2014 Redux

I’ve started an update post here so many times. So many posts are composed in my head but fail to make it to the keyboard. So much on my heart but too few words to really do any of it justice. And truthfully? I’m still processing so much interiorly and I’m not sure I will ever be able (or inclined) to verbalize it fully.

Suffice it to say that 2014 will go down as one of the more eventful (if not most challenging) years to date. So much packed into such a relatively short amount of time.


The year opened with that familiar sense of joyful anticipation in expecting a new child through adoption. As the New Year 2014 dawned last January, our dossier sat on a desk in China waiting in queue. We were in a familiar state of waiting and wondering about who God had planned to join our family next. Then came the Marianna’s referral in February followed by finding Joseph’s picture on the waiting child list the very next day.

Screen Shot 2014-03-24 at 6.33.18 AMThe next few months are a blur to me now as we scrambled to assemble that second dossier for Joseph and then jumped hurdle after hurdle of red-tape, waiting for clearance to travel. During that time, we also wrestled with the demons of doubt and fear–the likes of which we had never experienced previously. The unknown was/is scary and at times, paralyzing. Mike was a rock throughout and more than once I found myself clinging to his seemingly unshakeable confidence that served to carry and anchor the both of us along the journey.

Then the day finally arrived in July when that long flight took us to a foreign land and later on to that hot, stuffy room where we met M&J for the first time. The joy. The anxiety. The fears. The doubts. The relief. All emotions came to a head at the same time.

And then we were home and the real journey began.

But the jumble of emotions continue to linger as we struggle (yes, still) to find our feet. The challenge has been–and continues to be–to not get ahead of ourselves or allow fear to dominate but rather take one day at a time and embrace the chaos rather than try to resist it.


In August, the babies were claimed for Christ through the Sacrament of Baptism. This was a day I had been looking forward to even more than Gotcha Day. Why? Because it made them more fully a son and daughter of God, a member of Christ’s Church and heirs to the Kingdom of Heaven. Ontologically and eternally, their souls were marked with the sign of Christ. Their mortal and immortal lives had changed.

God be praised!

20140830-IMG_6281 20140830-IMG_6303 20140830-IMG_6338

In September, after 8 weeks of the Ponseti treatment involving weekly cast changes, Joseph underwent the first life-changing surgery to lengthen his Achilles tendon and separate his fused thumb. By the end of the 4 hour surgery, and for the first time in his life, he could fully dorsiflex his foot and he now had two thumbs. It’s a partial thumb, but a thumb no less. Two more fingers on his right hand will be separated at a later date but we rejoiced at the improvement prospects this one surgery now offered for his future.



It didn’t slow him down a bit.


Go ahead. I dare you.

After 3 weeks, the casts were cut off and he went into boots and bars which he wore round the clock, save an hour a day. After the relative mobility he enjoyed with the casts–however cumbersome it was–being saddled with foot braces prevented him from doing more than a crawl. This frustrated him and was a hardship for all of us to watch him struggle. But true to his nature, Joe didn’t let it keep him down. Instead, he demonstrated for us (as he does again and again) the virtues patience, forbearance and fortitude.


20141030-DSC_7635Slowly, steadily we began to find our feet as a family. (This is still an ongoing thing.) Homeschooling was now underway, however fragmented and interrupted our days are. Naps started becoming more regular thing for the babies as did their comfort level around us and their new surroundings. We learned to read their cues more effectively. They would tense up whenever we left the house and visibly relax when we returned home. They went from not napping at all to taking two naps a day–reaffirming the fact that in many ways, they developmentally are still infants in toddler bodies.


In November, they both turned 2–just a day apart.

20141117-F0747904 20141118-DSC_0779

December arrived and with it, Joe was weaned from being strapped to his boots and bars round-the-clock. He will continue to wear the device at nighttime until about age 5. But having them off while he is awake has helped him gain a whole new sense of freedom. He even learned to run for the first time.

Let that sink in for a moment. At 2, he finally discovered the exhilaration of moving his legs fast (and steadily at that). Never before had his gait allowed for him to take more than a few wobbly steps at a time before he’d fall over. Now? Just try to stop him if you can. He began wearing shoes (on both feet!)

He is slowly learning to use his new thumb. The skin grafts and sutures still make it very sensitive to the touch but he is beginning to use that hand again, a little at a time. The older boys are his greatest OT/PT advocates, using touch therapy and encouraging Joe to put crackers and crayons between his new thumb and forefinger.

For her part, Marianna (who we now call May–a derivative of both the name Mary and the Chinese term mei mei meaning “beautiful sister”–has blossomed into a beautiful, confident little girl. She still has diva qualities which makes her more demanding and less tolerant than her brother. She has been slower than Joe to pick up language skills but understands most everything that we say to her and will make real effort to imitate language sounds. Despite this, she has no trouble expressing herself and (ahem) making her needs known.


Christmas was especially fun of course to watch the babies experience the holy season for the first time. So many firsts. So much wonderment. So much to appreciate through their little eyes.


The babies have largely acclimated to us and to each other and although it remains a (pointless) battle to get them to cooperate with each other, they have proven that siblinghood is possible and even natural over time, despite an inorganic beginning.

The past year has been one of incredible stretching and growth. Much of it uncomfortable but all of it necessary and incredibly formative. We are grateful for both the blessings and the trials but look forward (please God) to a quieter 2015 as the dust further settles and we continue to get into a groove. We pray for the continued healing of our babies and for us to be able to continue to put one foot in front of the other, tackling each day without getting ahead of ourselves and overwhelmed by the future.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year 2015 to you and yours!


Settling in

One month ago we met the babies for the first time. Two weeks ago, our feet landed on US soil with them in tow. Throughout, we’ve been on a steep learning curve as we all try to acclimate to one another and settle into the new normal. Make no mistake: this was a tall order.

Coming home was amazing. Not only was the visa ordeal in China over and we were once again back in the company of our loved ones but we also came home to a clean house with a warm meal on the stove (thank you Bernadette) and a fridge and pantry full of Costco items (thank you Mom, Mary, Jess and Holly…and others I’m sure I’m forgetting) and diapers (thank you Suzanna!) Mike’s amazing dad kept up on the mowing and even took care of several items from our honey-do list that had long gone neglected by us in the months leading up to our trip (thank you Dad!)

Yes, it’s been good to be home.20140731-DSC_4330But it has also been a blur.

There is no getting around the fact that our lives have changed significantly by adding not one but two vulnerable and highly dependent little people into our fold. The task has been joyful but daunting. Rewarding but mightily overwhelming. Factor in the jet lag, nearly doubling the number of littles in our charge and just the daily grind of re-acclimating to family life–including the multiple doctor’s visits around town–the potential for tears (for all involved) is ever-present.

Within a week of being home and with my clean house now trashed, Mike had to return to work and I suddenly found myself needing to get acquainted with being left alone with all 5. It was either sink or swim, but thankfully I’ve had a small army of family and friends rallying around to support us. Trips to the pediatrician’s office, getting Joseph to the orthopedist and getting him started on the Ponseti treatment for his foot, getting Isaac seen by the endodontist and hearing that last year’s cracked tooth incident now warrants a root canal next week and all the other myriad of activities, tasks and duties that make up normal family life. I’ve yet to catch my breath.

Cue self-pity party.

Or not.

Life has indeed changed significantly…for the better. But don’t misunderstand me: this past month has been one of the hardest I’ve ever known. We are being stretched and challenged in ways I never knew possible. I say this not to complain or to discourage. We are in a time of transition and are more overwhelmed than we’ve ever been but in a good, soul-cleansing way.

It’s very tempting to lament the hardships of our new normal, the loss of my free time and the uphill battle with which we are now faced. Too easy to resent the never-ending whining and tears and napless days. It would be very easy to dwell on the daily difficulties and lose sight of the little everyday joys. And I’ll admit, I’ve caught myself wallowing in my little discomforts (little sleep, two clinging toddlers, having food thrown in my face and being bitten when I try to kiss them) even as our brand new toddlers have been trying to make sense of the world that has just been turned upside down on them.

But that’s when I have to remind myself (for the thousandth time) that it’s. not. about. me. However much this time of transition is uncomfortable and trying for me, it must be 1,000 times so for them.


We made a decision not for luxury but for love. We consciously chose the “not easy”. So it should come as no surprise to anyone–ourselves especially–that being suddenly and irrevocably responsible for 5 kids (two of which are scared, grieving toddlers with demanding physical and emotional needs) has been one of the most (if not THE most) difficult challenges we’ve ever faced. Since being home I’ve had my weaker moments of feeling like a failure, even resentful, of what we’ve been tasked with.

But I’ve also been blessed to see the beauty, the goodness, the joy, the grace. I have seen glimpses of their future–OUR future with M and J. I have witnessed Isaac and Sam turn to butter in the hands of these two babes. I have heard them remark (daily) how they can’t believe how LUCKY they are to have TWO babies. I have watched with pride as Sarah has outgrown being the baby of the family and blossomed into the role of the proud big sister, eager (if not a little aggressively) ready to help carry or feed them. Marianna and Joseph are irreplaceable members of our family and they are teaching all of us so much about God’s love and mercy.


We are still deeply entrenched into the time of transition. In time, wounds will heal and what feels foreign now in terms of managing the sheer number of littles around me will soon be second nature.

We are making progress in the right direction. It’s slow and tedious work. Two steps forward, one step back. We are still far from any sort of schedule, naps are still elusive (seriously, how do two 20-month-olds simply NOT nap?) and both babies cling to me–and only me–throughout the day. We are working on getting them warmed up more to Mike. It just all takes time and patience. Truckloads of patience.

I was thinking about all of this the other morning during prayer and came across this quote from the Gospel of John which pretty well sums it all up:

Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. (John 12:24)



I was jolted awake by something and stared around the room. There was something strangely familiar about my surroundings but I couldn’t quite place what it was or why. I looked down at the baby lying in the crook of my arm next to me and then at the other baby lying peacefully in the crib next to the bed.

Worlds were suddenly colliding.

Was I really home? With the babies?

I rubbed my eyes and surveyed the environs again. I was in a bedroom…my bedroom…at home in Maryland. At least I think I was. But where was Mike and the older kids? Any why was I waking up to this strange mid-afternoon light?

I looked at the clock. 2:10pm. My senses were slowly returning. The kids were at Grandma’s house down the street. Mike was napping in another room. Marianna and Joseph were here with me, resting peacefully. Jet lag could not disguise the fact that all seven of us were truly…blessedly…wonderfully…really home.


~          ~          ~


After the news from the Consulate on Sunday that once again told us that no visas could be issued, the families stuck in China started feeling like we were living in a real world Groundhog Day. Life was settling into some semblance of a routine:

-wake up, go to breakfast buffet, chat with other families, try to stay optimistic

-hear bad news from Consulate: we still had no visas

-find something to do, some outing to that gets us out of our hotel room for a few hours and distract us from our plight (shopping at Carrefour market, walk to the park, taxi to Shamian Island, etc.)


-come back to the hotel room and nap babies while Mike entertains the older kids in the lounge 7 floors up

-meet for “dinner” consisting of appetizers and cocktails in the executive lounge (included with our room rate) at 5:30pm; commiserate with fellow stranded families

-go to bed, praying that tomorrow brings better news

-lather, rinse, repeat



So when Monday came, every family was now accustomed and had themselves braced for another Groundhog Day. We readied ourselves for breakfast, all the while checking our phones for the promised status update from the US Consulate. The usual update time of 8:15am passed.

We wondered.

We loaded our breakfast plates with the now familiar spread: watermelon, dragon fruit, sausage links (the babies love those), french toast with hawthorne berry sauce and fried noodles. We were just getting the babies buckled into their highchairs and their sausages cut into bite-sized pieces when one of our guides came rushing in, looking anxious and asking if we had seen one of the parents in our group. I pointed in the direction I had seen J walk by with her family and put the bibs on the babies.

I glanced over at J wondering what was up–and why did our guide only have news for one family, not all of us? I saw that J had our guide’s cell phone pressed to her ear listening intently to whatever was being said. She looked serious but then noticing we were all watching her, she smiled and gave us a thumbs up.

Thumbs up? Could that mean what I thought it meant?

Our guide walked over to us and uttered the words we’ve been waiting to hear:

Your visas will be issued today. Every family who has been waiting will get their visas today. I am headed to the Consulate now to pick them up. Meet me in the Conference room next to the lobby at 11:30am…I’ll give them to you then.”

The breakfast area erupted into a frenzy as families sitting at nearby tables and across the hall leapt to their feet and hugged one another, crying and rejoicing that the storm we had weathered together was coming to a close. Husbands were on their phones texting and emailing travel agents.

We were overwhelmed with joy and relief. (We would later find out that the reason J was on the phone with the US Consulate was because the visa of one of the two kids she was adopting did not come thru right away–but thankfully did later that day.)

Neither Mike nor I had touched the food we had put on our plates and we simply could not eat now. Instead we downed our coffees and hurried the kids through their breakfast. All the while, texts were flying back and forth between Mike and Todd, our travel agent, who was working furiously a half world away to secure us 5 seats on a flight — ANY flight — that would be US-bound. God bless Todd…he had 6 other families who were waiting on the same service.

It was going to be tight.

Amazingly, within minutes of getting word that visas were being printed, Mike glanced down at his phone and back up at me with a grin. “He got us on a flight out of Hong Kong…tomorrow morning.”

Praise God.



Families scrambled back to their rooms to pack up and to work on securing flights home. Not all airlines were as accommodating as ours and many families were forced to assume hefty change fees, others had to split up on different flights altogether.

We all met one last time in the executive lounge for dinner and goodbyes. As joyful as we all were, our hearts were heavy as we said goodbye to these faces that had become family during our nearly 3 weeks in China.


20140728-IMG_2463 20140728-IMG_2469 20140728-IMG_2472 20140728-IMG_2477 20140728-IMG_2480 20140728-IMG_2485 20140728-IMG_2487


Early the next morning, we climbed into vans that would take us the 3 hours to the Hong Kong airport.


A former British territory, Hong Kong still retains some very British concepts


Not much to say about the 15 hour flight from Hong Kong to Chicago except that it was long but largely turbulence free. Since M&J were “lap infants” and did not have their own seats, we spent a good deal of time walking the aisles and bouncing the them near the galley kitchen in the back.

IMG_0630The United flight attendants were friendly and accommodating and there were plenty of other babies on the flight so ours were not the only noise-makers. Seven or 8 hours into the flight, they finally crashed. However they slept only fitfully in our arms so I laid a blanket on the floor of each of our rows and they got a good 3-4 hour stretch there, giving our arms a much needed break. There was blessedly no turbulence during this time so we didn’t have to disturb them to buckle.

20140729-DSC_4230 20140729-DSC_4253

At 1:45pm local time, our plane touched down and M&J were the country’s two newest US citizens. The 2-1/2 layover in Chicago was just barely enough time to clear customs, scan and re-check our luggage and then race thru security and then to the gate of our last flight. That final 1-1/2-hr flight to DC was excruciating. We were so tired and everyone was falling apart emotionally. Our eyes were struggling to stay open. But as we flew over the midwest and I looked down on the familiar sights of farmland and highways that I’m certain we have traveled, my heart began to swell.

20140729-IMG_2505 20140729-IMG_2507

But then there was that moment we had long for…

…that blessed moment of catching our first glimpse of those we loved and who prayed us through this journey.

Relief and utter joy bubbled up and spilled over in ugly tears.

(photos curtesy of Jess Norton–thanks Jess!)

IMG_0970 IMG_0976 IMG_0977 IMG_0981 IMG_0982 IMG_0984 IMG_0988 IMG_0996 IMG_1000 IMG_6566 IMG_6600

Truly, there is no place like home.

Outta Here…



At approximately 9:40am Monday morning Guangzhou-time, we received word with all the families in our group that our visas were done and could be picked up shortly!

By 11:30am we had visas in hand and flights rebooked!

We’ll stay here in Guangzhou one more night, leave for Hong Kong in the morning and approximately 26 hours later, at 7:15pm Tuesday we touchdown at Dulles.

Sweeter words I have never uttered.

Won’t let it steal my joy

The whole family is peacefully sleeping at the moment (Joseph just giggled in his sleep – probably dreaming about eating) and a comment from Annie today is running through my head – “I will not let this steal my joy”.

It’s very easy to let all of this nonsense with the visas make us bitter and angry but we are working hard not to be those people.

On Saturday morning I prayed the liturgy of the hours in the breakfast room while I waited to do an interview and the scripture reading was striking:

We avoid giving anyone offense, so that our ministry may not be blamed. On the contrary, in all that we do we strive to present ourselves as ministers of God, acting with patient endurance amid trials, difficulties, distresses, beatings, imprisonments, and riots; as men familiar with hard work, sleepless nights, and fastings; conducting ourselves with innocence, knowledge, and patience, in the Holy Spirit, in sincere love as men with the message of truth and the power of God; wielding the weapons of righteousness with right hand and left, whether honored or dishonored, spoken of well or ill. We are called imposters, yet we are truthful; nobodies who in fact are well known; dead, yet here we are alive; punished but not put to death; sorrowful, though we are always rejoicing; poor, yet we enrich many. We seem to have nothing, yet everything is ours!
2 Corinthians 6:3-10

All of this is part of God’s plan and will work itself out for His glory. It seems a contradiction but it brings so much peace to bask in that knowledge and to just let it go.

So in that spirit I thought I’d share some fun pics from my phone of things we’ve experienced here in China.

Almost but not quite bacon20140728-040744-14864947.jpg

Heat index of 115 degrees20140728-040743-14863216.jpg

Leaving a note for housekeeping with the Chinese word for vomit20140728-040743-14863589.jpg

Joseph rocking the shades20140728-040743-14863077.jpg

I want to fashion!20140728-040743-14863968.jpg

Apple and Samsung living in harmony20140728-040744-14864361.jpg

Hot dog ramen noodles20140728-040744-14864657.jpg

Top of the world!20140728-040745-14865428.jpg

Warm remindings…20140728-040742-14862496.jpg

Should I go for cucumber or meat sauce chips?20140728-040741-14861585.jpg

Sammy the VIP20140728-040742-14862030.jpg

And so it continues…

Please keep praying…

Sunday, July 27 Update to Adoptive Families interviewed on July 22-24

Adoptive Families and Adoption Service Providers,

We had hoped to have better news to share this morning, but we regret to inform you that the worldwide technical issues continue to prevent us from being able to issue your visas.

Officers came into U.S. Consulate General Guangzhou yesterday (Saturday, July 26) and today (Sunday, July 27) in case there was any possibility that your visas could be printed, but unfortunately, the situation remains unresolved.

The Department of State Bureau of Consular Affairs has posted the following status update at: http://travel.state.gov/content/visas/english.html:
As of July 26, the Department of State Bureau of Consular Affairs is still experiencing technical problems with our visa system. We are operating at a significantly reduced capacity and will be until we clear the document backlog. This issue is worldwide and is not specific to any particular country or visa category. We are working urgently to correct the problem and expect our system to be fully operational again soon. We will continue to post updates to travel.state.gov as more information becomes available.

We will provide another update tomorrow morning, Monday, July 28, at 8:15 am.

Adoptions Team
Immigrant Visa Unit
U.S. Consulate General Guangzhou

Worth it

This morning I looked at my watch at 7:30am local time and realized that if things had gone according to plan (ha!) we would have been walking through the front door of our home.


It seems so far away, so long ago that we backed out of our driveway and Sarah waved “good-bye house! Miss you!” and blew it a kiss. I miss our family and friends back home. I miss cooking in my kitchen. I miss walks to the pool. I miss car seats and seat belts. I miss conversations with those who know me well. (Bern and Mary Bridget–I miss laughing with you and our 3pm cocktail hour.) I miss sitting on our back patio with guac and chips listening to music pump through the scratchy speakers. I miss watching the kids play in our backyard.

I miss our backyard swing with the dirt patch beneath where grass never grows.

But despite our homesickness and heavy heart at not being able to leave China (yet!) the fact that we have these two makes it ALL worth it.



They are precious in His eyes as well as ours. Already, we can hardly remember our lives before they were with us. And we keep talking about how when we get home, they are going to love ______ or we’ll have to make sure we move ______ out of their reach.

20140725-DSC_3925 20140725-DSC_3919

Sure…life is crazier now with two extra littles. But crazy sweet too. Living for 2+ weeks in a hotel is not easy. But you know what’s harder? Not having kids.

BTDT. Don’t wanna go back.

Our hands are full but our hearts burst with JOY. They keep us on our toes but make every discomfort, every single dollar spent, each extra day spent hoping for better news from the State Dept worth it.

And those long months of waiting and praying for them? Priceless.

They bring meaning to it all.



We have so much for which we are thankful. I need to remember that this time spent here is not a matter of life and death–we WILL get home. It’s just a matter of time.

The experience of the past few days has changed my perspective on what’s important. No longer do I fear (much) the flight home with two lap infants on a crowded plane. I surrender the dream of bulkhead seating–just give me some standing room on a flight to the US and a sling and I’m good.

But also, it’s made me realize just how enormously blessed we Americans are…and that when we do get home, we get to return to a fairly comfortable lifestyle.

It’s a little different here.


The view from the executive lounge during cocktail hour in a beautiful hotel is jarring. Makes me feel a little guilty frankly.

Other things we are grateful for:

– The kids are good sleepers and have been napping at roughly the same time each day. (which I know is apt to change when we are home–but I’m enjoying the schedule right now.)

– Everyone is healthy. The tummy bugs have swept through our little group and are at least held at bay for the time being. Mike’s sinus infection has improved (thanks to a forward thinking doctor who prescribed broad spectrum antibiotics for the whole family “just in case.”)

– Both kids are smiling, crying, pooping, peeing and getting into mischief at regular intervals. Both are saying words like “mama”, “dada”, “ball”, “hello”, “bye-bye”, “yay!” and “no-no-no”. Joseph continues to blossom more each day and graces us regularly now with his gorgeous, toothy grin. My heart sings to observe the transformation. Both kids are are attaching well to Mike and I though Joseph still sometimes has a stronger preference for Mike. Sometimes me. Sometimes I have two babies, one in each arm and on each hip, both wanting only me, often screaming at the other to go away, wanting my full and undivided attention. I now know what it feels like to be a rockstar. Like a million bucks.

– We are together–all of our kids are with us which is a luxury many families stuck with us cannot enjoy.



– We are surrounded by wonderful people who share our plight. We encourage one another daily and can cry on each other’s shoulders…all without shame and all with total understanding and commiseration.

– Our accommodations are comfortable and we have access to ample clean bottled water–even if we can’t drink the stuff from the faucets or brush our teeth with it.

– The hotel staff is sympathetic and helpful.

– The food is delicious and filling.


East meets West

– The pool is lovely.



20140724-DSC_3890 20140724-DSC_3880 20140724-DSC_3874

– I have access to laundry facilities. (sort of)


– The kids have been troopers. They are eager to be home but holding up well.


It doesn’t hurt that there are boys their age here to help pass the time. Praise God for that!


Yay for fellow homeschoolers!

We are in this for them…for all of them. We’d do it again in a heartbeat if it is the means by which we must graft M&J into our family.

Soon, very soon, this will be a distant memory. A blip on the radar. Something we’ll be able to laugh over…or maybe write a book about. For now, we are continuing to lobby those back home to help us get them onto US soil.


You wanna know what else we are grateful for?


Everyone who has read this blog and followed our journey. Every single last one of you who have been praying us through this, offering support of all kinds and especially those who have helped these past 24 hours in contacting your senators, congressmen and news stations.

We read each and every comment here and on FB…every single share is noted and appreciated. Every single moment you spend thinking of us, praying for us, lending us support is appreciated. We are overcome with gratitude for the wealth of love and friendship you have extended to us.

Thank you. Thank you from the bottom of our hearts!