Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Final Stretch!

We made it to Guangzhou! It wasn’t pretty and there were tears- both Samuel’s and mine, but we eventually got checked into our hotel and enjoyed some much needed McDonalds. I wish I were a humorous writer because the events of that day were nothing short of torture for all 15 families and 17 children. If you enjoy dark humor, you would definitely be entertained. All I can say is that I learned my lesson-This mama is no match for a 33 lb two year old boy on an hour long bus ride, followed by a 2 ½ hour plane ride and then another hour + bus ride with lots of crying kids and a guide trying to tell us everything we need to know for the week. Samuel did not enjoy being strapped into an airplane seat or falling asleep in the ergo and let me know it! Of course, our next big trip will be 24 hours with lots of airplanes and seat belts, so I think we need some serious prayer! I will definitely be relying on my husband more than I did on the last trip. I am so thankful for the amazing help he has been. I could not have done this without him! These poor kiddos go through so much change in a few weeks. As hard as it is on the parents, I cannot imagine what is going through their little minds. The fact that they act sweet at all is a miracle.

We are enjoying seeing our little guy continue to open up to us and blossom. He is just so sweet! Poor Anna is having a hard time, but she has no idea how good she has it. He wants to share with her, brings her backpack to her, and wants to play together with her. Even though he is such a big boy he is very gentle with her. Please continue to pray that we would have wisdom in helping Anna adjust to having a little brother. They are so cute when they play together, but she is definitely showing lots of frustration with not getting as much attention. She is a very adaptable little girl so I am confident that it won’t take too long, but it is a big adjustment throwing a two year old into her life.

We have enjoyed all the amenities here at our hotel and the surrounding area. Last time we squeezed all 6 of us into one regular hotel room for 6 days. We learned our lesson and planned ahead this time using points etc… to get two suites which come with Executive Lounge privileges. The breakfast is simpler than in the main hotel banquet room and we basically get free dinner every night. Including free wine! (And free beer for my hubby.) The business people in the lounge have been very kind to our rowdy bunch! The hotel also has a little courtyard with a waterfall and play area. Samuel loved playing there and he also enjoys the swimming pool as long as you just let him play in the water and don’t make him get all the way in. Too bad there isn't a baby pool.

Yesterday Samuel had his medical exam required for his US visa. He was such a good boy. He easily let the doctors look in his ears and mouth and examine his arms. The nurses had a good laugh when he got on the scale and weighed in at 15 kilograms! That’s over 33 lbs! It wasn’t even on the conversion chart! He weighs 8 lbs more than Anna and she is two years older. When I pick him up I could swear he is double her weight! This is one well fed little boy. He absolutely loves food and we make sure and pack lots of snacks when we are out. Samuel gave me his first “smile for the camera” smile yesterday. He looked so cute in his P.J.’s that say “Feed this Bear” so I told him I would brush his teeth if he would let me take a picture first. He absolutely loves baths and teeth brushing. I am sure this will change during his pre-teen years!

Thank you for all of your prayers and encouraging words. Adoption trips are stressful on everyone. We are so thankful for how seamlessly Samuel is fitting into our family. He is so attached to his brothers! He loves holding both of their hands when we go places. He gives me sweet kisses before bed and loves to cuddle with me and look at his photo book. He is very protective of his little sister and tells other children “no no” if they go near her. I think her dating life will be pretty closely monitored during her teen years! And of course he just loves his daddy. Daddy has taken over the “bad guy” job of putting Samuel to bed, but when he wakes up he isn’t mad at daddy anymore and usually calls for him first. We are just so impressed with Samuel’s sweet spirit. He definitely lets you know if he doesn’t like something but he has such a teachable spirit. We are so happy to finally be bonding with our boy.

Here is a video of our “Gotcha Day” one week ago. It is amazing to see how much Samuel has changed in a week. He was so dazed and confused when they placed him in our arms and now he is just part of the family. We are so thankful for how God has opened Samuel’s heart to our family. We have loved him for such a long time and now we are receiving his love back. What an amazing gift.

Tomorrow we head to the US Consulate to finalize Samuel's adoption. We are feeling very ready to be home with our little boy, and we can't wait for everyone to meet him. He will steal your heart for sure.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Wow! What a week!

FINALLY! One big happy family!

What just happend?! It's Official!
Wow! I thought I would have more time to update my blog. Apparently it’s a lot of work having 5 kids! Honestly the big kids have been amazing helpers and I cannot imagine not having them with us. Samuel is go go go all of the time and having extra hands to help and play has been wonderful. To all of you who donated and bought dog treats to help our kids come with us on this trip- Thank You! Samuel is a huge fan of all of his siblings and they are enjoying their loud, rambunctious little brother.

Of course Anna is adjusting the most. Little princess has lost her throne a bit and that is hard, but really she is doing amazingly well. She is enjoying China and learning and speaking a lot of Chinese. She loves her brother but it is hard for her to understand that he is a baby because he is as big as her! Please pray for her to continue to adjust to her new role as big sister. We are so proud of how well she is doing but want to continue to be sensitive to her needs. This is a big transition for both her and Samuel.

Not so sure about these sisters

Before we left I had several friends ask what they could pray for specifically. One of the things I asked for them to pray for was that Samuel would bond with both K.C. and I. For whatever reason, it is extremely common for the newly adopted child to choose one parent to “bond” with and shun the other. Last time Anna “chose” me. It was exhausting for me and so hard emotionally for K.C. I am happy to say that our prayers have been answered and Samuel is letting both K.C. and I care for him. This was extremely helpful yesterday as we were forced to split up for activities. We didn’t know it ahead of time, but Samuel ended up spending the entire day with daddy and away from mom. He did great and got some good bonding time with K.C. Right now I do most of the feeding and bathing and sometimes he seems to prefer me, but he easily goes to daddy and let’s daddy change him and help him. It is so much easier to be able to do this as a team. Samuel trusts us, can understand us, and seems to really understand that we are his family. It always amazes me how someone so little can process that. We still have a lot of bonding to do and I get sad thinking of how little I really know this boy even though I've “known” him almost his entire life.

Fun sharing snacks with daddy
Samuel is doing much better with going to sleep even though it is still a lot of drama. Apparently this is the norm for him. His nannies said he cried at nap and bedtime for them too. He is just an active little boy that wants to play and eat all the time. Sleep doesn’t seem that fun. When we tell him it is time for bed he repeats over and over “Boo Yao”- basically the Chinese version of “No, no, no!” Thankfully once he succumbs he is a great sleeper. He has not had any night terrors and easily sleeps in his crib in our room. He wakes up happy and his first words are usually “ba-ba” (Chinese for daddy) because he hears K.C.’s voice. 

Always eating
Samuel is a BIG fan of food! He basically could eat from dawn til dusk. A few days ago I cut him off before nap time and he was not happy about it! He is soooo heavy compared to Anna. It is like he is made of bricks. I really love the ergo carrier. I can hold him in it pretty easily. He likes to be in it and it is good snuggly bonding time. He is happy if he has crackers in both hands and he will eat just about anything. I'm hoping to get him onto a more well rounded diet once we get home. Right now he mostly wants cookies and snacks all day long. Of course he can still eat plenty of food at meal time too! This is a first for our family of skinny minnies! He is so loving and affectionate. He cares for everyone and easily lets us cuddle and kiss him already. When we visited his foster home the nannies gave him a big bag of cookies and he proceeded to hand them out to everyone. He is very generous and caring. 

Precious ladies from Swallow's Nest
The past several days have been packed full! On Tuesday we received our “Official” Adoption Certificate, had several papers notarized, got Samuel’s passport photo taken, and applied for his passport. On Wednesday we had most of the day free and then visited Swallow’s Nest and celebrated Esther’s 15th birthday. Thursday K.C. took both little ones and the big boys to the Aquarium while Esther and I visited the Zhengzhou orphanage. (He gets big credit for that one! What a great dad!) While we were at our respective places we received word that Friday’s planned activity had to be moved to Thursday afternoon because it was closed on Friday. So K.C. and Esther took care of the little ones and I went with the older boys to the Shaolin Temple- the largest Kung Fu training center in China. We had great time and it actually worked out well that we didn’t bring the little ones. The temple is not designed for a double stroller! Lots of steps! I enjoyed a break from “mommy duty” and getting to spend some special time with my older boys.

Today we finally have a real free day. We ate a late breakfast, took the kids to play in the park, had an easy PB&J lunch in the room and are packing up for our trip to Guangzhou. Our adoption will be finalized there and we will be headed home in a week! Please pray for our first airplane trip with him tomorrow. He does not like to sit still and the airline won't let you keep the kids in the ergo, so he will be forced to sit in his seat at least for takeoff and landing. I may have to resort to lollipops for this one! Thankfully this time it is only a short trip. The long trip home could be really interesting!

Best buds! This little one
meets her family next week!
I feel like I have so much in my heart right now. I want to be able to process it and write it down for all of you. I know this post is mostly just general info. Hopefully, in the coming days I can share with you what this trip has meant to me. My body is so tired but my heart is full of joy to finally be bonding with my son. There was so much emotion in visiting the orphanage. My heart broke when I saw all of the babies at the orphanage-so many babies and so few caretakers. I cannot express enough how grateful I am for the care my China Blessings have received at Swallow’s Nest. Samuel is a bright eyed, conversational little boy who seems exactly at his correct developmental stage. This is not normal in adoption. Although we have missed two years of his life, he has received excellent care, love and nurture in a small family type environment. We are very blessed to be his parents. We are blessed to be a part of his life again. We are truly blessed by adoption.

I posted several photos of our trip to Swallow's Nest on Facebook as well as photos from our "Gotcha Day." For those of you not on facebook, you can access the photos with these links.

Monday, October 13, 2014

A very special day

Well, the first thing I’m going to say is, “I’m EXHAUSTED!” Two year old boys are active! Our little Samuel is no exception. He has been so interested in every part of our hotel room and loves the toys we brought. He absolutely loves his brothers and sisters. I it seems Luke is his favorite right now. Anna keeps telling me how much she loves her new baby brother, and they even managed to take a very long bath together with no fights! He is definitely an extrovert and doesn’t let mommy or daddy go very far.

Our special day has gone very smoothly. On the bus ride to the civil affairs office our guide said that the boys usually don’t cry, but the girls do. She couldn’t have been more spot on! At first there were about four families whose children came into the office first-all boys, not one tear. Then the girls arrived-lots of tears and wailing. Samuel and a little girl from the same orphanage came in near the end. Samuel came right to me but was really overwhelmed by all the chaos. He didn’t really seem scared, just confused. The little playground was helpful and he enjoyed playing on the ride on toys. He was really bothered by the crying little girls so we eventually went outside. This was great for his spirit. We played near the water and somehow managed to keep him from walking right into it. We found out later at bath time that he absolutely LOVES water! There was a lot of screaming and kicking when bath time was over.

 He seems to be enjoying himself and beginning to bond. He struggled with naptime. We played for quite awhile on our bed and when he started getting tired he threw a big fit with lots of kicking (aimed unfortunately at mommy.) Poor guy kept crying for mama and he wasn’t talking about me. Even though it is never fun to watch a child grieve it is healthy for them and an important part of this process. He cried himself to sleep and had a good nap with daddy while mommy got to fill out lots of paperwork. Now it is bedtime and of course he just wants to play. Not sure how this is going to go. He doesn’t seem scared of sleep like Anna was, but more just wanting to play and explore. He is very sweet and concerned about others. He is even pretty obedient. Trying different things and looking to us for an OK or a “no.” He even let me cut his hair. I just wasn’t digging those Elvis sideburns! We are trying to let him have as much freedom as possible right now since his control of his life has been so abruptly taken away. He is curious and fun and just a joy to be with.

As with Anna’s adoption, our ability to communicate in Chinese has been immensely helpful. He understands us and can tell us pretty clearly what he needs or wants. He really likes to go places and was very excited to ride on the bus and go for a ride in the stroller to dinner. He got upset when Anna got in the stroller before he did.

Tomorrow is a long day of paperwork. I am sure it will be an adventure keeping a very curious and active little guy occupied while we finalize the adoption and apply for his passport. After that we have several free days which will be good. It has been a good day. We are so blessed. It was a beautiful reunion with our son. We are excited to continue to bond with him, understand him, and most of all show him how much we love him.

Good night. I'll try to post more pictures when I am not so tired. The internet is very slow and we have a tiring and early day tomorrow. (And as I finish this post Samuel has snuggled down in his crib with his book of photos and is going to sleep.)

Saturday, October 11, 2014

One day til Gotcha Day!

Hello everyone! To all my Kansas City peeps- Congratulations on another KC Royals win! World Series here we come! It’s funny, in the US we don’t have cable so we haven’t been able to watch many of the playoff games, but here in China my hubby has been able to watch all the games! We definitely brought our Royals gear to cheer on our hometown team here in China!

Tomorrow is a VERY exciting day! Our adoption agency calls it Gotcha Day. It is the day where you receive your child. The following day is the “official” adoption day when all the final paperwork is signed, but we consider Gotcha Day to be our adoption day. It is the day we become a forever family with our new child. Zheng Xiao Fu will no longer be an orphan, he will become Samuel Xiaofu Allen. Although his past will always be a part of his story, and his abandonment will be something he will work through his entire life, he will always and forever be a wanted, loved, and desired child. In fact he has almost always been our child, we just did not have the opportunity to spend the first 28 months of life with him.

I find that I am grieving the loss of those months even more than I grieved the loss with Anna. I think it is because I did not meet Anna before her adoption. As soon as we submitted our letter of intent to adopt Anna our hearts were inexplicably bonded to her and she was our daughter. We loved her with an intense love even though we had never met her. I cried on her second birthday, experiencing it in photos but not together with her. If you ask her how old she is she will tell you she is four years old, but if you ask her how many birthdays she has had she will tell you two. She clearly remembers her “Elephant” and “Minnie Mouse” birthday parties and they are extremely special to her. She knows that she was celebrated in a special way on those days. Of course it could be that she was just too young to remember her China birthdays, but I think there is more to it than that. Anna knows that she has a family. She talks about it often. She always wants us to be together as a family. Honestly, if we had not brought the whole family to China this time she would have been devastated. She loves her siblings so much and celebrates being together. She is absolutely thrilled to become a big sister and prays for her little brother Xiao Fu every night. She is prepared to comfort him and love him and she has seen an excellent example of how to do that from her older siblings.

But back to grieving. Adoption, while it is beautiful, amazing and love filled it is essentially about loss. Loss of a mother, father, and possibly siblings. Loss of the love and nurture that should have been part of a child’s early development, and in the case of international adoption-loss of a child’s country and culture. Tomorrow, Samuel Xiaofu will experience the loss of everything he has known about life for the past two years. Yes, he knows we are his family and he is excited to meet us, but there is no way that he is prepared for the loss he will feel when these “strangers” scoop him up, take him to a hotel, and take him away from his friends, his caregivers, his routine- Forever. He is going to grieve. He will be scared, he will cry, he will act in ways that show his grief. And I will be grieving with him. I will grieve that I was not there for all of his “firsts.” I will grieve that I was not there to comfort and hold him when he was scared or hurt. I will grieve that he is grieving. In all the joy that the next few weeks will bring, there will be grief.

The term “Gotcha Day” has gotten some flack lately in the adoption community. Some people call it “Forever Family Day” instead. Personally I think either term is fine, but there is something about the term “Gotcha Day” that in some ways captures the essence of what is happening even better than alternative terms. Some people think it sounds like you are capturing or taking a child. For me it symbolizes that finally in this little boy’s life someone is there for him in a way that he has never experienced before. Someone has “Got Him,” and will never, ever let him go. We will learn his nature, his likes, his dislikes, his anger, his pain, his love. We will do everything in our power to communicate to him that no matter what, we will never abandon him. We will ALWAYS be there for him. We will do whatever it takes to connect with him, to value him, to show him that he is deeply truly loved. We will do this not because of what he can do for us, but because he is our son. We have his back, we will fight for him, we will move mountains for him, and we have “Got Him.”

So as you go about your day today, Sunday October 13, 2014. Would you please pray for little Samuel Xiaofu? Would you pray for our family as we prepare to welcome him into our life, our home, our family? This evening around 9pm Central time (10am Monday morning China time) we will be excitedly waiting in the Zhengzhou Civil Affairs office for the first glimpse our very loved little boy. Fifteen families and fifteen children from our agency will all be in that room. In fact there will be other families from other agencies as well. It will be chaos. There will be tears, wailing, and also smiles. There will be lots and lots of photos and video. Most of all, there will be a lot of love. All of these families have waited months and years to finally hold their children. It is a day that forever changes your life and the life of a precious child. It is Gotcha Day!

If I haven’t already made you cry with this post, here is a beautiful video that captures the essence of what I have tried to describe with words. Watch if you dare, but beware. It could change you, in the best possible way. http://vimeo.com/97464005

click here to watch: Gotcha Day Video

Our China travel adventures begin!

These kids are ready to fly
Hello from China! We made it here and everyone is doing well, but the trip was not without a few hiccups. We knew when we booked our flights that our layovers were a bit short for international travel, but never in our history of travel (and there has been a lot!) have we ever missed a connection. So we opted for the cheapest most direct option. Unfortunately our run has ended and our flight out of Detroit to Seoul was delayed 3 1/2 hours. This put our flight to China leaving at 8:45 and us not arriving at the airport until 9:15. Yes, we missed our connection. Luckily the airline put us up in a nice little hotel inside the airport so we didn't have to get our bags, go through customs, and find a hotel. A Delta rep had our tickets and the hotel reservations ready for us as soon as we got off of the plane. We enjoyed having a bed to rest in and a hot shower in the morning and were able to head to China first thing in the morning.

Funny story- While we were checking in at the Seoul airport hotel a Chinese woman on her way to the US for a wedding was checking in. She didn't speak English and the hotel concierge didn't speak Chinese. You should have seen her face light up when I told her in Chinese that my husband could help her. The concierge was more than a little surprised that we spoke Chinese and we were happy to be able to help the woman out.

In the morning we all woke refreshed and headed to Starbucks for some breakfast and then to our flight. Unfortunately we realized right before we boarded that we were holding tickets and not boarding passes! We went to the check in desk and found out that we were supposed to have checked in at the transfer desk, a LONG way from where we were! Apparently the Delta rep had forgotten to put this vital info on our instructions and we weren't the only passengers in the same situation. A very frantic and upset Korean Air employee got us and our fellow rerouted passenger our boarding passes and notified them to get our luggage on the plane. They actually held the plane for us AND our luggage. Kudos to Korean Air! They definitely lived up to their stellar reputation.

Ready for our final flight. Zhengzhou here we come!
So, in addition to never missing a connecting flight we also have NEVER lost a bag. Well, that has ended as well. At some point one of our bags decided to take a trip to the Philippines. We have been told that it should be delivered at our hotel by tomorrow morning. So K.C. is currently missing his wardrobe and I am makeup free.

All in all it really hasn't been bad and our kids have been amazing travelers. I only heard a couple of complaints when we were waiting the extra 3 1/2 hours in Detroit for our plane to leave. I think the kids were actually glad for the break from flying last night and a bed to sleep in instead.

We have lovely, newly remodeled hotel rooms and even got a free upgrade in one of our rooms to a suite. It is quite the "open" floor plan with glass doors to the toilet and shower and a bathtub front and center. Thankfully our older kids are in a separate room! Not a lot of privacy in this one.

We are so excited to be here and had a wonderful lunch catching up with dear friend that we actually adopted with last time! We received our daughters on the same day in 2012 and this time we will celebrate adopting our sons together as well. What an amazing gift from God!

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Samuel- We're coming SOON!

Zoom Zoom
On Monday September 15th we received the news we have been eagerly waiting for- Travel Approval! The following day we received a confirmed Consulate appointment of October 22nd which means that- We will be leaving Thursday October 9th for China and be reunited with Samuel on October 13th! On October 24th we will return to the US and Samuel will become an American citizen!

The last two months were hard, but thankfully the waiting is almost over. We are busy getting everyone's rooms completed. We remodeled 3 kids bedrooms over the past few months so that all the kids were in the correct rooms. Not an easy task! We are just putting the finishing touches on Samuel's room and trying to find cheap furniture for the older boys who gave up their furniture for little brother. IKEA Merriam, KS could not have opened at a more perfect time! The older boys are loving their new IKEA loft bed. Now they need a dresser to put their clothes in!

Eating his dinner
with his family
We received some wonderful pictures this week of Samuel and his friends. We sent him a care package with a book of photos of our family and a video of us telling him how much we love him and can't wait to meet him (in Chinese.) Apparently it was a big hit! One of Anna's nannies saw the video and was so excited to see Anna again. It is going to be such a joy to be reunited with these wonderful women who have loved on and cared for our China Blessings. Samuel was so excited that he wouldn't put our photo down even to eat his dinner.

One video we received brought tears of joy to my eyes! I haven't talked a lot about Samuel's special need. Some of you may not even know that he has a disability. His special need is that he can't bend his elbows. His elbows are able to bend, but there is nerve damage or some problem that causes him not to be able to bend them himself. 

Enjoying his photo book
The doctors really don't have a diagnosis yet because it is a rare issue. When he was an infant his hands and arms were completely stiff. Now under the loving care of the nannies at Swallows Nest he is able to use his hands and wrists but he still can't get his elbows to bend. Of course this poses difficulty in eating and other activities, but in the scheme of special needs we feel that he will be just fine and believe that therapy and adaptive equipment will help him lead a very normal life. We received several photos like the one above showing him feeding himself with a long handled spoon. Just like Anna, he has learned how to just "make things work."

So back to the video. It is a video of him Throwing a Ball! If you can't bend your elbow how can you throw a ball? Well watch as gravity gives him the little bit of help he needs. Here is the link.

I am not sure I can express how absolutely thrilled I am to have this precious boy really, finally, permanently become a part of our family and a part of our home. He's going to be loud and active and everything a little boy should be. I love looking in on his bedroom knowing that he will be playing in there soon. I love knowing that God performed a miracle to bring this precious boy into our home. I love knowing that God watched over him for two long years and that I can trust Him to help Samuel and our family to adjust and bond to each other. After two years of praying FOR him every night we will finally be able to pray WITH him. Watching my child grow up in pictures for two years has been one of the most heart wrenching things I have ever had to do as a mother. I had to lay him on the altar just like Jacob did with Isaac and Hannah did with her Samuel. I am so thankful that God has chosen to give him back to me to raise as my own son. He will always belong to God, but on October 13, 2014 I will FINALLY become his mother.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Letter of Approval! Samuel we're coming!

On Thursday July 24th we received the amazing news that our official Letter of Approval (LOA) was on it's way to our adoption agency. We have waited for this day for so very long! On Monday July 28th our agency received the official document and we were able to sign a copy in order to get the ball rolling for the next and last steps in Samuel's adoption. It will take about two months for Samuel's immigration approval to be processed and then we will receive our official Travel Approval. We are so excited to finally welcome Samuel Xiaofu into our family! We plan to travel in mid-October as that is the earliest we will be able to travel due to the October National Holiday in China.

We are busy busy busy preparing our home for Samuel as well as getting all the kids ready for school next
week. Esther starts high school this year, Micah starts middle school, Luke is in 3rd grade, and Anna starts Pre-school. I hope Samuel gets used to his car seat quickly because we will be spending a lot of time in the van driving everyone to and from school and activities! K.C. and I had a fun night out for his birthday last week. He was so sweet and told me he would like for us to go shopping for clothes for Samuel. I am truly blessed by my amazing husband. We had a great time finding cute little boy clothes at the outlet mall. Between that, the clearance rack at Target, and our local consignment store I think we are well prepared for our little guy. Whoever said that shopping for little boy clothes isn't fun apparently has never adopted a two year old boy!

I was telling K.C. last week that I wish that I could be less stressed during these two last months of the adoption. The large part of the waiting is over and we are on the final stretch, but the combination of excitement and so much to get done in a short amount of time feel overwhelming much of the time. I am such a task oriented person and this last leg of the race seems so hard some days. I want to enjoy these next few months and not wish them away or become so stressed that I can't fully engage with my kids and husband. Please pray that God would bring me peace to my spirit. Pray that I would be able to celebrate these next two months instead of dread them. A few days ago K.C. was encouraging me in the fact that when we finally have that little guy in our arms all of this stress will become a memory. Adding a new little one to our family is not without stress, but my gifts are in loving on little ones. It is where I find peace and fulfillment. Having all of my kids finally together is going to be the most amazing feeling. Yes, it won't be easy, but it will be much easier than loving a child for two years and watching him grow up in pictures. Having my heart on the other side of the ocean for nearly two years has been very, very hard.

Recently, we have been attending a Chinese church. I just happened to find it while Anna and I were out for a walk. It is literally just four blocks from our house. This is the first church we have really felt at home in since we returned from China eight years ago, and thankfully they have an English service! The past few months the sermon series has been on Hebrews. A few weeks ago the sermon was on Hebrews 12. I felt like God had set me there in that church for this very purpose and time.

Hebrews 12:1 "Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us."

This adoption race has not been easy. Welcoming Anna into our home and learning how to connect with her and care for her many needs has been both wonderful and difficult. Adding to that my love for and desire to adopt Xiao Fu and then the financial and emotional strain of the adoption process has added an intense amount of stress to my life. I know that the sin of worry and control has often entangled me. Please pray that I would finish this part of my race well. It is not easy and I need constant reminders to keep me from falling into Satan's traps. Your prayers over the last month have been so helpful. There have been stressful days and exciting days. After my posts a few months ago sharing my pain with you I have truly been rejuvenated. Thank you for being my "cloud of witnesses." It is so amazing to feel that peace that comes from the prayers of the saints. Thank you for joining me on this amazing journey of adoption. This month marks exactly 4 years since we began the process to adopt Anna. God has taught me so much about Himself in these last four years.I am truly humbled that He has chosen me to love on these precious ones. And I am truly grateful to God for allowing our family to experience the amazing joy that comes from following Him even when it is difficult. 

If you have been thinking about donating to our adoption fund now would be a great time to do it! The bulk of the cost of a China adoption is the travel expenses and they will be due very soon. Our children are busy making and selling dog treats and toys to raise money for their plane tickets, but that will only cover a small portion of what we need to travel together as a family in October. They love their little brother so much and just can't wait to go to China and bring him home. If you would like to join with us in helping bring Samuel home we would be so grateful. Here is the link to our tax-deductible donation site. 

Friday, July 11, 2014

A Story of Adoption- by Esther

"Now there’s that money issue. Mom gave us the idea of selling dog treats and toys. I checked the numbers and my jaw dropped. We would have to sell 600 bags of dog treats for $5 each in order to make 3,000 dollars. Then I saw his little face in my mind… Something in me seemed to say, “Let’s get baking!” And we started that afternoon, and went until 7:00 that evening. We haven’t stopped. We’ve got lots of dog treats and tug toys. So, who wants some?"

A Story of Adoption-by Esther

So, when I was four my parents decided to go to China. Well, God decided. My parents were going to move there and share Jesus with the people in our city. So Micah and I were brought into this crazy new world of bikes, pollution, and dumplings. We lived in a little apartment in Zaozhuang, which wasn’t a rich city, but they could make some mean Chinese food. The people there were open to God’s Word and I believe that we changed a lot of lives. They then, in turn, are probably changing the lives of others to this day. When we returned home Micah and I felt out of place. Now we understood everyone, were living in what we believed was a mansion, and had to eat American cuisine. Around that time God gave us a new brother, Luke, who is Micah’s companion and the family cuddler.

Okay, so 6 years later we are all finally getting adjusted to life in this odd place called the U.S., and suddenly God decides it’s time to add a new little one to our family-of course from China! We all wanted a girl, that would even things out for us, and our parents felt that we should adopt a child who had a disability. Then, at the start of my middle school year, we hop on a plane to the place I only had small memories of. I was so excited to finally have a sister. We took around three airplanes to get to Zaozhuang, and as soon as I was on the street I felt… well… at home. The stinky smell, the bikes all around with three people on them, and the sealed bags of chicken feet just felt normal to me. It felt like as soon as we got there we had to leave to get our sister.

Fortunately, China is China anywhere you are. As soon as we got to Zhengzhou, where our little sister is from, we were taken to a room in a large building. There were some toys on the floor, including a giant blow-up horse. The other parents started receiving their little children. We were all just sitting, waiting for little YinHuan to come through those doors. It seemed as if we were the last people, and then we saw her. She had on an outfit we had sent her and was holding a picture of us. She looked terrified as mom picked her up. She cried a lot, but we knew she understood what was going on. She just seemed to fit in perfectly to our family.

A few days later we drove to Swallow’s Nest, the foster home Anna had grown up in. The apartment buildings were old, and had peeling paint. Anna clung to us tightly, perhaps worried we were taking her back. As I walked across the threshold we were greeted by one of the nannies. Kids were being fed some noodles by the nannies. I paid attention mostly to Anna being fed, but my mom was holding a little boy while she was talking to the nannies. She told me about him and I thought that he was cute and all, but Anna and her friends were being cute so I wasn’t really paying attention to him. We left to the sound of one of Anna’s friends crying for her. She knew Anna wasn’t coming back. 

After another week in China we left to go back to America. Life continued on, and we all knew another kid was going to be adopted in a few years. My mom definitely wasn’t going to stop with just one Chinese orphan. I hoped for a sister my age, but my mom was still thinking about that little boy. I only noticed what was going on around Christmas time the next year. I walked in on Mom crying for little Xiaofu. I had no idea that she was so serious about the whole thing. I never thought we’d get him, honestly. A couple months later I started really getting attached to him too, and then the call from Mom came. I was at rehearsal for a play when I heard my phone ring. She told me that I had a new little brother. I felt so excited, and basically told everyone about my new brother, Xiaofu.

Then I faced a huge decision. I was going to either begin my freshman year with a trip to China, or stay at home and go on with life. For a while I decided I wouldn’t go. It was too much work, too much stress, I couldn’t do it. Then a teacher of mine told me not to skip things I would regret my whole life. That’s when I realized, I can’t imagine not being in that room when he walks in. I just can’t. Pictures, and videos, skype, and Facebook posts are nothing compared to being in that room. There’s no missing a moment like that.

Now there’s that money issue. Mom gave us the idea of selling dog treats and toys. I checked the numbers and my jaw dropped. We would have to sell 600 bags of dog treats for $5 each in order to make 3,000 dollars. Then I saw his little face in my mind… Something in me seemed to say, “Let’s get baking!” And we started that afternoon, and went until 7:00 that evening. We haven’t stopped. We’ve got lots of dog treats and tug toys. So who wants some?

There are several ways to order and help us get the word out. 
First we are on Facebook under Xiao Chow Doggie Treats 
You can order there and share our page with your friends. 

Second, we can take credit card orders through Square Up. Just click on the link and order away 

If you don't have dogs, don't like dogs, or just would like to donate we have a tax-deductible site set up at Adopttogether.org/adoptsamuel
The total cost of our trip to China will be around $15,000 so any and all help is great!

Thank you so much- Esther, Micah, Luke, Anna and Samuel

Order Online Order Online

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

The Power of Prayer

Many years ago, while living in China, we sent out monthly newsletters with specific prayer requests on them to hundreds of people who had agreed to join us in our mission to share the story of Jesus with the people living in our city. Each day had many difficulties, life was very different, and often very hard. What I learned through that time was that there is truly a spiritual realm of darkness that works tirelessly to keep us from the joy, peace, and purpose the Lord has for us. I also learned, that through the power of prayer from believers all over the world, those dark powers could be defeated. Through those monthly newsletters I have a real and complete record of the victories accomplished through prayer. Several years ago my husband gave me a bound book of all of those newsletters. It is one of the most priceless material possessions I own. Because in those pages I can see that prayer is powerful, that God is powerful, and that evil can be overcome.

"Another angel came and stood at the altar, having a golden censer; and there was given unto him much incense, that he should offer it with the prayers of all saints upon the 
golden altar which was before the throne. And the smoke of the incense, which came with the prayers of the saints, ascended up before God out of the angel's hand." Revelation 8:3-4

My last post, by far, has been the most read post for this blog to date. I know that people all over the world love Anna and are so excited to see her amazing victories over the past year and a half, but mostly what I had shared had been from the positive angle. I didn't share a lot about the daily struggles of toddler adoption, caring for a child with spina bifida, or the exhaustion from all the therapy, doctors appoinments and surgery. She was home, she was amazing, and I didn't think that you needed or wanted to hear that part. What I have learned though is that life is hard for all of us. No matter who you are or what decisions you make in life. This life is just hard. We were made for something better, something holy. We were made for heaven, but right now we have to live on a fallen earth. We are humanity. And people relate to humanity. Don't worry. I'll definitely keep most of my posts on the upbeat side. It's who I am. But I am also human. I hope that through reading my struggles I have been able to show you a side of me that you haven't seen before. Your prayers have been answered so richly. Our 4th of July weekend was so relaxing and refreshing to my spirit, and we even got the added bonus of a spontaneous reunion of old friends last night. But of course, just as I the enemy would have it, I woke up in the middle of the night with a sore neck and sleep did not come after. So thank you dear prayer warriors. Keep it up! I'm not going to let the enemy keep me down, and I am so very thankful that through your prayers and focusing on the Truth I know that even on the hard days. I can have victory.

"Trust in the Lord with all your heart. And do not depend on your own understanding. Seek His will in all you do, and He will show you which path to take." Proverbs 2:5-6 NLT

Thursday, July 3, 2014

And some days it's hard to just get out of bed

It's difficult for me to even see the computer screen clearly as the tears come frequently right now. I know this will pass and that at some point I will be able to get out of bed, hug my kids, and proceed to cleaning the house and buying groceries for our July 4th festivities. Right now, though, I sit in my bed, wishing I could just go back to blissful sleep and forget that life is sometimes very hard.

"And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise." Philippians 4:8 NLT

My thoughts are not there yet. I am overwhelmed and scared. The enemy has me right where he wants me, down in the depths. Please pray for my spirit to be lightened, that I can fix my eyes on things above not on earthly hardships. For my hope is in the Lord.

Anna's condition continues to remain stable, positive news. But the fact is that her spinal condition is just plain bad. As I looked at the images Monday night I could clearly see that nothing had changed, what I also saw was that her nerves are being pushed to the brink. I knew going into our appointment yesterday that even if the doctor didn't see any sign of things getting worse he was probably going to recommend surgery. That surgery is not an easy one, it is not without risk now or even in the future. She needs to have a shunt put in. Our neurosurgeon is recommending that it be put into her spinal column directly and drain the fluid into a different space away from her nerves. He feels that we could see a great deal of improvement in her physical abilities by getting her nerves under less distress. He is right.

The most difficult part is knowing if his particular remedy is the right one for our child. This is a very big and weighty decision. There are several types of shunts and all come with their own pluses and minuses. Some are less risky to put in but carry more risk for the future. Most will have to be monitored closely and possibly replaced several times. Because of all of these factors we feel that it is wise to get more opinions. That isn't very easy since there are only a few pediatric neurosurgeons in each large city. Thankfully, the Lord knew about this long before we did and placed a person in our life who can help us. In fact we traveled in China together to receive our daughters and are on the same timeline to travel together again to receive our sons this fall. We serve a truly amazing God. He knows what we need and He helps us every step of the way. So instead of travelling to several different cities and trying to get appointments with different specialists, our friend, a neurosurgeon in Michigan is going to help us get some opinions from the pediatric neurosurgeons he works with. If they agree that the procedure our surgeon is suggesting is the best option for Anna's situation then we will most likely do the surgery in mid-August. This is actually great timing since we will most likely be travelling to China in mid-October to bring Samuel home. If the other neurosurgeons feel that this procedure is not the best one for Anna we will have to decide what the best way to proceed is.

As I mentioned before, her condition continues to remain stable. There is no rush except for the fact that it would definitely be easier to get all of this done before we add another little one to our family. I am working on resigning myself to the idea of mid-October travel to China, as late September seems impossible at this time. Due to Chinese holidays in September and the first week in October it looks like our earliest "Gotcha day" will be October 8th.  You know what is crazy? October 8th is Anna's Gotcha day! We were hoping it would be earlier because of much higher hotel rates starting October 15th. We are trusting that God, working through the generosity of friends and family will help us raise the money to cover these increased travel costs. I will post more on how you can help with that next week.

For now, please continue to pray for my heart. Pray that I would be able to focus on what is before me each day and not feel overwhelmed. Pray that I would offer grace and peace to my husband and children even as I feel stretched and weary physically and emotionally. Pray that God would give all of the doctors wisdom as they view Anna's information, and that God would give us peace regarding the timing of the procedure and which procedure will give Anna the best outcome.

I am so thankful to have all of you with me on this journey. When we adopted Anna it was through many tears and much fear. The Lord has blessed us beyond compare by bringing Anna into our lives. Her life has and will be filled with many trials, but also many victories. Our faith will be strengthened and above all, no matter what, we will glorify the name of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

I want to close today's post with a something I have learned from my brother in law, Travis VandeNoord, a two time cancer survivor. I always enjoy being at his home for prayer before meals because He closes his prayers with a different ending than our typical, "In Jesus name Amen." He knows what means to face a difficult illness, even death, at a very young age.  This is his benediction-

"God is good, all the time, and all the time, God is good"

I believe this with all of my heart and I hope that you do too. I'm getting out of bed now. I'm going to hug my kids, and start my day. Because-"Today is the day that the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it!"

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Some weeks are hard

"Look at the birds. They don't plant or harvest of store food in barns, for your heavenly Father feeds them. And aren't you far more valuable to him than they are? Can all your worries add a single moment to your life? Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and He will give you everything you need. So don't worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries.  Today's trouble is enough for today." 
Matthew 6:26-27, 33-34

The past few days have been difficult. Adoption is hard. That isn't a secret. If it were easy everyone would be doing it. But people don't want to do things that are hard. And many days, even though I have chosen hard, the burden becomes greater than I can manage on my own. Normally I don't write about "the hard stuff."  I cry with K.C., call my friends, go shopping :) But right now I feel that the best thing to do is to just humbly ask for your prayers. I want to dwell on the above passage, let it soak into me.  I want to feel God's peace over everything in my life, especially Samuel's adoption.  But right now I cannot do it alone. Would you please lift me up in prayer?  Please pray that I would allow God's peace to overwhelm during the next several weeks. That I would "Seek the Kingdom of God above all else." 

So here's a little bit of the back story. Of course there is more, but these are the two big things I would like to share.

On Adoption- On May 22nd our Adoption Dossier was Logged-in in China.  That was five weeks ago. Back then, many families in our same situation were receiving their Letters of Acceptance 45-60 days after being Logged-in. Once you receive your LOA (Letter of Acceptance) you can plan to travel within 8-10 weeks on average. So I was thinking that by today, 35 days into our wait, we were at least half way through our LOA wait.  Unfortunately, adoption timelines change all of the time and over the past month many families have been waiting well over 60 days to receive this very precious adoption document.  This is the part where the worry and stress have become a problem. I am not in control of any portion of this process. All I can do is wait.

For the past month I have had a wonderful peace over the adoption. Our paperwork was done, all we had to do now was wait around 60 days and I was OK with that. (Not thrilled of course, but I knew it was just part of the process.)  I was excited that we would probably travel sooner than we had originally thought.  Originally, we had thought we would have to wait until November, but things moved quickly during the first several months and our Dossier was in China in 3 1/2 months. Very fast!  I was content with waiting 60 days for the Approval, and had figured that would put us in China in Late September/Early October.  But now I'm doubting, I'm worrying, I'm stressing about things that are completely out of my control.  I want my little boy home. I miss him, I love him, and I long every day for his presence in our family.  I know that God has all of this worked out in His perfect timing and I trust Him.  It is very possible that things will speed up again over the next month and I'm worrying over nothing. Lord, please let this be the case. 

So today I pray the passage above.  Will you pray it with me, for me, for yourself?  I am sure that most of you reading this have your own life situations that are making it hard for you to trust God and not worry. I firmly believe in Matthew 18:20 "For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” We may not be in the room together, but our hearts and minds can be together in unison asking for the Lord's peace in whatever situation we are in.

The second situation I would request prayer for is regarding Anna.  As you read in my previous post, Anna is doing just great! Unfortunately there is still the matter of the excess spinal fluid in her spinal column.  So on Monday, June 30th she will undergo her semi-annual MRI to check on the level of fluid in her brain and spine. This procedure requires over 2 hours in the MRI so she will be going under anesthesia to keep her asleep and still during the process. If you have read my previous posts on this you know that in this particular matter I have been asking God for a miracle. 6 months ago, the MRI showed no increase in fluid, so the neurosurgeon felt that it was in her best interest to just continue to watch and wait. So here we are, 6 months later, watching again. I try to be at peace, but I struggle. I don't want her to have to go through another surgery, especially a spinal surgery. But again, it is not in my control. Outwardly, she shows no signs of any change.  She continues to improve in her walking and strength, she has good bowel and bladder function (way above expectations for her condition.) Here again I need your prayers for peace. Help me to trust that God has this under control. He loves Anna, He loves our family, and He knows the outcome. 

Lately, I have been thinking a lot about miracles. As I read the Gospels and the book of Acts recently I observed the patterns of healing. I was convicted that my prayers were too narrow, that instead of asking God for too much, I was asking Him for too little. Why only ask for healing in her spine, why not ask for complete healing of her feet and legs too? What stood out to me most was that Jesus and His disciples healed to bring glory to God. It wasn't so much so that people could have a happier, easier life. For all of the stories we read of healing, I am sure there were hundreds more who did not receive the healing they desired. Did those who were not healed not have enough faith? I don't think so. I think that God in his infinite wisdom knew that through their disability they would bring Him more glory than if they were healed.  So I believe it is with Anna. Every day, I see how God uses Anna's disability for His glory. Every time we go somewhere and people see the little girl in pigtails, smiling and strutting around on her crutches they can't help but smile too. I can't go anywhere with Anna without someone coming up to me and telling me what an inspiration she is to them. So for now, even though I do, every day, pray for complete healing for Anna I don't think it is what is going to bring God the most glory.  

Would you continue to pray with our family for healing, for peace, and for God's glory to continue to be evident through our little girl.  Please pray that Monday's MRI will show no increase in spinal fluid and even more, that it would show less. Pray that we would have God's peace no matter what the outcome and that we would continue to trust Him with Anna's health. 

Thank you for lifting up our family during these emotionally draining weeks and months. I believe in the power of the prayers of the saints. Amen.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Update on Anna

It's been a month since Anna got her casts off! What a blessing to see her running around again with her crutches.  It didn't take long for her to get back into the swing of walking, although there were several reminders to walk and not crawl.  Our trip to Disney World and the Beach ended up being excellent physical therapy and she is now doing better than ever in her ambulation. She still has a long way to go in balance, but she continues to become more independent every day.  She is learning to master the stairs and has now at least figured out how to scoot and crawl up the stairs with her crutches around her arms so that she always has them with her.  She is becoming much more independent in toileting. It is HARD to get your pants on and of when you can't stand up without support, but she is figuring out all sorts of tricks to get the job done.  As always she is full of energy and non-stop talking.  She absolutely cannot wait for little brother and prays every day for us to be able to go to China soon to get him.

Here's a little video of Anna walking with her new feet.  She's not wearing her braces here, which we don't normally do, but I wanted to get a video to show how awesome her new improved feet are! If you are viewing over e-mail the video link is http://youtu.be/0_EgMzqisQ8

Yesterday we went to the Kansas City Zoo.  Anna decided it would be fun to do a ropes course. I was so impressed with how skillfully she conquered the ropes I made a little music video. Enjoy! The video link is http://youtu.be/8oYmYtI06Vs

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Anna's first trip to Disney World!

I'm sitting and writing this post from  a wonderful balcony overlooking the ocean. Tomorrow we will be heading back home to enjoy the rest of summer vacation and to get our house prepared to welcome Samuel this fall.  A few months ago this trip seemed so far away.  With school schedules, adoption paperwork, K.C.'s work travel, and lots of home improvement projects I wasn't really enjoying my life as much as I would have liked to. In January, before we knew we would be adopting Samuel, we had promised ourselves and our kids that this year was going to be a vacation year.  The last two years of preparing for Anna, bringing her home, and adjusting to life with a little one with special needs along with K.C.'s work and travel schedule increasing had taken their toll.  Anna's adoption and medical care left us with little money or time left over for vacation. But vacations are important. They help you get away from the everyday stresses of life and connect as a family. So we decided that despite the fact that we were embarking on another adoption we really wanted to keep that promise to ourselves and our kids and we wanted to go to Disney World! Anna is at such a fun age, and the older kids hadn't been in years so we decided to just go and enjoy ourselves. Thankfully we still had 2 day tickets left to Disney we had purchased 8 years ago and with the miles on Southwest from K.C.'s business trips we were able to fly all six of us to Orlando for free.

While we were at Disney World I mentioned to K.C. that I felt a little guilty spending money on this vacation while we are in the middle of an adoption.  I was so blessed by his response, " You should never feel guilty about adopting a child."  That was the grace I needed. Adoptions are so expensive and it is so hard to figure out how to afford all of it, but God always provides. Our Heavenly Father knows what we need.  I know that right now, for us, we needed to go to Disney World. We did it as frugally as we could and we enjoyed every minute of making memories with our kids. At the end of our day at the Magic Kingdom we were riding the monorail back to the parking lot and a very sleepy little girl looked up at me from her stroller and said, "Mommy, that was fun going to Disney World." That was all I needed to know that we had made the right decision. In a few months Anna's life is going to change dramatically. Right now, spending time making her feel special and loved is very important. Taking time out of our busy life and just enjoying time together as a family is something we have all needed and it was worth every penny.

Here's a little slideshow of some of our Magic Kingdom fun.