from California and her two daughters (one newly adopted), and I really feel like God put us in that van together for a reason. This woman is an inspiration beyond inspiration. She has ten kids...six at home and this is her sixth adoption of major special needs children. This woman has a special heart and her faith is (as you might imagine) strong as can be. Getting to know them passed the time quickly and we arrived at the China Hotel in Guangzhou at around 7:30 p.m. We felt like we'd arrived in paradise! The room is gorgeous...much more spacious than our room in Kunming, so it is definitely a step up in size. And unlike our in-province room with barely working a/c, this unit is cranking! Jimmy quickly turned that sucker down (too down) and the room gradually turned into a frozen tundra. It was a little too icy for Joseph and me but the great big cozy down comforter made it bearable.

This morning we headed out for the children's medical exams. Our boy was a total trooper. The first stop was ENT, and all looked good. We quickly moved to station two, which was vitals. They weighed and measured Joseph, and then gave him an eye test. He failed. Suffice it to say, we think our boy needs glasses.

 

The third station is the medical exam. Basically, a medical doctor asks questions about the child's health and special need(s), then they fully examine each child. We were in and out quickly.

The fourth station is the one that concerned us, and all parents for that matter. It's the TB test, and it's administered through a blood draw. But things have changed since our last adoption, and they no longer allow parents to accompany their children. I wasn't sure how that would go down with Joseph, but the two nurses explained to him that Mama and Baba would be right outside the door, and our son marched in without hesitation. Within several minutes, he emerged with a bandaid on his arm, and not a single tear was shed. Extra brave. We hustled him down to the lobby for his first strawberry milkshake.


It was back at the hotel room that we saw our son's first tears. Upon our arrival to the room I asked him if he had to go pee pee ("neow neow" in Chinese), and he really had to go. He sprinted into the bathroom, with me trailing right behind him, and I predicted what was going to happen when I saw the scene. Seems the cleaning lady had shut the extra thick tempered glass door to the commode. I could see it coming, but I just couldn't stop it, and Joseph's head slammed full force into that door...hard. I grabbed him instantly and began to comfort him knowing that it must've hurt, but I also knew it probably scared the daylights out of him. The upside on the whole unfortunate mishap was that he was able to see Mommy in my element, which is administering lots of hugs and kisses to boo boos. After several minutes of consoling, I wiped his tears and he was good to go.

The rest of the day was uphill. The boys took a nap while I attended the paperwork meeting with all the Holt families to prepare for our children's visa appointments. After, we ventured out to dinner with a few of the couples in the group. Now we are back at the hotel room, and the boys are asleep. I am right behind them.

We have a packed schedule this week, but I'll post as much as I can!  Thank you again for your continued prayers on our behalf. We will be home in FIVE days, people! FIVE DAYS!!! We can't wait!!!

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Leaving Kunming.

This afternoon we head to Guangzhou and leave behind Joseph’s province. We have enjoyed this part of our trip, but we are definitely ready for the next phase of this journey, which is one step closer to home.

Yesterday, we walked around the town a bit, close to our hotel because we were going stir crazy in the room. It was cold and rainy, and we did not have a jacket for Joseph, so we decided to get him one. We also intended to get him some new shoes. I can't even explain the look on his face when he realized that these items would be his. Items so basic, yet he's had to share probably everything in his life. Not that we intend to spoil him (which we will when he sees all the toys in his room), but we feel like he deserves this. He's been without pampering for too long.


We spent our last night here with our friends, Tricia and Dave, and their adorable new son, Max. Joseph and Max really hit it off at dinner, and it was so precious. We got to see a glimpse of what a loving little heart our son has. He was so nurturing and gently with this sweet little boy, who is three years younger. It just made us love and appreciate our son all the more.

 

We’ve learned a lot about our little boy in these last few days. One thing we’ve noticed are some major inconsistencies between the real Joseph and the Joseph on paper. His file indicated that he was not as smart as his peers. Well, his peers must be geniuses because this kid is bright! He is definitely going to blossom quickly, at least we think and hope so. His file also indicated that he could say basic phrases but didn’t talk much. We laugh because Joseph is a chatterbox! He doesn’t stop to breathe sometimes! Of course, we don’t understand a thing he’s saying, but we just nod with approval or chatter back in English, and things seem to be fine. I know that sounds strange, but so far it’s working!

Our guide came to our hotel room last night with Joseph’s passport and explained to him that he would be going on some big airplanes with Mommy and Daddy. He seemed very happy about it all and up for the challenge. I think our little guy’s going to be just fine.

I mentioned previously that we’d requested more photos of Joseph from the orphanage. When we met with them, they agreed to send what they had, and two days later, they delivered. This particular photo broke my heart and brought me to utter tears. I look at his eyes in this picture, and I can so clearly see loss and hurt on a precious child's face. God is so good for blessing him with a family. I'm leaving you with this in hopes that you feel moved to do more for the cause of the orphan. Maybe it's not adoption that calls your heart, but there are many ways to bless the least of these, and if we all opened our hearts, couldn't we--collectively--be the change? I know this family is so humbly grateful for the generous hearts of so many who helped to get this child home.

Thank you all for being here in Kunming with us as we received yet another precious gift from God in our lives. You'll hear from us when we are in Guangzhou. God bless you, and thank you for your prayers on our behalf.


Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Double Celebration

It is hard to believe that across the world our son turned five on September 16th, and we missed it. I love him so much, and it hurts to think about it..he is such a Mama’s boy. I really, really miss the kids. No one said this would be easy...I'm not sure any major leap of faith comes without struggles, but we know it is all worth it. We are so thankful that our village has stepped up to celebrate with Charlie in so many ways…a grandmother who treats him like a prince, a trip to Lion Country Safari with Grandpa and Miss Suzanne, class parties, special playdates with best friends, gifts both delivered and mailed, and the gift of prayer intentions. That is more than we could ever, ever ask for.


Of course, we are focusing on all things good here, and on Charlie’s big birthday, something else BIG happened…our adoption became official in China, and Joseph is now a full-fledged Murphy! So, Charlie has just received the birthday gift of a lifetime—a brother.

We headed back to the official adoption affairs building at 9:00 Tuesday morning. It was a full house when we arrived, since most of the families had already arrived at 8:30. We were allowed to come later because our passport photos were done the day before, which, by the way, they had to take several times because Mommy was looking quite Chinese again, and they couldn’t see my eyes. Sigh.

Shortly after our paperwork process began, other families headed out, and it allowed us some alone time with the four orphanage officials from Xuanwei. We were able to ask questions about Xiao Xiao and the orphanage. We requested additional photos from his younger years. It was our chance to find out as much as we could.  

We signed our names on numerous essential documents to make the adoption official, and then stamped our red-inked thumbprints on top of our signatures. We were asked why we wanted to adopt from China, and we told them all about our family, about our beautiful children back at home, and about our angel, Daniel.

 


When all was completed, we gathered for some pictures for Joseph to remember these people who spent the first five years of his life with him—the orphanage director, an administrative clerk, the orphanage teacher, and we’re still not sure who the other man was, but he seemed very kind. We took the opportunity to give our heartfelt (and tearful) thanks to all of them. We conveyed, through our guide, that we are grateful for the care they gave Xiao Xiao. We told them how wonderfully adjusted he seems and that it is apparent they took good care of him. I also wanted to let them know that I could understand how bittersweet it must be...joyful for them to see these children find families, yet sorrowful to miss their presence each day when they leave. At that, both of the women began to cry, too. I am not sure it is culturally commonplace to show emotions in China, but they did. I hugged them tightly and thanked them again, so did Jimmy. They wished Xiao Xiao well, and I could tell they were offering him words of encouragement. Then we walked our son out of the building, and climbed into our van.



I saw him turn his head and stare at the building. I could only wonder what he was thinking, and it broke my heart. As happy as he was to leave with a family, I know he must’ve felt some pain and confusion leaving those familiar people behind. His Chinese name, remember, means “extra brave.” And, God bless him, he was. We gave Joseph a few quiet minutes to digest it all, and then Daddy was able to divert his sadness with play and it all turned joyful again. 

Back at the hotel room, we ate some lunch, took our family nap, and then took a walk through the park. Joseph loved the bubbles we brought him, and he enjoyed getting outside a bit. I can hardly wait to get him into the Florida sunshine. This boy needs some Vitamin D in a big way.


 

It is such a miracle to watch a child emerge from their shell. All the little things we take for granted in our lives are all new experiences for him. Praise God from whom all blessings flow.