Monday, January 31, 2011

James 1:27...how to?

I use James 1:27 in my email signature line, and it's the verse that you see at the top of my blog. I don't take this verse lightly. There are approximately 143 million orphans throughout the world. I've seen where some of them live...the conditions, the lack of nutrition and healthcare, the lack of a decent future, the lack of family and unconditional love, the stares at the "imperfections" that will never be accepted in their society. I could go on and on.
Being an orphan is more than just living in an orphanage. It's a life. A life that's headed for heartache, struggles, and lonliness. A life that won't know the blessings of a family, no matter how imperfect that family may be. A life, that when they come of age, will be wandering the streets, looking for something...love, money, a job. Things that unfortunately may come with a huge price.
We are blessed to be a part of adopting children into our family. We had no idea the journey we were headed on when we adopted Laura almost 6 years ago. Our hearts are truly drawn to adoption, advocating for the orphan, and fulfilling James 1:27. And we know that not all families are called in the same way to care for the orphan through adoption. But we are all called as Christians to care for the orphan, and here are some ways that we've seen that action take place over the past two weeks, all so we could travel to China to bring home our Jenna.
1. Grandparents that cared for Laura for over two weeks, cleaned our house, and had dinner cooking for us when we got home.
2. Another set of grandparents that spent time with Laura, and offered their help whenever it was needed.
3. Aunts, uncles, and cousins who were ready at the drop of a hat to pitch in and help with the kids...even if it meant missing work...and school, too, I'm sure! :)
4. Friends that kept Jacob and Amarin for nearly two weeks...including homeschooling them!
5. Another friend who went out of her way to pick up Jacob for band classes so he didn't have to miss two weeks of lessons.
6. Other friends who kept an eye on our house while no one was home.
7. So many who kept us all in their prayers while we were gone.
8. Bloggy friends who followed our journey, and left encouraging notes.
9. Family and friends who drove us to and from the airport.
So, no. All of these people did not journey to adopt a child, but they did "care for the orphan" by caring for our family so we could adopt. We couldn't have done it without them all! So, if you're wondering how to fulfill James 1:27 when you don't feel called to adopt...here are 9 great examples, and I'm sure there are more. If you have more ideas, feel free to share them by leaving a comment.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Home & Family

Oh, it is good to be home. It felt like a long journey home, but from what I've heard from some of the other traveling families, our trip was a dream. One friend had canceled flights, another has a little one in the hospital in Hong Kong. Praying for that sweet girl so the family can get home ASAP!

Our journey home started Friday, late afternoon China time. Cordelia met us at the hotel to give us Jenna's paperwork and visa. We drove from GZ to Hong Kong with another family. It was a longer drive than what we anticipated, but it was fun chatting with our friends. Right before the border into HK, we seperated into two vans. Then immigration...one stop for leaving China, and another to enter HK. I was surprised how involved this process was considering HK is now part of China.

It was another 1/2 hour or so past the border to get to our hotel for the night. Jamie kept trying to chat with the uber-fast driver because it looked like he was really tired. That's always a fun drive, especially since they can't carry on a conversation or even tell him to turn off and take a break. But we made it.

The next morning, we took a direct flight from HK. We left on time, and had a very uneventful flight. Charlie slept quite a while, thanks to Triaminic PM, but it didn't work so well on Jenna. She only slept maybe 2 hours. She had only one meltdown on the plane, but it didn't last too long. Right or wrong, bribery was involved to get her quiet.

We made it through immigration in record time...15 minutes at the most. Luckily, our flight was the first in from Asia, so the lines were nil. The last guy we talked to ask if we were bringing in any plants, etc. Then he asked if we were bringing in large amounts of money. Jamie and I both laughed, and I said, "Not now." He told us to go on ahead...obviously not understanding the joke...loads of money post-adoption? Sure!
Together at the airport.

My dad picked us up at the airport, and brought Jacob and Amarin along, too. It was so good to see them and they looked like they had grown a foot! We road home...half asleep.

When we walked through the door, I could smell dinner cooking. Yes! Mom was there with Laura, and had put a roast with veggies in the crockpot. And the house? Spotless! (I later discovered that she had cleaned rooms top to bottom...including ceiling fans, appliances, and the tops of tall pieces of furniture). A dream come true to walk into the house that's all clean and dinner cooking. And Laura looked so tall, too. Maybe because we were used to hangin' out with a couple of shorties for two weeks!

The boys are loving Jenna and she makes them laugh...even her little tantrum. She's trying to say their names and likes to follow them. Unfortunately, they have already introduced her to Star Wars guys, and she likes them. UGH!

Now that we're home..."baby boot camp" has started. Sharing and obeying are musts, and crying to get your way will no longer work...nor will the charming, beautiful smile you flash. She SO knows how to use that smile! (Beware, because she will use it on you, too, to get her way, and mama and baba will probably seem like ogres for a while until she learns). Only once at home so far has she tried the crying thing. We just sat her on the fireplace, stayed in the room near her, playing with the other kids, and let her cry. She hid her face again with her arm, and would peek out to see if we were paying attention. She finally stopped, we loved on her, and she's been fine. We corrected her "sharing" today, and she didn't cry. Fast progress? Here's hoping!
Her first pony tail!

She slept great in her own bed, in a bedroom that she shares with Charlie. She woke once whimpering, and when I got to her, she had little tears and reached for me. Awww...I held her for a minute, took her into the other boys' bedroom to show her everyone was still asleep, and then she went right back to bed. Charlie said, "I'm right here to keep you safe, Jenna." She slept the rest of the night, and we had to wake her for breakfast at 9:30ish...trying to get us all on the right schedule!

Playing alongside Laura after breakfast.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Final Day Photos

Charlie hiking down the alley among shops and homes.

We are very blessed to live where we do and in the conditions we have.

I was so happy to get a photo of such beautiful flowers...until I found out they were silk.

Love these statues that are all over the island.

Like a big brother...

Mama took me shopping for new shoes.

It was time for a pb&j. Not too shabby going almost two weeks without one!

Faster, Charlie, faster!

Our friends...we'll miss them all!

Local girls that were lovin' on Jenna.

Burning off energy at the White Swan playroom.

Final Day in China


Thursday, January 27, 2011

Our final full day in China. The sun popped out, and we spent the whole day outside…well, except for popping in and out of the little shops. We met our friends on the island, and walked to “old Guangzhou” where there were lots of little shops with traditional items, as well as some souveniers. After a couple hours, we went back onto the island and finished our shopping. Again, the shops are not much on dealing anymore, and the prices have gone up from 5 years ago, but we still had fun. We bought most of our souveniers at Jordan’s and Jennifer’s, both of whom are proclaiming Christians. Jennifer even showed us her cross necklace, but then hid it again inside her shirt. They attend the Christian church on the island, and sell Christian items in their stores. Because it’s out in the open, no doubt, they have governmental permission.

While my friend, Jenna, and I shopped, Jamie and her husband sat outside in the sun with their Starbucks, and let Charlie run around in the walking area. Glad the weather was so pleasant so we could shop longer!

Next was lunch at Lucy’s. We met up with our other friends there, and we all had a fun and yummy lunch. Charlie and his buddy ran around the walking area, laughing and playing ball. Occasionally, we would see a shoe go flying as they kicked the ball and lost their shoe, too. Thankfully, they did not hit anyone in the head!

The kids got in some play time at the playground. Jenna loves the slides, and she and Charlie were racing one another getting on them. Jenna certainly can’t outrun her brother, but she can out scream him…in a fun way. That girl has a set of lungs! I had to get after a couple bigger boys for being rough on the slide and knocking Jenna down backwards. Where are the parents??? The boys looked at me, certainly not upset, but finally did get off the slide and play elsewhere. Our friends and we took a walk along the boardwalk, took some group photos, were stared at by the locals, and then….foot massage time!

The guys went first and we gals took the kids back to Starbucks. 70 minutes later, we met the guys, handed off the kids, and took our turn. Oh, my. $15 and 70 minutes later, my neck, shoulders, back, arms, hands, legs, and feet were in complete relaxation. Some of the back massage hurt a bit, but it was worth it. We had fun, drank our tea, and chatted…such a fun time.

We met the rest of our crew back at the White Swan playroom, and headed back to our hotel. It was getting late, we needed to eat, and the kids were obviously tired from playing so hard and not napping. We ordered pizza back at the hotel, and called it a night.

Jenna is still doing great, continues to be a happy girl, and is also beginning to test us. And I guess that’s a good thing because it means she’s trusting us enough to test the limits. I’m thinking with only 10 or so kids at the orphanage, and her probably being one of the young ones, she probably got her way a lot. So, sharing is not easy, nor is obeying mama and baba when it doesn’t suit her. We obviously let things slide for a while…she had enough to deal with. But now it’s time. And today was the day. Several times throughout the day, she blatantly chose to disobey. Nothing serious…but clearly testing us. So, we followed through, and she responded by putting her arm across her eyes and sobbing. But it was a different sob…not the heart-wrenching one from last week, but one that has probably worked to get what she wants. And honestly, with her sweet face and smile, it’s not always easy to tell this girl “no.” Nor is it easy walking down the sidewalk guiding a sobbing girl, not able to see where she's going because she won't take her arm away from her eyes, and locals staring at me like I'm an ogre.

All in all, this has been a wonderful trip. Jenna is just a blessing…such a sweet girl and will fit just perfectly into our family…as if we ever doubted that! Charlie has been a trooper. It’s not easy being the on-sight sibling when so much attention has to be given to his new sister. But he’s had fun, seen and experienced a lot for a 5 year old to take in, and I know the kids have already formed a bond. It has been great to be back in China…the birthplace of both our daughters. To see the sights, and the people, and taste the food…to just be here…it has been a great trip. We’ve met some wonderful friends, shared fun stories, and laughed a lot with them. We’ll miss them, and sure wish they didn’t live so far away! But we’re also ready to be home with our whole family together. I can’t wait to hug those three when we get home! So, without further ado, I bid you farewell from China. The next post will be from home….as a family of 7. Now, where can I find an extended van…

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Jenna's Birthday Photos

Jenna's birthday breakfast...so good to be 4!

Examining her new bracelet and necklace.

Puppy looks pretty good in those new clothes!

Balloon fight!

Our funny Charlie.

At the Orchid Park

Two peas in a pod...really!

The infamous red couch photos...our beautiful Jenna. She has a smile that captivates everyone that sees it. Locals will comment on her smile and beauty, and those we're around say her smile lights up the room. Our guide says that when she smiles, "the whole world blossoms."
brother and sister forever!

The three sweeties in our group

Our group...so much fun to be with these families and our guide!

US Consulate...here we come!

A birthday present from friends...a new mirror and comb.

What a pretty birthday cake...pink and Hello Kitty. Perfect!

She had lots of help decorating the cake with candles.

Look at the joy on her face after blowing out her candles!

Happy 4th Birthday, Jenna!!


Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Happy 4th Birthday, Jenna!! Jamie looked up how to say “happy birthday” in Chinese and it sounds something like “shen ri cuai luh.” He said it to her and she smiled and hugged him. Then the gals that work in the lounge said it at breakfast…it sounded a bit different! Another family that we met from NC had their 11 year old say it, too, and she smiled again. I think she got the point! When we got back to our room, we made her wait in the living room while we gathered a bunch of balloons from our bedroom that we blew up last night. She kept peeking in the bedroom, and giggling. We came out, sang “happy birthday” and threw the balloons up in the air. She was so excited! She opened a few little gifts…a little bracelet and necklace, clothes for her puppy, and a new Bible. She put the jewelry back into the bag and has been carrying it around all morning, until it ended up on her puppy. Note to self: no expensive jewels until we know she’s wearing them, and not her animals!

We had to wait around this morning while Cordelia checked on Jenna’s visa, just in case the US office needed more info and she had to get a hold of us stat. But, by 11AM, we knew all was in order and we were free to leave the room. The sun was finally starting to peek out, so we walked around Orchid Park. Very pretty with lots of ponds, banana trees, bamboo, tea rooms, etc., but no orchids. I guess it’s not the right time of year.

We grabbed a quick lunch, changed Jenna into her red dress and new red squeaky shoes, and took a taxi to the White Swan hotel. We took pictures on the red couch and in front of the big waterfall. Next, we were off to the US Consulate office for the swearing in ceremony. There must have been 30 or 40 families there with their new children…all ages of boys and girls. It was very moving with all of us standing and taking the oath for our children. There were definitely tears here and there. The consulate director was very nice and chatted with us all before we took the oath. She said that in the past three years, adoptions have changed, and more and more children with special needs are being adopted. In 2008, @46% were special needs. In 2009, @56%, and in 2010, @66%. Remarkable, especially knowing how bleak the future here is for orphans, let alone those who have special needs. She also announced that three children had January birthdays. She announced them one by one, each family standing. Lastly, she announced Jenna Miller’s 4th birthday is today! So, we stood and waved and everyone clapped.

After signing THE FINAL PAPER, we three families (from our agency) went to the Cow & Bridge Thai restaurant for dinner. Cordelia was so sweet and brought a beautiful birthday cake for Jenna. After dinner, the restaurant dimmed the lights, and we all sang “Happy Birthday” to her. She just beamed! Then she spit on…er…blew out her candles and we all enjoyed the cake…not too sweet, and had fruit inside. Very yummy!

The night was not complete without a stop at Starbucks, and sitting outside to chat with our friends. We plotted out our day tomorrow, filled with last minute shopping and foot massages!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

GZ Park - Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The main entrance to the park was just gorgeous with this family...I mean flowers...:)

Workers in the park gardens

This group of women were line dancing to traditional Chinese music

This was the first musical group we saw. I'm wondering if it was karaoke...the woman's voice was extremely high pitched and whiney sounding. Jamie was ready to confess everything!
More musicians. They all seemd to be older locals.
A huge banyan tree for you, Jacob.

This man stood on his head for a long time. This was one of the many, many older locals that were here exercising. They don't just sit around, but they are slowly stretching, moving, crab crawling, dancing, playing ping-pong, whatever...just always moving.
Here a lady was doing something like an elephant walk for exercise.
Charlie climbed up onto an old military tank and was "shooting" the bad guys. Papa Miller...I think he needed to be wearing that hat you have.

Charlie's infamous wiggle dance.

A couple of Charlie's audience members...

This band played Jingle Bells.

There was a merry-go-round at the park. Charlie loved it.

...as did Jenna! I wonder if it was the first time she had ridden on one?

Jenna loves to snack. "Shay, Shay, Baba" which means "thank you, daddy."

There were some great sculptures around the park. Char posed willingly!

Posing by a waterfall. The kids decided to call out "mama" really loud as I was taking their photo...hence, the big mouths!

Yeah, McDonalds, and Charlie's friend, Ronald. He asked numerous times if Ronald was going to be in the restaurant...'cause he's horribly afraid of him! Can't blame him. He is kind of freaky lookin'.

"Mom, take our picture. I'm holding Jenna in the elevator." Ummm...OK!

Today we decided to rest and not venture off to the safari park. There is an absolutely beautiful park across the street from our hotel, so we spent almost 4 hours just wandering and exploring. The weather was still chilly…only in the high 40s when we started out, but warmed a little bit as the morning progressed. It’s definitely not in the high 60s like AOL weather has been forecasting, but we were able to stay warm enough just being on the move. Funny…the last time we were here with Laura’s adoption, we were sweltering in the heat, trying to stay in the shade!

The flowers in the park are abundant. They have mums that are 3 feet tall, trees full of nectarines for the New Year, impatiens, marigolds, roses, etc., all over the park. Their tree blossoms are just about ready to burst. There were lots of banyan trees, some of which had a ton of new trunks extending into the ground. The ponds were full of coy, and locals were out in little paddle boats. There were people doing tai chi, and some were line dancing…which is apparently getting as popular as the traditional tai chi. There were musicians and musical groups scattered around the park. One group started playing Jingle Bells, so Charlie and I sang along. The locals thought we were funny.

In other places, Chinese music was piped through the speakers. Charlie would stop and dance right where he was. He attracted a bit of an audience, and soaked it right up as he did his Elvis-like wiggle. The more the locals smiled at him, the more he grinned and wiggled. As we were walking around, Charlie would also call out “hello,” “good morning, sir,” “thank you, sir,” “nice job, sir,” (to the man cooking chestnuts). He was crackin’ me up!

In the park, we also met up with a family that had been in Chongqing with us. They were with three other families, so we chatted for a while. We’re all gearing up to head home…some tomorrow…some this weekend. I think it’s all part of the process. You start thinking about getting home as the departure day nears, and returning to a new normal. But then another part is torn as you leave the birthplace of your child. There’s so much culture and history here that belongs to the kids, even if we don’t agree with it or it makes us uncomfortable. But it’s still part of them. And to know that it may be years, if ever, that they step foot back in their birth country, feels a little sad. Every time I leave one of my children’s birth countries, a part of me stays.

After almost 4 hours in the park, we headed straight for McDonalds for lunch, and ate it back in our hotel room as the restaurant was really busy. Jenna wolfed down her hamburger this time, her fries, and apparently my glass of coke. I did not drink much of it, but after leaving for a moment to get her a tissue, I returned to an empty cup. Charlie claimed innocence, and Jenna smiled and nodded when I asked her if she drank my coke. Glad I could help ya out, sweetheart, and, well, I’m sure that will help you nap well this afternoon.

Tomorrow is a very big day for us. Our guide, Cordelia, will pick up Jenna’s US visa in the morning. We will meet later for the traditional “red couch” and groups photos at the White Swan, and then off to the consulate for the swearing in ceremony. Even more, it’s Jenna’s 4th birthday!! Cordelia is setting something up for us. She is such a great gal! That is the last official appointment we have.

Friday…we’re starting our journey home.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Monday, January 24, 2011

Care for scorpions in your soup? Apparently they can help rid your body of toxins.

Bags of stuff...I guess it's all used in food for medicinal purposes.
We're listening to Cordelia tell the uses of these things...kind of in disbelief that people would actually consume some of it. We even saw snake skins, and if you cook them in your soup, you can get rid of rheumatism.

And what on earth are these??

Boys...do not touch anything!

Lisa...this photo is for you. Split pants in bronze!


Shopping streets lined with lots of New Year decorations and lots of people.

Dear bunnies, I'm hoping you're heading to a home as a pet!

Breathe in….breath out…breathe in…breathe out. I’m reminding myself to breathe while riding in the taxi cabs over here. And I have to remind myself that ¼ of the earth’s population live in this country. They have to vie for their place, whether it’s on the road, in a store, or just walking down the sidewalk. I’ve come to the conclusion, though, that they are very good drivers. They would have to be in order to avoid the one million possible collision opportunities that arise within a ½ mile distance. Yes, we’re experiencing a bit of overload today.

Great news…none of the girls in our group had a problem with the TB results. All the nurse had to do was look at their arm. Cordelia will take care of our US paperwork, and we will be sworn in on Wednesday at the US consulate.

We’ve had another fun day with our friends here. After going to get the TB check, we walked through a market, just across the river from the island. It didn’t phase us as much this time to see the weird things…living and nonliving. But we reminded the boys not to touch ANYTHING, even the cute puppies, kittens, and bunnies that were in cages. I’m thinking a rabbit (as a pet) may be the thing to get for the New Year since it’s the year of the rabbit.

We walked a bit, shopped a little, and then went for a Cantonese lunch. Most was very tasty, but none of us were real fond of the chicken. This particular chicken dish is only cooked until it’s barely done and has the bones and gristle mixed in with it. Of course, I didn’t hear this until I had a piece in my mouth. I neatly tucked the rest away at the edge of my plate and told Charlie not to eat another bite of that.

The kids are really being little troopers, but even today, we sense the overload with them, too. Too much wait time, walk time, taxi time, and just not time to unwind and play. We’re scheduled to go to the safari park tomorrow, but we’re not sure if that’s a good idea, or perhaps we should just hang out to rest and play here at the hotel. There’s also a really nice park across the street that we visited when we were here in 2005. Perhaps we’ll visit that.

Jenna is learning how to say Charlie’s name. She’s also learned how to shush us…because we’ve had to shush her LOUD singing at times. She also knows “uh-oh.” I’m assuming the word “no” will follow suit quickly. She loves to be held and as soon as we reach our hotel door, she holds her arms up to Jamie, smiling, and saying “baba.” There have been very few times when her wish has not been granted. She likes to splash Charlie in the tub, but does not like to be splashed. She and Charlie will playfully hit each other with their stuffed animals and she thinks it’s fun…until Charlie actually hits her. We are thankful that she’s becoming more and more comfortable with us everyday!

She has the cutest way of telling us she has to go potty. It’s always the same string of sounds in her sentence, that we have no idea the meaning, but her little whiney voice and repetitious sounds are clear. Then we ask, “Shasha, neow, neow?” which means, “pee, pee.” And she smiles and nods. She’s very proud of herself when she goes potty. And she loves to play with the slippery bars of soap in the sink afterward. She plays, while washing her hands, and while my back is breaking holding this girl up to the sink. Speaking of going potty, this girl is a pro at using squatty potties. If you’re not familiar with these, picture walking into a bathroom stall, but instead of a toilet, there is only a hole in the ground. Yep. I remember standing there the first time I had to use one…staring and wondering how in the world this was going to work without me making a terrible mess of things. But Jenna walks in, throws her little leg over the hole, and does her thing. She is a hoot!

She is indeed funny, and she clearly knows how cute and funny she is. Last night, she and Jamie stayed a few minutes longer for dinner in the lounge while Charlie and I came back to get baths ready. When they got ready to leave, Jamie said that Jenna grabbed a package of butter. He told her “no” and was going to make her leave it. Jenna hid her face in her arms, and wouldn’t look at him until he gave it back. Yes, Jenna walked into our room a happy camper, holding her butter. Jamie is in so much trouble with this girl!

So after the harrowing taxi ride back to the hotel, it’s naptime. Jamie went out and bought a few donuts…comfort food, I’m thinking.