The Lord gives and the Lord takes away....

The last year or so has been hard, very hard, and yet wonderful, amazingly joyful! 

Tomorrow will be a year since we heard the news that our little Lucy, our daughter still in China we were in process to adopt, passed away unexpectedly at her orphanage.  I want to shiver when I think of that heart wrenching pain we experienced as we grieved losing her in those first few months. (See original post here: http://www.hightonfamily.org/adoption-blog/2013/12/3/lucy-jane-forever-in-our-hearts )

It’s really so hard to wrap my head around this year when I look back.  We were riding a high going into the fall last year having gotten our dossier to China and having completed an amazing Both Hands fundraiser.  That project was such a blessing to us.  Soon after the completion of that project, we got the referral for the cutest little China doll.  Oh Lucy was so cute!  We felt so sure she was our girl and peace to move forward and were anxiously awaiting final approvals from China when we found out that she had passed.  We loved Lucy and had such hopes and dreams for that adorable little girl but that was never meant to be, but then why go through the pain of it all?  Sometimes we never get the answers this side of heaven.

Fast forward to now we have our beautiful Rachel home almost 8 months and we all can’t imagine life without her.  She’s such a joy, such a happy girl and she fits in with us perfectly.  My dad had often said to me how he just couldn't understand how we got Rachel because her personality matches so perfectly with our family.  She’s just the right level of stubborn and strong willed to compete with the other strong willed and stubborn Germans and English in our house.  My answer to him all the time was God did it.  There’s no other explanation.

Again this fall, we had more loss.  My dad passed away on October 5th after a two year battle with liver cancer.  Wow, that pain of loss is back again.  My dad was such a big presence in my life growing up, as an adult and in the lives of my kids.  My dad cared about relationships and he spent the time with me growing up to ensure that I knew he cared and we've always had such a close relationship.  He wanted that with my kids too.  He came to cheer them every season at soccer and baseball.  He was at every one of my daughter’s plays at every birthday party and when Abigail called to invite him over for pancakes for dinner, well he got in his car and came right over.  Before he got sick, he was rolling around on my basement floor with my boys wrestling, sword fighting, Lego building and playing dolls with the girls.  He was a super dad and a super grandpa.  We miss him.  Every day my kids talk about him, wish he were here, wish he was coming over with nana, write notes to him and sometimes still cry for him.   I’m beyond thankful that he lived long enough to meet Rachel and vice versa.  Rachel amazes me with how much she remembers.  Every time she sees nana, she asks where grandpa is. 

So I can’t help but think of the verse in Job 1:21, “The Lord gives and the Lord takes away, blessed be the name of the Lord.”  This has been a season where we've been excited with what the lord gave us and so saddened by what was taken away, yet still, blessed is the name of the Lord. 

It’s easy to ride the high during the good, but with the loss of Lucy and my dad this year, I could not imagine having kept my sanity without the presence of the Lord to walk me through.  Dealing with the pain of loss is not easy in fact, it’s just plain awful!  Unbearable at times.  I now have more compassion for those who ‘numb’ the pain through addictions because dealing with it just sucks, but it’s necessary. 

It’s been a very hard year of loss but the Lord’s presence is real, His comfort is real, His peace that passes all understanding is real, His joy is real and I’d be lost with Him.  I still think about Lucy a lot.  It's even more comforting to know our little girl is wrestling around with grandpa or as my kids imagine, Lucy is riding along on a baby panda and grandpa is running along after her.  I can see it and my dad is giggling the whole time.  Despite the loss, I’m thankful that every day I can look into the face of the little reminder of God’s faithfulness as she runs into my bed (bright and early) every morning.  The Lord does give abundantly and He takes away yet I’m still declaring Blessed be the name of the Lord.  

One month home!

Wow, we've been home nearly a month.  Wow, how time flies when you're having fun (or completely jet lagged!)  What a difference a month has made for our little girl.  She has been coming out of her shell more and more and showing us her sassy personality.  She fits in so well in our family!  I love how Abigail, Joshua and Trevin have completely accepted Rachel as their sister.  There's no questions about why she looks different or mention that she's not really part of the family.  To them, she is their sister, they love her and that's the end of it.  Trevin has clearly stated that all the men have someone to protect, dad protects mom, Josh protects Abigail and Trevin's role in life is to protect Rachel and boy does he take that serious.  No one is allowed to mess with his sister, except him of course!!  

The kids in their Big Sister (Jie Jie), Big Brother (Ge Ge) and Little Sister (Mei Mei) shirts!  Oh my babies are so cute!

The kids in their Big Sister (Jie Jie), Big Brother (Ge Ge) and Little Sister (Mei Mei) shirts!  Oh my babies are so cute!

Trevin loving on his sister... this lasted for about 5 seconds before Rachel decked him and yelled at him to go away!!

Trevin loving on his sister... this lasted for about 5 seconds before Rachel decked him and yelled at him to go away!!

Out exploring together!!

Out exploring together!!

As with many children home through adoption, there is a period of time soon after you get the child and runs an undefined amount of time where the child will be on their best behavior, this period is known in the adoption world as the honeymoon period.  At first, I just thought Rachel was an easy kid and so obedient and would go with the flow... well, I believe we were experiencing the honeymoon period. She has begun expressing her opinions a lot more in the last few weeks.  I used to put her in her crib and she laid down and went to sleep as if that was what was expected of her with no questions asked.  Now she lets us know that she doesn't really want to take a nap.  Where she used to sit through her whole meal and eat so well, regardless of what her siblings were doing, now she wants up as soon as they get up and insists on being 'done' as soon as they are.  She wants to do EVERYTHING her siblings are doing, including clearing her plate, load the dishwasher etc.  While that sounds like it's fabulous, she's already broken a bowl and thrown out silverware in her attempt at being a big girl.  She insists on drinking from a big girl cup like her siblings... we've been changing her shirt nearly every day by lunch after she's dumped a purple fruit smoothie all over herself.  Her siblings ride a scooter, she puts on her helmet and is already pushing along on a scooter, insisting she can catch up to them (I'm sure you can imagine that goes well).  While this all sounds cute, there are lots of other things her siblings can do that she can't do.  When we try to 'save' her from whatever attempt, it usually ends in a meltdown.  So we're working on adjusting a lot around here so Rachel can learn what's safe and not safe.  From what we saw in the orphanage, I don't think she ever saw a bathroom or a kitchen.  The stove, the toilet, the refrigerator, outlets, sinks, and cabinets are so much fun to explore but many are dangerous too.  She certainly does not like to be told 'no' so she still has tantrums several times a day but we're starting to figure out how to handle them better. 

We've run into a few communication problems.  Her nannies spoke mandarin to her and she understood that quite well from what interaction we saw she had with them.  Now we've gone and switched up her language so we know that is causing delays but she did not really speak Mandarin much except for a few words.  So her speech development is quite delayed due to her cleft palate and the language change.

We took her to be evaluated at CHOP last week.  She did really well considering we were crammed into a tiny doctors office with five professionals who were all evaluating her.  I can't wait to get that bill.  They determined all the lab work she would need and she ended up needing 9 viles of blood taken.  That did not go well but we were ready with a lollipop as soon as it was over so the tears ended quickly.  So far we know she is delayed with speech and some motor areas but all to be expected considering her institutional environment.  Her cognitive development is right on par.  We knew she was smart!!  We are arranging for her to have therapies to help her catch up and have no doubts that she'll be talking up a storm this time next year.  

We took a last minute trip down to Ocean City, NJ this past weekend.  What a fabulous time it was!!  We debated going because we have been purposeful in staying home with her as much as possible to get used to her new family and home but an opportunity to meet friends down there came up and we decided to go down for one night.  On Saturday, Rachel was hesitant of the water and screamed if you got too close.  She was happy to be on the sand and dig around.  She even fell asleep in our beach tent with dad for her nap.  We walked the boardwalk and she got to experience Brown's donuts (the best donuts we've ever had), George's Ice Cream and Manco and Manco pizza.  It really does not get much better than that!   She had such a great time and was so good about staying close to us and sitting in the stroller.  This is huge progress from the little girl in China who was miss independent who refused the confines of the stroller and insisted on walking everywhere.  By Sunday, Rachel was letting us put her feet in the water and soon was out walking in the water with her dad.  She overcomes her fears so quickly.  I'm so proud of her!  I'm thrilled to know she loves the beach like the rest of us.  

"There's the water mom, take me over there BUT DON'T put me in it!!"

"There's the water mom, take me over there BUT DON'T put me in it!!"

Such a happy girl!

Such a happy girl!

I could listen to that giggle all day!

I could listen to that giggle all day!

I put her toes in the water quickly then through her in the air!!  She thought it was a game and I was helping her feel more comfortable near the water.  We had so much fun!!

I put her toes in the water quickly then through her in the air!!  She thought it was a game and I was helping her feel more comfortable near the water.  We had so much fun!!

My happy family of 6!  Oh wait, not Trevin, he's mad we took him away from his sand castle.  

My happy family of 6!  Oh wait, not Trevin, he's mad we took him away from his sand castle.  

And soon she was walking along with dad!  The first day she refused to get near the water!  She amazes me!

And soon she was walking along with dad!  The first day she refused to get near the water!  She amazes me!

I can't even describe how happy this makes me that she loves the water and the beach!  

I can't even describe how happy this makes me that she loves the water and the beach!  

When we got home from the beach, she transitioned well back to her crib and slept great.  I feel like the close time with all of us to play together and spend time together last week was such a boost for our bonding and attachment.  While at home, Russ and I are often distracted with house chores, yard work and homeschooling, but at the beach we were just focused on playing together and we all had such a great time!  

All in all, we're doing great.  Our biggest challenge is communication and her speech.  Also, we will be visiting the craniofacial team at St Peters in the next few weeks also to see what other work will need to be done for her palate (if any).  

Everyone should wear protective head gear while carrying a shovel!

Everyone should wear protective head gear while carrying a shovel!

I was talking with a friend recently who has two children through adoption and we were discussing how difficult the process is but so worth it!  It really is so hard to get through all the paperwork, the matching, the wait, and travel, the expense but it was all SO WORTH IT!  Rachel is just simply precious!  Many people who question whether they could adopt because they don't think you can love a child not born from your womb or because the kid will be so messed up and unfixable... it's all a lie!  You were born to love, designed by the God who is love.  These kids are overcomers and so resilient.  I'm floored every day by what Rachel can accomplish and how quickly she learns.  A month and a half ago, she was an orphan, without a family.  I'm in awe of God's graciousness to our family to bless us with this precious girl to raise as our daughter.  Wow, what we would have missed out on if we did not take that leap of faith to start this journey.  People comment how 'lucky' Rachel is to be in our family... NO NO!!!  We are the blessed ones to call her our daughter and sister.  She has restored the joy that we felt had left us when we lost our little Lucy.  Thank you Lord for reminding us that "weeping may last for the night but joy comes in the morning" (Psalm 30:5).  She is our little joy, seriously, she is so happy.  The radiant smile on her face when she sees her dad in the morning, or when she spots her sister across a room full of kids can melt your heart.  She is starting to "get it", that she is part of a family and we're blessed to watch her become a daughter and sister.  

There are times I wake up at night and I can't help but think about those precious faces of the children still left in her orphanage.  I pray for them often that their families will find them.  I read a staggering statistic recently that of those orphaned, abandoned and children who have been trafficked, if just 8% of the world's christians would step out and adopt, there would be no more orphan statistics.  So this is not meant to be a guilt trip at all, but I just want to encourage you, if you've ever considered adoption but think it's too hard or you can't afford it or you just don't think you can handle it... well you can, through Christ who gives you strength.  I can't handle it!  Four kids and homeschooling is enough to drive me bonkers and some days it does, but it's worth it and every day God gives me the strength to love on my babies.  Rachel was worth it!  Those precious babies still left in her orphanage and every other orphanage and foster home are worth it!  Worth every dollar spent!  Worth every late night working on paperwork!  Worth every tear shed!  Wow, I wonder if that's how Jesus feels about me and you... that death on the cross was worth it.  Wow, adoption has stretched us to love more like Christ and we're so very thankful for the opportunity. 

Thank you for your continued prayers and support of our cocoon lifestyle at the moment.  It won't last forever but we see the fruit in Rachel so again... THANK YOU!

She's SOOO worth it!!

She's SOOO worth it!!

Two weeks home!

Oh it is good to be home!  Many have asked how we're doing so I'm sorry that I haven't updated in a while.

 We really struggled through the jet lag but now feel fully adjusted back to our time zone and happy to be back into our new 'normal.'  We've all been doing some adjusting to our new place in the family.  Trevin may be taking the adjustment the hardest as it is always hard when you're no longer the baby, but each day is getting easier for him also.  All the kids just love on Rachel.  Abigail wants to take care of her all the time so we're learning when it's okay to play mom and when it's not.  Joshua is extremely gentle with Rachel and so patient.  That boy will be a wonderful father one day.  Trevin wants to be in her face all the time and she's really not interested in that.  We're fairly certain she has told Trevin off in Mandarin several times.  He does however love to tell everyone that he's a BIG brother.  Size matters a lot to boys so the fact that he's now the BIG brother and not the little brother... that's big news!  

Playdoh kept them busy for a good 45 minutes!!  A record!  It's amazing what can be accomplished with the older two with school work in 45 minutes without interruption! 

Playdoh kept them busy for a good 45 minutes!!  A record!  It's amazing what can be accomplished with the older two with school work in 45 minutes without interruption! 

Rachel is learning more English every day.  We're just amazed by her.  She is starting to respect boundaries a little more also.  When we say no to something, the meltdowns last only a few minutes where as they used to go on longer.  

We've seen that she is obsessed with dogs but not so daring as to touch them.  My in laws had their dog over and at Josh's baseball game tonight, she just follows the dogs all over the place and screams if she's not near them but she just can't bring herself to pet them.  

Josh pushing Rachel in the swing.  She loved it and he loved to make her laugh!!  

Josh pushing Rachel in the swing.  She loved it and he loved to make her laugh!!  

Finally got her up on daddy's shoulders for a hike through the woods.  She was so scared the first 5 times we've tried this!!  Yea, another success!

Finally got her up on daddy's shoulders for a hike through the woods.  She was so scared the first 5 times we've tried this!!  Yea, another success!

We had our first post placement visit today as well.  Our social worker was amazed by how big she is as most two year old's that come home and are typically a lot smaller than their age and how well developmentally she is doing.  She really amazes us every day.  We expected a two year old child who would be physically and developmentally delayed but she does not appear to be at all.  We showed her a puzzle and she amazed us with how quickly she learned to match up shapes and colors after only trying it for a day or so.  

She was on a floor with all boys in her orphanage... she fits in well with the boys at home!  

She was on a floor with all boys in her orphanage... she fits in well with the boys at home!  

We are taking her to the Children's hospital of Phili next week for an appointment with the international adoption specialists.  They will do a full assessment on her as well as blood work to see if any of the Chinese immunizations actually stuck.

Others have asked if she came home from China potty trained.  No, she was in diapers when we got her.  They did not start training her yet and we are not yet either.  We will wait until she understands English more and is more comfortable with our family.  She was also using a bottle at the orphanage so we haven't stopped that either as that is still a comfort for her but we probably will soon after meeting with the IA (International Adoption) team at CHOP next week.  For now, we wanted to change as little as possible for her as we could control since there was so much already changing in her life.  

She is attaching well to us but not as much as I had thought so we are going to continue to cocoon for awhile and try to avoid a lot of visitors and try not to go out too much (which with three other kids schedules is quite difficult!)  For those not familiar with the adoptive terminology of cocooning, it is when the new family through adoption will stay home just with immediate family so the child can get used to what a family environment is like rather than their understanding of rotating nannies.  So as her parents, Russ and I will do all the holding, feeding, changing and meeting all of her needs so she understands that we are her parents and only caregivers.  The more regimented with this we are in theory, the quicker the attachment to our family and will help her understand she is safe with us and that all of her needs will be met by us.  I'm thankful for great friends and family who respect and understand these boundaries.

Overall we are doing really well.  I know so many of you are dying to meet her.  Thank you for being patient with us as we try to determine what's best for Rachel's attachment to our family.  

They look so cute working together don't they?  Yea, this lasted all of about 2 seconds before Rachel started yelling at Trevin to let her do it herself.  She is very independent (when she wants to be).  

They look so cute working together don't they?  Yea, this lasted all of about 2 seconds before Rachel started yelling at Trevin to let her do it herself.  She is very independent (when she wants to be).  

First days at home!

The first night at home was a long one for Rachel.  She was crying a lot and I spent a lot of the night on the floor next to her crib rubbing her back.  She is in Abigail's room so eventually I climbed into bed with Abigail and slept on and off in there rather than making the trip down the hallway.  My house feels huge after spending two plus weeks in hotels and seeing a home in Beijing.  Just a side note, we are so blessed in this country to have so many single family homes with running water and toilets!  Enough said!

Rachel and I got up around 3:30am and headed down to join dad who was already downstairs working on his computer.  Abigail joined us soon after and we enjoyed delicious jersey bagels.  Wow, such a good taste from home.  Even bagels, muffins and donuts in China at fancy hotels do not taste like Jersey.  The breakfast buffets are nice but I'm so done with fried eggs, soggy bacon and the Asian's attempt at a western breakfast.  By the end I could only stomach oatmeal and fruit in the morning.  

Rachel definitely has a 'see' food issue.  She sees food and throws a fit until she gets what she wants.  We know this is a typical survival mode for her as she probably did not always eat when she was hungry.  She is a solid girl so she was not starved but she likes to have all the food she sees.  So my counter which was now filled with fresh fruits and veggies from friends who delivered while we were away was more than she could handle.  We had to hide all the food from view and not open cabinets or the fridge while she's looking.  Hoping this will change over time.  

When the boys got up, we spent a lot of the day just playing together.  Play is the best way to bond with a new child.  So for those who know Trevin, he is always in warrior mode so Rachel got her first experience sword fighting and had a great time.  She was laughing and giggling as everyone she hit would fall to the ground.  

She refuses to hold the sword by the handle because she knows better.  These are only foam swords so no harm done.

She refuses to hold the sword by the handle because she knows better.  These are only foam swords so no harm done.

Everyone in their seat!

Everyone in their seat!

She thought she was hilarious sitting in her chair then standing up and then plopping down again.  She was making us all laugh.

She thought she was hilarious sitting in her chair then standing up and then plopping down again.  She was making us all laugh.

The kids were playing shops where each had a shop and they went around buying things from each other with Monopoly money.  Rachel started following Josh around.  He's so gentle with kids that it was natural for her to start to play with him more before Trevin.  Trevin is a bit intimidating to adults I think, let alone kids with his rough play but she's warming up to him a little bit.  She yells at him in her little Mandarin talk when she gets mad.  It's humorous.  

We went outside but she was really scared.  I could not put her down on the grass.  I really don't think she's even seen it.  I don't remember seeing any grass at her orphanage.  Only paved driveways and a paved playground.  So as long as I held her, she was happy to be outside and watch the kids play.  Eventually, we tried the stroller and she was happy in there as long as I was close.  

Helping Abigail play Frisbee.

Helping Abigail play Frisbee.

On day number 2 home we've seen vast improvements.  She slept so much better.  She slept through from around 6:30pm - 5am.  She ate well and we made a lot of progress outside.  She actually let me put her down for a few minutes and she walked on the grass for a little bit.  On day one when she saw a neighbor, she started crying and reaching for me to pick her up.  The second day, she saw a neighbor and waved at them.  

We feel like we've won the lotto with this girl.  We expected the worst and she has far exceeded our expectations.  Don't get me wrong, she does throw an epic tantrum when she doesn't get what she wants or she gets frustrated with our inability to understand her.  We suspect she was totally the princess in her group.  She was the only girl left on her floor of all boys and I think the nannies gave her whatever she wanted.  She throws something on the floor and yells until someone picks it up for her.  Well that has changed very quickly.  We responded to her requests on day one but we soon figured her out and now she understands the words 'get it' and we celebrate when she picks up the toy for herself.  She likes the applause and is responding well to a little positive reinforcement.  For the most part, she communicates her needs well but there are times when we don't understand what she wants.  We are working through a lot of issues but she's overall a very happy little girl and has started playing well with the boys.  She does not say a lot that we understand but she has picked up a few words since we've had her.  Her favorite one: uh oh!  She drops something... uh oh!  Someone falls... uh oh!  It's so darn cute!  She also says bye bye and waves and says a lot of 'mama'.  

All dressed in their outfits from China and she's already a warrior with her brothers sword.

All dressed in their outfits from China and she's already a warrior with her brothers sword.

I've put so many pictures of her smiling on the blog.  So you don't get the wrong idea that she's never sad, here's one of her tantrums.  She's still so cute!!

I've put so many pictures of her smiling on the blog.  So you don't get the wrong idea that she's never sad, here's one of her tantrums.  She's still so cute!!

She loves riding in the gator with her brothers!

She loves riding in the gator with her brothers!

IMG_6620.JPG
She's walking on the grass!  She freaked out when she saw the grass the day before! 

She's walking on the grass!  She freaked out when she saw the grass the day before! 

Most of the time however, this is how she rides... in mama's arms!

Most of the time however, this is how she rides... in mama's arms!

Praising Jesus!  No, not really!  She's whining to be picked up again.  

Praising Jesus!  No, not really!  She's whining to be picked up again.  

We're still struggling from jet lag.  It's especially tough when the boys are on their normal schedule but each day is getting easier.  We feel super blessed to finally be home with the little girl we've prayed and dreamed about for years.  Continue to pray for this sweet girl to adjust well to our family, to connect well with each of us and that we can conquer some of the institutional habits / fears.  

Last day in China and flight home!

Oh it's good to be home but experiencing jet lag while my boys are still on their schedule has been very difficult.  Rachel, Russ, Abigail and I want to go to bed by 5pm and the boys are still up until 8 so those last few hours of the day have been brutal.  Other than the jet lag, we are thrilled to be home.  

Our last night in Guangzhou, we went on a dragon boat ride on the Pearl River.  Usually you have to buy the dinner on the boat but Holt arranged for Papa Johns instead.  Oh yummy!  It was a beautiful night and good to spend some time with some of the families we've met on this journey.

On the river cruise.

On the river cruise.

Neat TV tower in the background which Rachel thought was cooler than the camera!  It did change colors constantly so I can't blame her!

Neat TV tower in the background which Rachel thought was cooler than the camera!  It did change colors constantly so I can't blame her!

A group picture with the other Holt families right before our visas arrived!  It was a big group and we were missing a family in this picture!

A group picture with the other Holt families right before our visas arrived!  It was a big group and we were missing a family in this picture!

Our visas arrived on time and without mistake (which was huge because mistakes do happen but we left no time for error) at around 4pm in Guangzhou so we immediately hopped onto a bus with two other families who were heading for Hong Kong.  We arrived at the train station.  Thank God our guide took us right where we were supposed to go otherwise we would never have found the right place.  There were not very good signs, at least none in English.  Thankfully Russ had a good system for managing the luggage because we did have to take it up and down multiple escalators (no elevators) and to the train by ourselves.  The train ride itself was very nice and smooth and took two hours to Hong Kong.

Abby and our Jersey friend Aiden on the train to Hong Kong. 

Abby and our Jersey friend Aiden on the train to Hong Kong. 

 Once in Hong Kong, we had to go through customs and immigration again and our driver was waiting and took us and our other Jersey friends to the airport hotel.  We checked in around 9:30 and tried to go to sleep.  Poor Rachel must have been so confused.  She had such a hard time sleeping as this was her third hotel in a week and a half.  A new bed, new surroundings etc.  She finally did fall asleep late and then we all had to be up early, around 6.  We headed over to the airport and got checked in.  Again, through customs to exit the country.  Hong Kong airport gets an award for family friendly security.  If you have kids, you by pass the VERY long line through security.  They have a separate line for families with little kids. Oh it made my morning.  Little Rachel has waited in more lines than I'd like to remember and she is a very typical two year old, impatient.  

There's our plane!

There's our plane!

We boarded the plane on time and took off on time for the dreaded 15 hours.  Rachel did surprisingly well.  A sticker book and that draw with water Melissa and Doug book were both lifesavers.   She spent at least an hour on each of those, yeah and then we had 13 more to go!  When the food came around, it was rice and beef something and she insisted on using the fork and eating it by herself.  Yea, we both sat in rice for the remainder of the 13 hours.  She did nap for an hour and a half early on and then her and Abigail both fell asleep all tangled together around 9pm and slept a few more hours.  Russ and I were both awake.  Rachel squirms in her sleep and was constantly falling off the seat so there was no sleeping for Russ or I.  

My girls passed out on the plane!  

My girls passed out on the plane!  

Finally we landed and Rachel became a US citizen.  The turbulence was awful for the last hour so everyone looked a little green.  Then we waited in the immigration line for an hour and a half!  Ugh, the US immigration line always takes forever.  What's the deal??!  Worse than China or anywhere else.  Yea, so toddlers and long lines... ugh!  

When you arrive in the US with an adopted child, you have to hand over a sealed brown package to the immigration officers.  If it's been tampered with at all, you're in big trouble!  So, that's not stressful at all.  We handed it over to the officer and he didn't know what to do with it!  Really, after an hour and a half.  So Rachel and I had to go to a special office where there were all sorts of sketchy people waiting to speak with an officer.  Eventually someone knew what to do and Rachel and I were set free.  We found our bags and then had to go through customs where they scanned our bags (yes, another line).  

We got out of there and our ride was waiting and we went home.  We chose not to have the boys come to the airport or to invite family there because we knew we would be exhausted with a little girl who did not sleep well who was already terrified.  So we headed right home and Josh was super excited to see Rachel and Trevin just ran away from her.  They both gave us all hugs and Abigail kept hugging and hugging her brothers.  Rachel kept staring at her brothers.  She wasn't quite sure she wanted anything to do with them.  She stayed close to Russ and I the rest of the evening.  We ordered pizza before we got home and by then I was just plain dizzy from exhaustion.  It was only about 4:30 and I couldn't wait to go to bed.  We all ate and showered and tried to watch a movie with the boys as mom and dad had no energy for anything else but snuggling.  Rachel and I lasted probably until 6:30 and we went to bed.  Abigail had gotten the most sleep on the plane so she ended up putting the boys to bed while Russ supervised with half an eye open from bed.  

Rachel's first night home was rough as every night we transition has been.  She cried a lot in her sleep again.  I can't imagine how frightened she is with all the change in the last few weeks.  I'll write more about the first day home soon.

Safari Park and Consulate Appointment

Yesterday was a free day while we waited for the medical reports to come back which are needed for the visa appointment at the US Consulate.  So we went to the Safari Park along with some other Holt families.  The Safari Park is about an hour from the China Hotel.  It is essentially a HUGE zoo with a drive through safari.  We loaded onto a tram and went through the driving part of the safari first.  Rachel loved the whole ride.  She kept pointing to animals and grunting  and saying 'oooooh' at all the animals.  She does not say much that we understand but she sure does communicate well in other ways.  It was kind of like the drive through safari at Great Adventure or the Safari ride in Disney World but bigger and better.  

On the tram through the safari.

On the tram through the safari.

Abby and Isabella on the tram.

Abby and Isabella on the tram.

We saw lots of animals and the expressions on Rachel's face were priceless.  It was a hot day in Guangzhou.  It is hot here families who will be traveling soon.  Bring tank tops and shorts and Tide packets to wash them out in your bathtub.  I've been doing a lot of laundry.  We sweat so much it's not very nice to those around us to wear our clothes multiple times.  We brought a clothes line too and strung it around the hotel room and dried out all our clothes.  Highly recommend for those families traveling soon.  After the Safari ride, we walked around the rest of the zoo.  They have a lot of huge exhibits and the animals are surprisingly active.  A white tiger came right up to the glass and tried to eat Rachel.  It was neat to see the tiger so close but Rachel was terrified.  Bad parenting moment when the tiger tries to eat your kid.  We felt terrible that she got so scared.  Of course we had no idea that's why the tiger came up so close to the glass.  We moved on and Rachel quickly recovered so we don't think there is any permanent damage.  

I have pictures with Abigail in this same hat.  She's such a beautiful doll! 

I have pictures with Abigail in this same hat.  She's such a beautiful doll! 

Apparently there are still dinosaurs in China.  They are not extinct!

Apparently there are still dinosaurs in China.  They are not extinct!

Some of the highlights were the tiger cub play area.  They are so darn cute!

Some of the highlights were the tiger cub play area.  They are so darn cute!

Tiger cub nursery.

Tiger cub nursery.

Bear cubs!

Bear cubs!

Feed the giraffes!

Feed the giraffes!

Huge Koala exhibits!  

Huge Koala exhibits!  

You can feed the elephants by throwing bananas.  If you miss their mouth, they fall on the floor and that baby elephant went around and ate all the ones that fell on the ground.  So cute!  

You can feed the elephants by throwing bananas.  If you miss their mouth, they fall on the floor and that baby elephant went around and ate all the ones that fell on the ground.  So cute!  

Entering the Panda land.  This was one of the highlights too!

Entering the Panda land.  This was one of the highlights too!

We love Pandas!

We love Pandas!

More Pandas!

More Pandas!

Just admiring the pandas.  

Just admiring the pandas.  

Okay just one more panda picture!

Okay just one more panda picture!

Abigail and Russ rode on an elephant!

Abigail and Russ rode on an elephant!

My girl loves ice cream!

My girl loves ice cream!

18-IMG_5798.JPG
A bear that ran around the tiger cage at the Tiger show.  He was well trained.  

A bear that ran around the tiger cage at the Tiger show.  He was well trained.  

We had a great day at the safari park and highly recommend to other families who debate whether to make the trip.  Rachel did not nap at all again so we had to deal with her being delirious again but nothing a little ice cream couldn't manage.  We've learned she naps very well in the crib but not on us or in the stroller.  Should make for a fabulous flight home.  She seems to be adjusting really well to us.  She is fine being held by either of us now and even lets Abigail walk her around and hold her hand.  She does not like anyone to go near or touch her food but otherwise seems like a happy kid.  

When we got back at 6:30pm from the Safari Park, Russ ran out and got us McDonalds, baths and bed.  Rachel passed out quickly and slept well.  We've only eaten McDonalds twice on this trip and Papa Johns twice.  Otherwise we've been eating all the local food.  Abigail has been a champ at eating and trying lots of foods.  She doesn't like it all (either do I) but she's been trying it all.  Abigail really has been such a big help to us on this trip and a good sport about sleeping on the couch and managing through long days and boring appointments.  She just loves on her sister.  It helps a lot that she's made such a good friend on this trip.  She's already asking when we can visit Isabella when we get home.  Thankfully she made a friend from PA and not somewhere else in the country as there are families from all over the US here.  

This morning we had to be downstairs and on the bus at 9am for our consulate appointment.  We had to leave our watches, cell phones, pens and everything else in the hotel.  We left with our passports, room key and a diaper and cheerios.  Thank God for the cheerios.  They have gotten us through many a long boring appointment or bus ride.  We swore to the US government that we would not hurt, abandon and would take care of Rachel.  I signed with my fingerprints and we were out of there.  Our Holt guide will pick up the Visas tomorrow by 4pm and then we will be leaving Guangzhou by train.  We should arrive late night in Hong Kong.  We will spend the night at the airport hotel and then board our 15 hour flight early Thursday morning.  I think this will be my last update until we get home.  Please keep us in your prayers for a safe journey.  We should be landing around 3pm EST on Thursday.  I can't wait to get home and squeeze my boys!!!  Thank you all for following our journey.  We are thankful to God for bringing us to Rachel and can't wait to bring her home to meet her brothers, to see her home and all that life has for her there.  One less orphan and one more daughter!  Yes, thank you Jesus!

Easter in China

Happy Easter from China!  It was a little sad not to be home doing our traditional morning scavenger hunt with the kiddos, but so blessed to have spent Easter with our newest kiddo.  Our Rachel is such a joy to be with.  We're smitten!  9 Easters ago, my first daughter was born and now 9 Easters later plus a few days, we'll be bringing home our second daughter.  We are so blessed to have her as our own.  She fits right in.  I've been thinking back on our journey to get here and it's been very rough and emotional.  I've really been struggling a bit because our journey to Rachel meant saying good bye to the first little China girl we fell in love with.  Russ and I really can't imagine our bonding and attachment time with Rachel to have gone any smoother.  She is transitioning so well.  Would it have been the same with Lucy?  I so wanted a little baby when adopting, as young as possible.  So when we were matched with Lucy and she was only 10 months old, I was thrilled.  Had we gone on this journey and met Lucy, it would have been so different even simply because she was so young.  Rachel really is very smart for a two year old and I'm not just saying that because I'm her mom.  We are constantly blown away by how clever she is.  Adopting a child over two has been so much fun because she 'gets it' a little better.  When her nannies asked her who mamma was, she pointed to me.  And to baba and to jie jie (big sister).  So I guess I'm trying to say that we just feel so blessed to have her.  Maybe simply because we were willing to say yes to a more special needs child and love her as our own, God chose to bless us with this perfect little angel to be part of our family.  For whatever reason, God wanted Lucy with him, and he replaced her with just the perfect girl for our family.  I remember struggling so much when they gave us the referral for Rachel.  I was an emotional mess and could barely even look at her picture.  I totally gave the decision of our child to Russ to pray and ask God to give him the answer because I just had nothing left.  Our International Adoption medical team who reviewed her file thought her head size was too small and she might have mental delays etc and threw around some other words no parent ever wants to hear.  Due to those words, we thought we could never accept her.  Then God stepped in and moved Russ to tears while chopping wood that this girl was his daughter and he had to act..  Wow, thank you God that you made it so clear to Russ or we wouldn't have our perfect Rachel.  

So thinking back on this special Easter, I'm feeling especially blessed.  We've enjoyed introducing Rachel to so many firsts.  We may have missed her first bath, her first steps, and so many other firsts... but we're doing our best to make up for all those missed with so many new firsts.  We've taken more pictures and videos of this sweet baby girl in her first week with us than we have of our other kids in their first months.  We're making up for lost time.   We don't know if she's ever played with bubbles, but boy did she LOVE them.  

Blowing bubbles in the hotel room.  (She usually needs to have something in each hand to feel safe).  

Blowing bubbles in the hotel room.  (She usually needs to have something in each hand to feel safe).  

Bubbles!

Bubbles!

We had to work hard on figuring out how to blow out and not in but she figured it out and blew her own bubbles!

We had to work hard on figuring out how to blow out and not in but she figured it out and blew her own bubbles!

We woke up on the Easter morning and I surprised Abigail and Russ with Reece's Peanut Butter cups and Kit Kats from home that I've had stowed away in the luggage.  Both were so happy to see some treats from home.  So far the only chocolate we've found in China are M&M's, Snickers, Dove Chocolate and in one place we saw Reece's.  Everything else is local and so different.  They don't do chocolate like we do chocolate.  I've eaten more candy and drank more soda in this country than I have in years.  AND I'm still losing weight (I'm still in it to win it to all my diet competitors).  I'm not sure why but maybe it's the duck head or fish heads served at meals that takes away my appetite.  I usually never drink soda and either does Abigail but at restaurants, I'm not sure if there is bottled water or tap water so we usually go with the safer soda.  We've drank a lot of warm soda (staying away from the ice).  

Anyway, we ventured out today to the Christian church service on Shamian Island.  Our guide David took us and 5 other families on the subway which was an adventure all in itself.  Wow, what a beautiful subway system they have.  It's clean and modern.   It blows NYC subway out of the water.  It's far less complicated than NY also.  AND cheap too!  We spent about $1.20 for the 3 of us to ride to Shamian Island.  I went to the grocery store via the subway last night and it cost me 33 cents.   

Easter morning in our hotel lobby before venturing out to church.

Easter morning in our hotel lobby before venturing out to church.

Here we are in church.  It was super crowded and bilingual so we were able to worship in English and Mandarin.  

Here we are in church.  It was super crowded and bilingual so we were able to worship in English and Mandarin.  

Dad and his girls!

Dad and his girls!

After church we ventured around the island and stopped at the traditional Lucy's for lunch.  Ahhh, a taste of home... cheeseburgers, grilled cheese and french fries!  Oh how we've missed you! 

Abigail enjoying a grilled cheese!

Abigail enjoying a grilled cheese!

Rachel trying grilled cheese!  She liked that, did not enjoy the burger or fries that much!  She of course wanted ginger ale!  I never gave my other kids soda but this little one is the exception.  Just wait til we get home Rachel... no soda at home!

Rachel trying grilled cheese!  She liked that, did not enjoy the burger or fries that much!  She of course wanted ginger ale!  I never gave my other kids soda but this little one is the exception.  Just wait til we get home Rachel... no soda at home!

After lunch, Russ took Rachel back to the hotel for a nap and Abigail and I went shopping.  I decided to hire Ann, a personal shopper to help me find everything we wanted at the best price.  She was amazing!!  She took me to the pearl markets, silk dresses etc and saved me a ton of money and frustration!  We tried shopping in Nanjing and the language barrier is so great that we couldn't even understand the price and many shop owners couldn't even write the numbers using our number characters.  Anyway, Ann was fabulous and Abigail and I had a great time shopping with her.  

Abigail wearing her set of pearls!  She won't be seeing these again until her wedding day!  

Abigail wearing her set of pearls!  She won't be seeing these again until her wedding day!  

After shopping, we took Rachel down to the pool.  She has become quite the daddy's girl so she went right into the water with dad.  I just love seeing her so happy with her dad.  Don't get me wrong, she still loves her momma, but she has really grown to like her dad.

Thank you for the continued prayers.  Tomorrow we have another free day while we wait for the results of Rachel's TB test.  We will be heading to the Safari Park with other Holt families to see the pandas!!!!  On Tuesdays we go to the US consulate to finalize all the visa requirements and swear to the US government that we won't abandon, hurt etc our precious girl.  Get this, the US government will not allow you into the consulate with anything!  Just the clothes on your back and the shoes on your feet, and your passports.  No watches, no umbrellas, no cell phones, cameras, no pens and the list goes on!  The Chinese government buildings have been so much more accommodating.  Anyway, we're praying the medical reports come back fine and the rest of the paperwork goes smoothly.  We are dreading the return flight with a capital DREAD!!! Little Ms Active never sits still so it's going to be a long flight.  

Have a fabulous Easter!   

A sweet sister snuggle before bed!  

A sweet sister snuggle before bed!  

Medical checks

It's nice to be here with so many other families we had met on Facebook before arriving.  We went to breakfast and I saw so many familiar faces.  Abigail's buddy Isabella is back with us again.  They had to go to a different province so we haven't seen her since Beijing.  

Abigail and Isabella... so happy to be together again!

Abigail and Isabella... so happy to be together again!

Our travel group is 16 families so there are a lot of us from Holt all together.  We all met in the lobby at 9:30 and loaded two buses to the consulate for the medical checks.  This is an important step before we can get her visa to come home.  The kids have to go to four stations.  One for height, weight, and temperature, then to an ear, nose and throat, and then a general check, then finally for all children over two, they need to get their blood drawn for a TB test.  Sadly, Rachel turned two a few months ago so she had to get her blood taken.  They do no allow the parents in the room so that was awful for her and for us.  She came out screaming with her shirt soaked in tears.  I was standing with a lollipop prepared to cheer her up.  After that, we headed downstairs and waited for the other families to be done.  

After her medical check.  Lollipops do make all things better!

After her medical check.  Lollipops do make all things better!

When Rachel reaches for daddy, she points up... she loves being thrown in the air!  Such a daddy's girl.

When Rachel reaches for daddy, she points up... she loves being thrown in the air!  Such a daddy's girl.

At 3pm today, I need to meet the Holt staff to review paperwork to prepare for our visa appointments.  Tomorrow and Monday are free days for us.  We plan to go to church tomorrow morning, then some shopping and hopefully the Safari Park on Monday.  Tuesday we have our visa appointments and then Wednesday we hope to receive our Visa and we'll be traveling to Hong Kong by train that night and staying at the hotel at the airport and then fly home Thursday morning.  That's what the rest of the trip looks like.  Happy Easter to everyone back home.  Sad not to be celebrating the risen King with everyone at Zarephath.  

Traveling to Guangzhou

Yesterday was a long travel day.  A long day but only a two hour flight.  We met in the hotel lobby in Nanjing at 1pm and did not arrive at the hotel in Guangzhou until 8:30pm.  Rachel had her first plane ride.  She did very well all things considered.  She usually goes down for a nap at 12:30pm or so.  We tried getting her to nap before we left but it was not happening.  So we expected she would fall asleep on the bus to the airport... NOPE.  She wanted to walk all over the airport.  We did laps and laps.  It took forever to check in.  Our guide was checking in our whole group and it took a long time.  So Russ manned all the luggage and Abigail and I walked little Ms Independent all over the airport.  Up and down steps.  We finally got through security!  They found a pair of scissors in Abigail's backpack.  We had gone through two flights already and they did not find them.  We didn't even know they were in there.  Oh well,,, lost a pair of school scissors.  Makes me feel so safe that we got on two flights already with scissors.  

Rachel checking out the planes with dad.

Rachel checking out the planes with dad.

So we fully expected little miss adventurous without a nap to sleep on the plane.  No way!  This girl reminds me of Trevin.  Boy I'm going to be in trouble.  She is so busy.  She wanted to see everything that was going on.  When it came to sitting on the plane, we had three seats together and one was four rows away.  Russ was expecting to sit four rows away but when it came to sit down, she wanted her dad.  So Russ managed both girls for most of the flight on his own and I sat and read a book... it was beautiful (on my end at least).  She really did not cry at all but you have to be quick to keep her entertained.  Once we got off the flight, we were excited to see that all our luggage made it.  Sadly, the stroller for one of the families did not make it on the plane so we spent some time finding lost luggage.  At this point, Rachel was just crazy delirious.  Russ would throw her in the air and then she'd run all around the airport.  She so wanted to get on the luggage conveyor belt.  We always stand out in China, now with a crazy toddler running everywhere, we really stood out.  It was nice to be with 5 other families so people looked at us like the circus just came to town.  

Rachel's first plane ride!

Rachel's first plane ride!

Daddy desperately trying to prevent a massive meltdown.  Now it's about 8pm and we're still without a nap or a bottle.  

Daddy desperately trying to prevent a massive meltdown.  Now it's about 8pm and we're still without a nap or a bottle.  

We finally arrived in the hotel around 8:30pm, got checked in and put this tired girl to bed.  She did fall asleep on Russ on the bus to the hotel about ten minutes before we arrived.  So typical!  By the time we got the girls to bed and got some water, Russ and I passed out.  Poor Russ is out of practice throwing kids in the air.  He was so sore when he went to bed but doing better this morning.  

So much progress today!

Last night we went out for ice cream.  We deserved a treat after such an emotional day.  I know Russ and I were rocked by what we saw at the orphanage.  I want to cry just thinking about the life of these orphans.  3 days with our little girl and we're completely in love with her (not that we weren't before we left) and to think she would still be in the orphanage had we not stepped out in faith on this journey.  I'm sad for all the babies left behind.  Rachel was the only girl left in her age group.  All the other kids were boys.  So many boys left abandoned.  Keep praying and advocating for those babes.  

It's official, she likes ice cream.  The first bite she gave a wrinkled nose yucky face but soon decided she liked it. 

It's official, she likes ice cream.  The first bite she gave a wrinkled nose yucky face but soon decided she liked it. 

This morning we dressed, had breakfast and met the rest of our group to go to a beautiful park in Nanjing.  It's almost like Central Park in the middle of the city.  There was a beautiful lake and gardens to walk through.  The kids had an opportunity to feed the goldfish.  Ms Independent did not want dad to hold her so it was either I hold her or she walked... and soon she chose to just walk.  She has walked many miles already since leaving the orphanage.  She just loves to walk and see new things.  We're thrilled she does.  The red book warned us she does not like new environments but so far has been doing great with the new environments, it's just the new people she's not really a fan of.  Up to this point, only I could hold her.  She held Russ's hand for a little while last night as long as I was holding the other hand.  She gave Russ and Abigail an occasional hug but mostly has been smothering me with lots of hugs.  

Ms Independent walking through the park.

Ms Independent walking through the park.

A beautiful park on a not so beautiful day.

A beautiful park on a not so beautiful day.

Friends in our travel group had two littles with them but neither wanted the stroller so we decided to give it a shot with Rachel.  We had already tried in the store and she just screamed.  Today, she went in the stroller and even let Abigail push her!

Must have some tired little legs!

Must have some tired little legs!

There's a beautiful lake behind us, I promise.

There's a beautiful lake behind us, I promise.

To this point, she has only shelled out a kiss to me... and today she gave Abigail a kiss.  Abigail was over the moon happy.  She's been trying so hard to be patient and waiting on Rachel to connect with her and she's finally opening up to her more.  It's so beautiful to watch!

To this point, she has only shelled out a kiss to me... and today she gave Abigail a kiss.  Abigail was over the moon happy.  She's been trying so hard to be patient and waiting on Rachel to connect with her and she's finally opening up to her more.  It's so beautiful to watch!

We took the bus back to our hotel, grabbed some grub and went back to the room for a nap.  Rachel has cried every time I've put her to sleep.  Today, she just went in her crib and went right to sleep.  Not a single peep of protest.  And last night, only cried out once, not many many times like the night before!! Progress!!  

When she woke up from her nap, we enjoyed some quality bonding time in the room before meeting the group for dinner.  We played ball and of course worked on her hair.  She loves to brush everyone's hair and get her hair done as well.  That's why you always see her with new hair accessories.  Her baby doll also is constantly getting a new do.  

We met our group and walked to dinner.  We've really enjoyed getting to know our travel group.  All these families are also with Holt and we've made some great friends.  

After dinner we walked around Nanjing, walked by the Confucius Temple and shopped for some goodies for Rachel from her hometown.  We are kind of like a walking freak show.  People point at us, stop us to take pictures and follow us around.  It was bad before but now that we have a Chinese baby girl, they really point and stare.  I don't think it's rude to point and stare in this country.  We've also learned that it's not rude to knock people over if they are in your way.  We had little old ladies try to run Russ down at the airport as he was blocking them from taking Abigail and I down.  This place is just so different than home.  Personal space does not exist but then again in a country with a billion people, there is no room for personal space.  Okay, tangent over.  It was a beautiful night weather wise and even more beautiful because Rachel let Russ hold her tonight for nearly our entire walk.  He won her over with his silly animal noises and his 'doobeedoopeedoo' that has made all of our kids laugh, Rachel included.  She is smitten with her daddy.  Wow, did she just make her baba's day!  

The freak statue man that stalked Abigail through the store.  

The freak statue man that stalked Abigail through the store.  

The dragons outside the Confucius Temple

The dragons outside the Confucius Temple

Yesterday she would not walk anywhere unless attached to my finger.  Tonight, she's a daddy's girl.  Beautiful!

Yesterday she would not walk anywhere unless attached to my finger.  Tonight, she's a daddy's girl.  Beautiful!

It really is beautiful to watch Rachel see all things new as Russ described in his post.  She is really starting to come alive.  She was closed up a bit in her shell and very scared.  It's beautiful to see day by day how layer by layer her fears are fading and she is beginning to trust us.  

Tomorrow we fly to Guangzhou.  We have to go there next to meet at the US Consulate in order to get her visa to return to the US.  Our work with the Chinese government is done and now onto the US Govt.  On Saturday she will need medical checks which will include blood and TB test.  Not looking forward to having her face a needle so soon.  We have various interviews and swearing in ceremonies and then await them to get us her visa by Wednesday night.  Then we fly home on Thursday.

Continue to keep our sweet baby girl in your prayers that she will continue to attach with us, trust us and we can have patience as we wait out these last days until we can go home.  We all miss home and our boys.  We've had some Skype dates with the boys and she seems intrigued with them.  She grunts and babbles to them... and they wrestle together on the other end so she is getting a taste of what real life will be like when she gets home.  Thank you so much for following our journey and keeping us in your prayers.   

All things new

Thoughts from Russ.... This trip often seems crazy, and it is easy for this country boy who hates crowds and can't tolerate bad engineering and chaos too well to get REALLY grumpy here.  Almost went over the grumpy edge today... but then I had a few moments with Rachel and the sheer wonder and joy in her already blows me away and makes it all worth it.  

First time seeing a water fountain

First time seeing a water fountain

looking at the fish in the park

looking at the fish in the park

What does my big sister have there?

What does my big sister have there?

First time in a stroller

First time in a stroller

Rachel is in complete awe and wonder for this world around her.  I joked to Allison that we "Make all things new" for her.  And the more I think about it the more I realize that is completely true.  She has never seen an escalator, mall, water fountain, a dog, cat, boats, birds all over, pizza, etc... its endless around here and its so awesome to be able to share these moments of complete awe and wonder with her as we walk through the streets.   And she is eager to try everything and completely on fire!

If you think about it... its also a perfect picture of what God must see in us when we realize He is our savior and king.  When we submit our hearts to Him, our view of this world is transformed and  HE truly makes all things new for us.  He must have these same feelings of joy that I have when I see Rachel enjoying the discovery of her new world.  God is amazing and is showing me an amazing picture!  Her new life has begun!

This verse puts it really well: 

2 Corinthians 5:13-16 - NLT
13 If it seems we are crazy, it is to bring glory to God. And if we are in our right minds, it is for your benefit. 14 Either way, Christ’s love controls us.  Since we believe that Christ died for all, we also believe that we have all died to our old life.  15 He died for everyone so that those who receive his new life will no longer live for themselves. Instead, they will live for Christ, who died and was raised for them.
16 So we have stopped evaluating others from a human point of view. At one time we thought of Christ merely from a human point of view. How differently we know him now! 17 This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!

 

Orphanage visit

Rachel went to sleep great last night but cried out in her sleep several times last night.  We know this is part of how she will grieve but it is absolutely heart breaking to watch.  So Russ and I both started our day a bit emotional and it just escalated from there.  When she woke up, she went right to Abigail again and was very happy.  We dressed and went to breakfast and she ate like a champ again.  She's been eating congee, fried eggs and fruit most mornings.  There are three families who all have adopted daughters from the Nanjing SWI.  So we all loaded the bus and traveled together to visit the orphanage.  It is only about a 20 minute drive from the hotel.  Anson, our Holt rep, warned us on the way there that if she arrives there and starts crying, that maybe we should consider staying back in the van and not to go in.  Russ and I debated whether going back to the orphanage with her would be beneficial as a way to say good bye and have closure, or it would be harmful and confusing.   For some children, the kids are brought by a representative of the orphanage for the drop off, not the nanny and they never get to hear from their nanny that we are safe and to go with mamma and babba.  We realized that the woman who dropped off Rachel was not her primary nanny.   This was a hard choice.  We decided to go and if at all she seemed upset, then we'd go outside and walk her around.  We were prepared with lollipops and her favorite snacks in necessary.  

Outside her orphanage.  Yes, Abigail is wearing a Go Pro on her head.  She videotaped the entire tour.  

Outside her orphanage.  Yes, Abigail is wearing a Go Pro on her head.  She videotaped the entire tour.  

When we arrived, she did not seem upset at all.  She was just happy to get out of the van.  She does not like to sit still (she's in for a rude awakening when she has to get strapped into a car seat in America... there are no car seats in this country.  There definitely should be because the driving is absolutely insane, but that's for another post).  There was another little girl in our group who went into freak out mode as soon as we got there.  Anson explained that sometimes the kids would be confused and think they are being returned.  Rachel did not seem to be fazed at all.  I must admit, Russ and I were on emotional overflow.  Part of me was scared that she would want to stay with the nannies rather than with us.  She has lived there for over two years and we've had her only a few days.  Another part of me was so emotional to see the place where she has lived for most of her life.  The orphanage was okay, but it's no home.  My heart just broke for every orphan still left there.  Some matched with families, many not.  We got to see her old floor where she spent more of her time.  When she saw her nanny, her eyes lit up.  Her nanny scooped her up and they shared a very sweet moment.  Her nanny was so happy to see her.  This was so nice to see.  All the nannies in the room came running out to see her.  All knew her by name and she was happy to see them all.  She was clearly very loved there.  Thankfully, when it was time to come back to me, she reached out and hugged me close.  Even after a few days together, we've won her over.  

A sweet moment with her nanny.  

A sweet moment with her nanny.  

Then we went upstairs to the floor she was on right before she left.  At 2, she was moved upstairs and had to leave her favorite nanny.  Another heartbreaking reality of institution living.  The nanny who took care of her upstairs was happy to see her and held her to give her a hug, but Rachel reached right back for me and held me close.  She was only up there for about a month and a half.  

With her last nanny.

With her last nanny.

We got to see a room where she slept.  Next to it was another room with very sick babies all lying in their beds.  They just lied there and stared at us.  Heartbreaking to say the least.  They gave us the bed card that they had on her crib.  As soon as Rachel saw it, she tried to put it where it belonged on her crib.  She gripped onto that card.  By then, I was ready to bust out in tears.  We gave the nannies a few bags of lollipops to give to the kids.  They gave them out while we were there.  

The room where she was for the last month and a half.

The room where she was for the last month and a half.

One of the precious boys with a lollipop. 

One of the precious boys with a lollipop. 

This is a very nice orphanage and it is so clear that those nannies just LOVE the kids.  We had the opportunity to meet the orphanage director and take a few pictures with him before we left.  

With the director of the orphanage.  The nannies gave her another treat so of course it is being shoveled into her face.

With the director of the orphanage.  The nannies gave her another treat so of course it is being shoveled into her face.

Our travel group outside the orphanage.  All our girls were in there together.

Our travel group outside the orphanage.  All our girls were in there together.

Overall we're thankful we had the opportunity to visit her orphanage and to have lots of pictures and videos of her in there with nannies who clearly loved and adored her.  We're glad we went but it was very emotional for Russ and I.  Way more than I expected.  Rachel did great.  She was happy to see her nannies but happier to be back in my arms.  When we got back to the hotel, she was all smiles and running around the lobby.  

She seems to be settling in well with our family.  Please continue to pray as she grieves the loss of all she knows.  It is heartbreaking to watch but so important in her bonding and attachment to our family.  We're definitely in love with her and happy she is starting to like us a little bit too. 

Rachel is officially our daughter!

Rachel woke up and went right into her sisters arms and without tears.  What a relief.  I was nervous she would forget where she was and be scared.  Abby and I had fun dressing up our little China doll with a bow in her hair.  She was looking at herself in the mirror for quite a long time after that.  

Mei Mei and Jie Jie.  (Little Sister and Big Sister)

Mei Mei and Jie Jie.  (Little Sister and Big Sister)

Looking at herself in the mirror with BaBa (daddy)

Looking at herself in the mirror with BaBa (daddy)

Breakfast was a success but she had to have some food in her hand when leaving the buffet.  This girl is serious about her food.  If you'd like to see her have a tantrum, take food away from her.  This is a very typical response to institution living.  

She never takes the food away from her mouth... it is always right up against her lips until she has eaten the whole thing.  I hope her brothers learn not to mess with her food.

She never takes the food away from her mouth... it is always right up against her lips until she has eaten the whole thing.  I hope her brothers learn not to mess with her food.

Yesterday we went back to the civil affairs office and had to sign the official adoption papers.  It is a little scary to sign and put your red finger print on a bunch of documents all in Chinese.  Typically I read all documents before I sign but in this case, I'm trusting my Holt representative, who by the way is just awesome.  We have Anson and he's wonderful for all the other Holt readers. 

First official picture with Rachel as our daughter! 

First official picture with Rachel as our daughter! 

After the signings, we went back to the hotel and found some noodles for Rachel for lunch.  She gobbled them right up.  She so far has eaten everything we have given her.  Not picky at all, yet.  After her nap, we ventured out on a Walmart trip with the rest of our travel group.  Anson took us to a different Walmart than the other one we tried.  Both within walking distance.  Isn't that crazy!!  Two giant Walmarts within a mile.  We got more diapers and found the snacks that her nanny had sent with her on gotcha day and bought her a bunch.  We will probably buy as many as we can before we leave China.  I've never seen them in the US.  Time to start shopping at the Asian market... this girl LOVES those little cakes.  For dinner, we tried Papa Johns.  Wouldn't you know it, this girl loves pasta and pizza!  Overall, we had a wonderful day with her.  We love seeing her view the world for the first time.  We are doing really well with communicating so far.  She points and grunts at what she wants.  We hear her talking a lot but we aren't sure what she is saying.  I've learned a handful of phrases in Mandarin which she seems to understand a little bit.  

Oh and this girl is Ms Independent.  My father will just love to see it runs in the family, regardless of blood.  I was Ms "Alli Do It" throughout my childhood and Rachel is the same way.  She does not want to be carried through the mall.  She wants to walk.  She walked the entire way back from WalMart, except for street crossings.  This girl is loving her independence!  I do see how she is very strong willed but God will use that somehow.  We have completely fallen in love with this little angel.  

She's serious about her food!

She's serious about her food!

Gotcha Day for Rachel

Hey everyone, Allison is in bed exhausted and happy getting some well deserved rest.    So i'm writing tonight's update.   In short, I our day was amazing.  Thank you so much for your prayers... so many details went well, and we are overwhelmed with how Rachel has adapted to us already.  I am also exhausted, so I'm sure I'm missing a few things, but I want to get this out there while its fresh.  

We started the day with an orientation meeting at 10 am, then we had 3 hours to wait before leaving for the civil affairs office where the exchange took place.   We were well prepared thanks to Allison and Abigail, so we spent the time listening to some great worship music, realizing things were about to get REAL, and praying together.

Here we are before we left:

Wearing our t-shirts that say Mommy, Daddy, and Big sister in Chinese.

Wearing our t-shirts that say Mommy, Daddy, and Big sister in Chinese.

There were 6 other families there with us that day, and once we all arrived things happened very quickly.  Two kids were already in the room when we got there, and we helped our friends with pictures and movies as they were introduced to their kids.  Then Rachel arrived later with two other kids from her orphanage.   We were second in line and could see her across the room.  

This is our first sight of her:

Rachel with her nanny, our first sight of her in person.

Rachel with her nanny, our first sight of her in person.

Abigail was so excited she started crying when we told her she had to wait, which almost kicked off a chain reaction, but Allison and I were able to hold it together.  I was busy distributing cameras for video's and still shots as they walked across the room.  Of course there were tears initially... this is good, because it shows she was well cared for.  She definitely loved her nanny, their good relationship was clear today.  We were really happy to see that.

Just after hand-off

Just after hand-off

So, Allison and I are doing all we can to console her and Abigail has the GENIUS idea to run and get the little light up bunny we brought for her....calms her instantly.  Abby saved the day!  

Rachel will fit in well in our house, she is memorized by technology!  :-)

Abby saves the day with the light up bunny toy!

Abby saves the day with the light up bunny toy!

After that we actually had some great moments with her calmly adjusting to us on the side of the room.  She was showing her intelligence soaking in the room and not missing a thing.   Pointing and commenting on things, and interacting with Abigail who was DYING to get to know her. She did a great job hanging back and focused on her constantly.  We had a brief cry when her nanny came over to tell us some things and say a goodbye... she said something in Chinese like "no no be tough" and she got quiet again.  Her nanny cried when she walked away, it was so nice to see how much she cared for Rachel.

be tough Rachel from nanny

We had anther 10 minutes of play time with Rachel and things were going well.  After that we were able to ask her nannies some more questions.  They came over and talked with us again.  She held Rachel while she told us the answers we were looking for. 

So great to see them so happy together for a final goodbye

So great to see them so happy together for a final goodbye

The question/answer session ended on a happy note with everyone smiling.  The hand-off was pretty good after that.  Very little, if any, crying and she seemed to know it was ok to be with us.

Her Nanny did a great job and was clearly trusted by Rachel.  We had a nice family photo:

Rachel loves that light up bunny!

Rachel loves that light up bunny!

Shortly after that, Allison and Abigail had her cracking up with some dancing my little ponies!

Our first laughs together

Our first laughs together

And on our way out, Allison got her first real hug:

09-IMG_3075.JPG

The bus ride home was amazingly quiet considering there were 6 new kids on it.  They all loved the ride and outside stimulation.  Rachel sat back and relaxed on Allison for the whole ride. What a blessing and great feeling!

Back at our room Allison and Abigail played with her and she was fully clung to Allison.  We played games and let her run around a bit.  Each time she went a bit further, but would sprint back to Allison in her new squeaky shoes.  She wouldn't hug me or anything yet, but I could get her to laugh if I stuck out my tongue with a Pllllllbbbbbbb. She has spunk, and I believe her Nanny is right when she says she is strong willed... she'll have to be to live with Trevin... he's in for it!  

I finished some paperwork downstairs in the hotel and when I came back up she was eating some cheerios.  I hadn't held her yet so I grabbed a few and tried to get her to sit on my lap...well after one plate standing in front of me she decided I'm safe enough to sit on.  What a feeling!

I'm not afraid to bribe her with food for a little daddy time!

I'm not afraid to bribe her with food for a little daddy time!

Abigail picked up on my trick and it worked for her too!

SOOO happy to have her little sister on her lap!

SOOO happy to have her little sister on her lap!

She even let me feed her dinner.  We had some fun with the spoon and she acted like a bird with her mouth open with me... funny stuff.   And of course, textbook, she would not stop eating until ALL the food was GONE.  We had to be strategic in emptying the bowl into another when she wasn't really looking so she didn't over stuff.  

First dinner with daddy.

First dinner with daddy.

We had a fun time skyping with the boys so they could meet her tonight as well.   And by 9pm she was in her crib with minimal fussing.  Abigail fussed WAYYY more when she was little.  

During the bottle feeding I was able to get some funny looks, she's a rascal!

Cute reaction to me while she's eating

Cute reaction to me while she's eating

Its hard to explain the roller coaster we rode today... but I can say in many ways for me, a gotcha day is YEARS of fun/challenges/experiences with your kids condensed into 1 hyper-day.  The love and bond we feel like we already share is off the charts!  Time to get some rest so we can enjoy more of these moments tomorrow.  Thank you all for your prayers and support!

Tiananmen Square and Forbidden City

Another beautiful sunny day in China.  We did see the sun but there is definitely a pollution haze covering over everything.  You do hear a lot of clearing the throat and spitting when out in the city and it's all the black pollution that gets in your lungs.  It is kind of scary to see a portion of the population with medical masks on their faces.  Just as spring is blooming at home, it is here as well but the leaves are all out on the trees.  There are also white fuzz balls that almost look like snow flying all over the place.  They remind me of that speck from Horton Hears a Who.  They fly all over the place and often end up in your throat.  
The buffet breakfast is the same every morning.  There is sushi, traditional chinese foods, fried eggs and thankfully belgium style waffles.  I've become a fan of their yogurt.  I've been sticking with the waffles, bacon, yogurt and fruit.  Russ has been more adventurous at breakfast. 
We met our guide at 8:30am again and loaded the bus with other Holt families to drive to Tiananmen Square.  That place is incredible in size!  It is HUGE but the amount of people there is just unbelievable.  We thought it was busy because it is a Saturday but our guide said it is busy like that EVERY day of the year except when it is very cold.  They built the square to hold half a million people and I feel like that's how many were there.  I held Abigail's hand so tightly I'm sure it hurt by the end of the day.  We walked through the square and into the Forbidden City.  The Forbidden City is where the emperors used to live.  This place is beyond huge.  It has over 5000 rooms and multiple buildings, gate systems, gardens etc.  The intricate details on the buildings was sensational.  I can't imagine how much money was spent building that.  It's quite the typical tale of the emperor that had so much excess and the commoners outside the walls had nothing.  It is called the Forbidden City because it was forbidden for commoners.  No one could enter into the city.  It really is the size of a city.  We spent two hours walking through it.  
After leaving the Forbidden City, we all had lunch together and went to the silk factory.  We saw how the silk worm makes silk and how it is separated, weaved and stretched into blankets etc.  It was interesting to learn how that works.  
We headed back to the hotel around 3pm.  We had to then make specific photo copies of documents that we will need when we get to our province tomorrow.  All the details of what we needed was in the red book we received yesterday.  Thankfully I had all the paperwork required.  
For years now, when Russ and I would walk around and see a little asian child, I would always joke to him, "I want one of those."  Well now today, of course I saw so many of the cutest Asian babies and realized... I'm going to actually be getting one of those.  I'm starting to get very excited to finally get to see Rachel in a day and a half.  I'm not looking forward to how she will grieve or be very emotional but I know that is all part of the journey to a healthy attachement and that it's all temporary.  
We saw split pants officially today.  Children who are potty training wear pants that are split in the crotch.  We saw some cute little toddler bottoms today through the Forbidden City.  Google split pants if you want to see a picture, it's just so funny to see.  Especially when the child is sitting on dad's shoulders.  
The Chinese people must have a different body temperature than us.  Most of the adults in our group had either shorts and short sleeve shirts or light pants and short sleeves.  The Chinese people had on pants, sweaters, coats and some with hats.  Some of the kids were dressed in multiple layers.  It was 73 degrees and sunny out today.  We've been told to be prepared for the friendly Chinese grandmothers to harass us about the clothing choices we have for our children.  If they are not in at least three layers, then they are not in enough clothes.  We'll see what happens next week.  It's supposed to be in the 70's and 80's in Nanjing this week.  

Thanks so much for the continued prayers and emails.  They are so appreciated.  I'm starting to feel the anxiety more about meeting Rachel.  We're praying for a smooth transition.  We know it won't be easy but hoping for her to adjust to us, that we can communicate effectively, praying for protection of Abigail's heart especially if Rachel does not like her right away and for all of us to stay healthy and get sleep.  Also, I'm missing my boys a lot but it's been good to check in with them and know they are having a great time back at home.  

In Tiananment Square with half a million other people!

In Tiananment Square with half a million other people!

A glimpse in one direction of the amount of people... unbelievable!  People from all over China come to see this area and of course all the tourists come too.  

A glimpse in one direction of the amount of people... unbelievable!  People from all over China come to see this area and of course all the tourists come too.  

Waiting for Lydia to get our tickets into the Forbidden City.  

Waiting for Lydia to get our tickets into the Forbidden City.  

The entrance to the Forbidden City!  Many of the buildings all look the same in there but served different purposes.  Many for ceremonies, for seeing government officials, the throne room, buildings for all the emperors wives.  The place goes on forever.

The entrance to the Forbidden City!  Many of the buildings all look the same in there but served different purposes.  Many for ceremonies, for seeing government officials, the throne room, buildings for all the emperors wives.  The place goes on forever.

Outside the throne building.

Outside the throne building.

All those similar looking buildings in the background are all part of the Forbidden City.  It's immense!

All those similar looking buildings in the background are all part of the Forbidden City.  It's immense!

Lunch!

Lunch!

Friday - The Great Wall & Hutong Lane

Friday morning we met our tour guide Lydia in the hotel lobby at 8:30am.  This was an exciting morning because we were meeting other Holt families for the first time.  We arrived a day earlier than others because we went to Lucy's orphanage.  We met with four other families.  One of them from PA has a daughter with them who is 10 years old so Abigail was excited for a friend on this journey.  

We loaded in the bus and drove to the Great Wall.  It's about an hour drive north of the city.  The day was not perfectly clear but clear enough that we could see a lot of the wall.  The mountains north of Beijing are really beautiful.  It's amazing that so close to such a busy city are gorgeous mountains.  The wall is 4000 miles long and took 2000 years to construct.  It really is an amazing site to see.  The spot where we hiked was SO steep.  I'm not sure you can even get the true incline from the pictures.  The steps on the wall are all different sizes.  Some very small and some very big so that the enemy always had to be looking down not to trip.  It was quite a hike.  By the time we got to the third tower, my heart was pumping out of my chest.  The wall gets very narrow at parts so there is only one path going up and one down so you really need to keep moving,, although some people just sat down in the middle of the path which then made hiking around them quite difficult.  At the third tower, we stopped to rest and take some pictures.  So many Chinese people were gathering around Abigail to take their picture with her.  It was so funny.  I have no idea what they are talking about but they go crazy when they see her.  Any mom with a child would force their kid to stand by Abigail and try to get a picture.  
Hiking down was just as interesting as going up.  So steep!  At the bottom we walked around at the touristy shops.  Russ tried a Chinese beer.  It was actually very smooth.  I was impressed!  Abigail and I tried some traditional Chinese ice cream.  It tasted like butter cream icing mixed with ice cream.  Very sweet.  Which is funny because we've tried their cookies and it's like they don't like as much sugar in their cookies as we would normally have at home but the ice cream was very sweet.  Strange!  

After the Great Wall, our bus tour took us to a Jade Factory where we first ate lunch upstairs, then saw a demonstration on how they make Jade statues and jewelry.  Of course then there was the show room where you could buy Jade.  Wow, that place was HUGE!  

After the Jade Factory, we headed to Hutong Lane.  This is the old part of China.  Everywhere we have been so far, people only live in apartment buildings.  There are no homes.  Even outside of Beijing towards the farm land, we still saw apartment buildings, no homes.  The Hutong area is all one or two story homes but not like what you would think.  They are all attached to each other and the streets are so narrow and they share a public restroom.  The restrooms are so disgusting, I can't even describe.  First there are squatty potty's so that in itself is an experience.  The smell is horrendous and they don't have toilet paper.  Any toilet paper that's used is put in the trash cans and not flushed so the smell is just awful.  No sinks in most of them either and those with sinks do not have soap.  So we carry toilet paper and hand sanitizer wipes everywhere we go!  


We went into the home of a man on Hutong Lane.  His family owns three homes together.  Families live together in China and each generation helps take care of the next.  Not many kids go to daycare around China, they all have grandparents to spoil them. He said that 1 sq meter of his house is worth $30,000 (Us dollars, not Yuan).  That would be IF he sold it.  These homes are all passed down to generation to generation so rarely is one ever sold.  The home was SO small compared to where even the smallest homes int he US.  Her kitchen was about the size of my laundry room.  Her whole living room space was maybe the size of my laundry room and bathroom put together.  This man had two sons.  He was allowed to have two because he is a minority, from Mongolia.  China has special laws for minorities that they are allowed to have two children.  Now China is changing their one child policy a bit that if either parent is an only child they can still have two children.  Our guide Angela explained that the cost to raise a child in China is so outrageous that even those that can have two many times chose not to.  
We learned that in Beijing, the average IT guy would make $1000 US dollars a month.  However the cost of living is way beyond that.  It's so hard for them to get ahead.  The cost to send a child to preschool was about $700 a month.  

After Hutong Lane, we came back to the hotel.  Here we got our red books from our guide. This includes new pictures and more information about your child.  We did have two new pictures of Rachel in there which was so exciting to see.  We have her updated measurements and a little on her personality.  It says that she does not like strangers or strange environments but is happy and sleeps well in familiar places.  So we're expecting that the handoff and the rest of this trip will be quite difficult for her. Expecting the worst and hoping for the best.

Tonight we walked down to the night markets again.  The smell from these vendors is so horrific that I was having trouble not barfing.  I thought I was going to puke all over the sidewalk.  Russ was taking lots of pictures of all the unique culinary options.  I'll try to include some of those pictures.

 Abigail and her new friend Isabella have become fast friends.  We went to dinner with their family and the girls swam in the pool until about 8pm.  She showered and passed out within minutes.  We all slept well and woke up around 5:30.  So we are adjusting to the time a little each day.  We are thankful for the opportunity to be here a few days before we get Rachel.  This time adjustment has been rough.  Holt designs these travel days so you can learn as much about Chinese culture and history as possible to be able to share that with your child.  We are so happy we chose to tour with them before getting Rachel and now have a lot to share with her.  

Abigail and I at the start of our wall hike.

Abigail and I at the start of our wall hike.

Abby and I climbing up the wall.

Abby and I climbing up the wall.

The view and check out how steep that climb was!

The view and check out how steep that climb was!

One of the famous moments where these boys wanted our picture with them. 

One of the famous moments where these boys wanted our picture with them. 

Those same boys who wanted our picture were kind enough to take ours!

Those same boys who wanted our picture were kind enough to take ours!

We're not near the city of the terracotta warriors but this was close enough!

We're not near the city of the terracotta warriors but this was close enough!

Abigail watching the Jade worker polish the Jade.  Only one woman in the factory is patient enough to polish the Jade said our guide.  Polishing Jade is only for women because men are not patient enough... hehe.

Abigail watching the Jade worker polish the Jade.  Only one woman in the factory is patient enough to polish the Jade said our guide.  Polishing Jade is only for women because men are not patient enough... hehe.

Scorpion on a stick anyone?

Scorpion on a stick anyone?

Abigail and her new buddy Isabella danced with Charlie Chapman in the mall!

Abigail and her new buddy Isabella danced with Charlie Chapman in the mall!

Days 1 & 2 in Beijing


The flight over was a direct flight from Newark to Beijing.   Thankful for the direct flight but it was very long.  A friend warned me before we left that I will watch three movies, take a few naps, eat two meals and still have four hours left.  Seriously, it was a long 13 hours.  I'm not looking forward to the return flight.  
When we arrived, our guide met us and brought us right to the hotel.  It took over an hour in traffic.  A theme for this trip is traffic and more traffic.  We have spent about half of our waking hours here sitting in traffic.  The city itself is very beautiful.  The streets are very clean.  There is a lot of pollution in the air but it's not that bad that we have any trouble breathing.  When we arrived on Wednesday, we could see the sun.  I've heard that's very rare.  Thursday, no sun in sight.  
We were so exhausted when we got here that we had a mission to get bottled water and then right to bed.  When we left the hotel, there were soldiers lining the street and closing every possible way of crossing the street.  Traffic was stopped in all directions.  We were so confused as to what was going on.  Once we saw the presidential motorcade come through, we figured out what was going on.  At first I thought maybe there were soldiers to help us cross the street.  
We headed to bed shortly after 5pm local time, a good 24 hours without sleep.  We all woke up a few times throughout the night but finally all got up at 3am and could not get back to sleep.  We relaxed and hung around until 6 and then headed down for breakfast at the buffet.  We are at the Novotel Peace Hotel and the buffet was pretty good.  Complete with eggs, baconn, sausage, noodles, sushi, and fish.  I stuck with the good old eggs and tea.  Abigail tried everything we gave her (no we did not give her sushi for breakfast).  
We hired Angela from Ladybugs N Love to take us out to the New Hope Orphanage where Lucy lived.  First off, Angela is amazing.  She is the sweetest woman and speaks english very well.  She is also so knowledgabe of the history and area of Beijing.  I highly recommend Angela to all my other adoptive families who are following.
On our adventure of a drive out to the orphanage, we sat is so much traffic.  I'm not exaggerating when I say we passed 7 accidents just getting out of the first few city rings of Beijing.  Just crazy drivers around here.  Angela's husband was our driver and he's an ex police officer so we felt safe with him.  
The orphanage is way out in the country.  We passed a whole lot of farms (of sorts, not like a farm in the US, but crops of some sort).  The facility was big, beautiful and very clean.  When you walked in you had to either cover your shoes  with plastic bags or take off your shoes and wear some lovely slippers they provide.  We were so impressed with how well loved all the kids are in there.  We met Joyce and Robin who run the orphanage.  They were a sweet couple from England.  At first over email, Robin said we wouldn't be able to see the Love Without Boundaries babies because they are more medically fragile and they don't let anyone in.  Once we were able to explain the story of our Lucy and how Abigail sponsors Heidi, he let us in to see her.  At first, Heidi looked at us like we were crazy.  She was in a room with probably 7 other young babies.  We ended up staying in there for 45 minutes playing with Heidi and all the kids.  They loved Abigail and Abigail just LOVED those kids.  She played blocks and played with balloons.  We saw some very sweet smiles.  I walked a little boy all over that room.  He just loved the attention.  
Then we went downstairs and had an opportunity to meet Lucy's nanny.  She immediately said how similar Abigail and Lucy look.  I totally agree.  I have a picture of both of them at the same age and they do look so similar.  They remembered when another adoptive mom had come in to take pictures and a video for me and that they were so happy to hear she had a family.  Her nanny was noticeably very sad when we talked about her.  She was a well loved little girl.  None of the nannies speak any English so we needed a translator for everything.  Abigail gave Lucy's nanny one of the angel bracelets that we have been selling in memory of Lucy.  Her nanny was so touched.  It was a sweet exchange.  While visiting with that nanny, we got to meet a whole lot of other babies.  We played with those kids for awhile.  They were so funny.  Some of them have such crazy funny personalities for such little guys.  We saw their youngest baby who was so small and had a cleft lip and palate.  What a cuite!!  One of the boys took to Russ and his camera very quickly.  Russ would take a picture of him and then show him on the screen in the back.  That boy just loved seeing his cute face.  
Overall the orphanage visit was very positive.  We were so happy to see that Lucy was so well loved and in such a great facility.  The nannies really love and care for the kids.  
We left the orphanage around lunch time and Angela and her husband took us to a restaurant near the Temple of Heaven for lunch.  They only had chop sticks!  I'm terrible with chop sticks.  The food was very delicious, what little actually made it to my mouth.  We had duck, kung po chicken (so amazing), spicy beef (whoa, lit me up spicy), Chinese cabbage (don't remember what it was called but so good), noodles in chicken broth and steamed rice.  The noodles were just amazing, the texture and flavor really were incredible.  This was our first offical meal in China and we all loved it.  
Angela took us for a quick tour of the Temple of Heaven after lunch.  Wow, there are some beautiful structures in China.  
We are back at the hotel and completely exhausted.  It's 7pm and Russ is already asleep and Abigail is almost.  She is watching Chinese cartoons with the sound muted.  So please excuse all the spelling and grammatical errors... I'm a bit cross eyed. 

 

Heidi is the cutie in zebra pants and Abigail raised enough in jewelry sales to sponsor her for a year.

Heidi is the cutie in zebra pants and Abigail raised enough in jewelry sales to sponsor her for a year.

IMG_0688.JPG
Outside the orphanage

Outside the orphanage

Abigail and Lucy's nanny

Abigail and Lucy's nanny

lunch!

lunch!

Our fabulous guide Angela!  Just love her!

Our fabulous guide Angela!  Just love her!

We're going to China!!

The end is so near... we are heading to China soon.  I can't even believe it's time.  We also will have the privilege of visiting the orphanage where our sweet Lucy lived.  Through our sadness of losing her, Abigail raised money through her jewelry sales and we have begun sponsoring other precious babies there and we are excited to have an opportunity to meet a few of them!  I'm hoping this will be a bit of closure for us to be able to see where Lucy lived and be able to meet her nannies.  I'm really excited about this part of the trip.  This will be the first stop on our whirlwind 16 days in country.  

After that, we will spend a day touring Beijing, including the Great Wall and the Forbidden City.  After that we will take a flight to Nanjing, where Rachel lives.  Then we will finally have our little girl.  She will be with us for the remainder of the trip.  There will be a few days of paperwork, medical checks, more paperwork, visa pictures etc.  Other days we will have an opportunity to tour around while we wait on visas and passports to be issued.  We will end our trip in Guangzhou where the US Consulate is located.  There we will have more appointments and more waiting.  Then we take a train to Hong Kong and fly home from there.  

Qi Ru Xuan 3-25 (3).jpg

Still on this journey

We were derailed for a time after Lucy died.  In those days and weeks after hearing that the little girl we had come to love so much had unexplainably died, I never could have imagined the ability to love another child.  I was consumed with sadness and simply overwhelmed with emotion.  Abigail and I cried for days straight.  About two weeks after hearing the news, I reached out to some women who I had ‘met’ through Facebook who had also lost their daughters before bringing them home.  Each shared their story and the emotion was still raw for them as each woman had a few moments of tears remembering that loss.  Each of these women shared how they continued their journey to adopt and how the journey had changed a bit for them.  No longer the exciting and joyous journey, but a journey of excitement and joy but it was partnered with grief.  Grieving over the child that they loved and lost and trying to muster up the love for another child. 

That is the place that I find myself in now.  Just a week after we received word that our Lucy had died, our agency called us with another referral of another little girl.  I was shocked to get another call so fast and really was not expecting it.  The agency gave us two weeks to decide.  Those two weeks were filled with a lot of prayer and I really agonized over this decision.  As we neared our deadline to decide, I finally had to put the final decision in Russ’s hands.  I was still too emotional over losing Lucy and really could not make this decision.  At the last hour, as Russ was outside stacking wood, he was overcome with emotion and confirmation that this little girl was his daughter.  We sent in our Letter of Intent that night. 

This past month has been a challenge.  Lucy’s first birthday was on January 10th which just brought back up a lot of raw sadness.  Abigail’s fundraiser for Lucy’s orphanage was this month also which was exciting and just so sad all at the same time.  As much as I’m excited we raised enough money to sponsor Lucy’s friend for an entire year, my heart ached that I had to do it at all.  There have also been moments of joy.  When we received four videos from the orphanage of our newest girl and she looked so healthy, we were thrilled.   We were excited when we finally picked out her name and sent her a photo album filled with stickers and notes. 

 I get it now.  It’s okay to have joy in the midst of grief.  It’s okay to feel both at the same time.  While we are all a bit more guarded this time around, we are getting excited to bring our daughter home.  We received our Letter of Acceptance in record time from China.  This process typically takes 2-4 months and we received ours in 3 weeks.  We are thanking God for this small blessing.  I had prayed for our acceptance before China takes two weeks off for Chinese New Year and we got it just in time.  

Introducing our daughter Rachel Jane Ru Xuan Highton.  She is turning two in February.  

ru xuan.png


Day by day...

11-13 Lian 1.JPG

You know when you wake up from a bad dream and you just can’t help but Thank God that awful experience was just a dream.  I’m starting to realize that I’m not ever going to wake up from this bad dream.  I’m never going to bring home Lucy.  Her face is constantly on my mind.  This is the picture I've been seeing so much in my mind recently.  She is reaching out to me and wants to come home.

So many of you have asked how I’m doing.  I know you want to hear that I’m doing okay and I am.  I’m okay.  I really don’t have any choice but to be okay.  I can’t have what I want back and I just need to deal with it.  I can’t control what happens but I’m trying to control how I deal with it.  My kids need their mom to ‘get it together’.  So I’ve been spending some time trying to do that.  I took out some aggression on that ugly 1970’s wallpaper in my laundry room that I’ve wanted to rip down since we moved into the house 7 years ago.  It’s gone!  What an accomplishment.  My sweet husband took off some time from work around the holidays and gave me a few days and suggested I go out, go shopping, meet friends for lunch or get a massage.  While that all sounded so tempting, I went and tore up my bathroom and laundry room and repainted and organized.  Not at all what he was expecting (especially since he ended up having to help a bit), but it gave me a lot of time to think and process which is exactly what I needed.  There is some amazing healing in accomplishing what seemed like the impossible task.

I guess I’m realizing that I think I will always be sad about losing Lucy but if I really trust God, then I can’t just sit back and wallow in my own misery.  If I believe the Bible is true then I can’t just pick and choose what part to believe based on my circumstance.  I need to believe that His plans are better than mine and if I say I trust Him, then I need to trust Him that even losing Lucy, is part of a bigger and better plan.  So overall, I’m starting to pull out of my slump a bit but sometimes I see or hear something that just knocks the wind out of me again.

After the holidays, I actually started to feel a little better after some time to slow and process.  Our first day back at coop on Wednesday and Trevin, my three year old, walks into the nursery to see our friend's 10 month old son who is an adorable little Chinese boy, and Trevin says, “Look Mom, I told you Lulu’s not dead, she’s right there.”  Oh, what a sucker punch to the chest.  While I never really expected Trevin to understand too much about death in general let alone death of a little girl he never met, I never expected him to have linked Lulu to any Chinese baby.  Clearly, we need to see more little Chinese babies for him to know there are a few more of them in the world.  Another one of those moments, was January 10th, Lucy's first birthday.  I originally wanted to make it a big day we would celebrate here while she was celebrating in China but I couldn't bring myself to do anything.  The line from the song Lucy by Skillet, "Hey Lucy, I remembered your birthday..." just ran through my mind all day.  We talked through what she must have been doing in heaven for her birthday.  The kids have decided that Lucy got a baby panda (a real one, no stuffed one's in heaven) for her birthday.  In our minds, she had some fabulous adventures on her birthday.   So, there are still moments that just knock me down for a moment, but on the whole, I’m learning to be okay and to trust God a little more.

We’ve all been processing differently.  A few days after Lucy died, Abigail had decided that the next time she sold her jewelry (which she has been selling for a while now to support different orphan ministries), she would give the money to Love Without Boundaries to help some of the other girls and boys who lived with Lucy.  So she has been very busy creating new jewelry to sell at the Miriam’s Heart Into His Fields concert this Saturday, January 18th.  If you’re available, the concert is free admission and you’ll be blessed by the music.  Creating new jewelry and having a mission to honor Lucy’s life has helped Abigail to focus on something positive that she can do that she knows Lucy would love.

Love Without Boundaries has been really wonderful to us and we are hoping to start sponsoring some of the children there while they receive surgery, love and care until they can be matched with a forever family.  We hope to see you on Saturday at 7pm in the Life Center.