Saturday, August 6, 2016

Home at last!

Thirty days on the road is a lot to ask of any family.  Thirty days on the other side of the world spanning language and cultural barriers in close quarters with all the children while simultaneously growing from a group of six to a group of eight might have been just plain reckless.  But we don't follow the same rules as the rest of the world, do we?

Our journey began one year ago as my wife, Song-Ae, approached me to tell me God had completely change her heart.  The two additional children that I had mentioned years before were indeed going to be part of our family and she had been feeling the Lord's gentle nudge tugging at her heart for some time.  To do this, she said that it was time for her to stay home and put to rest the career she had worked at for so long.  We embraced and rejoiced and sat the children down to see how they felt about things.

Previously, we had involved the children prior to every one of our adoptions and this would be no different.  We would do this as a family or not at all.  Moments after absorbing the news that their parents had gone off a cliff, to their credit, all four of them raised their hands and offered to share their rooms with their new siblings.  Our family embraced amidst tears and set about the task of making this happen.

Adopting one child was expensive; adopting two was something beyond our capabilities.  So how could we do this?  The answer was a bit shocking but very clearly defined within our hearts.  The very next day we met with a realtor to put our home on the market.  We would purchase a cheaper home and use the excess equity to ransom two more lives.

Telling our friends was a humorous experience as their mouths gaped in silent incredulity.  Summer was over, the housing market had tanked with the fall of Houston oil and homes everywhere had been placed on sale.  It was simply not a viable plan.  But then .……with God .,....... all things are possible!

To make this work our home had to sell very quickly at no less than a respectable price or we would not have the funds to move forward.  I truly believe that the Lord has a sense of humor.  To the amazement of us all, not only did we get a respectable price but we were physically and financially out of the home in under two months.  But to live now?

 We desperately wanted to stay in the same school district.  Here in Houston there is a pilot program for students from foreign countries with little schooling that do not speak the English language.  It is a program that is "pre" ESOL (English as a Second Language) and Song-Ae sits on the parent supervisory board for this great system.  

Again, God placed within our grasp something that should have been well beyond our reach.  We needed a house quickly because He had already answered our initial prayer and we were about to loose our current home.  At the last possible moment another home came up on the market that was a "court-ordered" sale.  It was to be sold well below market rates so the estate could be broken up quickly.  Not only was it perfect for us and was in the same school system but it was only three minutes from where we lived before.  Although it was leaps and bounds cheaper than our previous home it was also substantially bigger.  Room enough for eight!

So we joined this new path that the Lord had placed us on and now we needed to find our two new teenage daughters.  We fervently believed that our calling was to bring home children that would not otherwise have a home.  In China, the children are pushed out onto the street at 14 years old.  We were searching for those that had not yet been chosen.

Imagine our surprise when God showed us who those two new children would be.  Not two teenage girls, but a boy and a girl.  Biological siblings whose parents had been lost when they were very young.  They had been in the orphanage ever since and it was time for them to come home.  The older brother would be less than a year from aging out and then he and his sister would be separated forever.  We felt the Lord's gentle prodding and committed to these two wonderful children on the other side of the world.

Unbeknownst to those around us, adopting two children would be a little more expensive than we realized and we didn't quite have all the funds that we needed to complete the task - and God chuckled at such a silly little problem.  He tugged at the hearts of our friends and we received not one, not two, not three but four giant anonymous donations towards the adoption of these two wonderful souls.

This has been our journey over the last year.  The miracles that were performed to get us home today would have been practically unfathomable only one year ago.  Yet, the most incredible part of our journey and astonishing miracles that were performed are things to which I cannot yet share with you.  Perhaps some day I will, but for now, these must remain tightly held within our family.

How are the children doing so far you ask?  What do you think?  Travelling on the road that the Lord has paved for us is a privilege and an honor.  It will not be free from potholes or sharp curves for there is much that the Father still has to teach, but it will always be taking us in the direction for which we've been chosen.  The children are incredible, kind and loving.  We could not have asked for two more wonderful human beings.

I leave you with this thought.  Our lives are very different than what we'd envisioned them to be but that is a life in service to the Lord.  Proverbs 16:9  "In his heart a man plans his course but the Lord determines his steps."

Our fervent desire is to get to the end of our lives and turn around to look back behind us.  We want to see that we have done everything possible to serve the Lord.  We want to know that we have done everything within our power to make a difference and change lives for the better.  After all, isn't that what we were put here for?

Sisters Arm in Arm....

Friday, July 29, 2016

Almost Home .........

Seoul, Pyungchang, Beijing, Hefei, Huainan, Guangxi, Guangzhou and Hong Kong.  As I look back on the last four weeks I find it hard to believe that we successfully navigated two countries and four cities as a family of six and finally a family of eight.

I have been able to briefly discuss a few of our adventures but in truth, they are far too numerous to put into this blog.  The Lord has brought us new, lifelong friends and experiences we will never forget.  Most importantly he has brought us two more incredible children.  He has entrusted us with their care and we are humbled by this opportunity.

Mark and Faith continue to amaze us as they adapt to life in a family.  Mark is all boy and loves to wrestle and swim.  He spends much of each day asking for the later.  If I ask if he wants some food he answer's with a toothy grin, "no - swimming".  He has come to love his brothers dearly.  Our oldest son, Matthew, got a surprise the other night when Mark decided he wanted to sleep in the same bed. Matt said it was very crowed but deeply touched by the sentiment.  He will be leaving for college in a few weeks and desperately wanted to get close to his new siblings before his departure.  It would seem he succeeded.

Faith is a character as well but doesn't like getting her picture taken.  When they meet, we know that Faith and Grammie will be kindred spirits.  Faith loves, loves, loves to read.  She walks down the street with an open book in her hand.  She will read in the elevator and on the bed.  She will read on the train and on the plane - she will read on a boat and with a goat - she does not like green eggs and ........................ Oops sorry - got carried away:)

                                                                                                                                                            Both children are doing immensely well and we could not imagine a more wonderful journey than the one we have experienced over the last month.  Tonight we leave China and return to the world we know.  Our departure is with some sadness but also excitement as well.  We will return to the love and excitement of friends and family and begin our new life together in earnest.  We ask for prayers for safe travel and that we continue to meld smoothly as a family before God.  Our journey is not over ............ it is just beginning.

One last quick note.  Since our family article was published in Korea a few days ago we have been contacted by a Korean documentary company, one Korean radio station and KBS.  The later is the largest television station in Korea and wishes to put us on a popular show loosely translated, "People Stories".  Please pray that if this is something that would be good for the children and bring glory to God that it would happen and open many hearts to the possibilities of adoption.  We ask for the Lord's guiding hand as we assess these issues.  Thank you for your prayers.  We cannot wait to see you all in person!!

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

A Family United -

During the last year our family has experienced miracle after miracle.  We have grown in ways I never thought possible and have discovered a relationship with the Lord that defies description.

For the last year we have all worked in earnest to bring home our two new children.  As a family we faced many struggles to make this happen and to our utter surprise many of our friends stepped up to share the load.  They took upon themselves burdens which were not their own and carried us on their shoulders until we could walk again without assistance.  There will never be anything we can do to repay those wonderful people except to say that these are your children as well.  Our journey is your journey and you will forever be an integral part of our lives.

It's hard to believe but just two days ago, Mommy, Daddy, Matthew, Caitlin, Luke and Rachel all waited nervously in a government office in the Guangxi province.  It was time, it was that treasured moment; any second now our two newest family members would come around the corner.  We all glanced at one another with nervous enthusiasm as we wondered what they would be like ............. and just like that - they walked into the room.

1st Photo as a Family of Eight!

Mark led the way, with a giant smile and his mouth wide open in wonder and excitement.  Faith was close on his heals with her dimples in full bloom.  All eight of us stumbled over one another as we exchanged hugs in all directions and then ....... suddenly ...... we were a family .......... we were whole ........ we were as God intended us to be.  Papers were signed, pictures were taken, and for the next two days, we would be their legal guardians as our trial period began.

Faith, Marissa (friend also adopted today) & Mark
We sat in the lobby and visited with our new kiddos as the rest of the families experienced the joy of meeting their children as well.  Seven families had been scheduled for this joyous experience on this day and it was a busy office.  We were the only family with "two" new children but we were also blessed with another family adopting a 13 year old girl from the same orphanage.  She was a good friend of our children and it has been an absolute joy getting to know the "Farmers" and their new daughter.

Mark & Faith's Biological Parents
(sadly now deceased)

It was fun to watch our four "resident" children
bond so quickly with their new siblings as the afternoon progressed.  The girls gently took Faith to their room and the boys marched off with Mark to do the same.  Without hesitation they got the kiddos showered, cleaned up and presented them with new clothing.  Everyone was all smiles as we headed up in the elevator to the lounge for dinner.  Perhaps I've been a little short sighted but did you know that it's much more difficult to find a table large enough to fit eight?

1st Family Bible Study

Bedtime came very quickly and the frequent yawns of our newest children spoke of a day filled with more excitement than they were used to.  We opened our family bible study book and spent a very special 10 minutes as a family of eight.  (Having a "Chinese-speaking" daughter came in very handy at this point.)  We explained our love for God and how He teaches us to be kind to everyone around us.  Then we very briefly learned how He created the world and closed the book.  Hand in hand we formed a circle and bowed our heads before our Creator.  The Lord had brought us on this journey and guided us every step of the way.  It is with Him that we ended our first day together.

Day two was filled with more adventures as we got to go visit the children's orphanage.  It was both similar to others we had seen and remarkably different all at the same time.  It was located in the middle of the city behind some larger buildings and we could here the voices of the children as we approached the structure.  Smiling faces greeted us at the gate and we were welcomed into their home.  Unlike so many other institutions in China, this one was adorned with photos of the children themselves.  One wall downstairs had been covered with the children currently in the institution and the other, much to our surprise, was covered with children that had already found their families and travelled home.  Imagine that!  This facility was actually educating the kiddos on what it was like to have a family!!  Remarkable!  We had never seen this before.

Mark and Faith proudly led us around their former home and showed us their rooms.  Large bunk beds occupied much of the space but the nannies clearly had arranged things in a very organized fashion.  Laundry hung by the windows, trying in vain to dry in the intense heat and humidity and there were even a few stuffed animals on the beds.  The facility was old and spoke of decades of use but there was something remarkably different.  These children weren't just problems to be solved - they weren't just mouths to feed ..................... these children ............... were loved!

Our Friends (the Farmers), Director, head Nanny & Us

We met with the director of the facility for a hour or so and everything we had thought was confirmed as we spoke.  To him, this wasn't a job - it was a calling.  He cared deeply for each one of these children and spent much of his time making sure that we would understand the cultural behavior of the children so we wouldn't get angry with them.  He wanted them to be happy, he wanted them to succeed .............. he wanted them to be loved.

Dinner was our next surprise and we were blessed in abundance as we sat down to a meal with all that they had.  As we settled onto our plastic stools, we were surprised to see two new girls we had not known and asked as to their stories.  The director told us that they had just transferred to this orphanage a week ago and would soon have the paperwork completed so they, too, could find families.  We were the first foreigners and the first adoptive
A Loved Teacher!
families they had every met.  He wanted to teach them what things would be like for them in the future so they would not be afraid to be adopted.  We practically choked on our food at hearing this.  Never before had we seen such a caring facility and forward thinking towards the future of the children.  I honestly have no words to accurately describe how impressed we were with our children's former home.   The nannies loved them, their teacher loved them and this director has broken new ground in every way possible.

Mark & Faith donating what little they had!
As the evening came to a close we joyfully watched Mark and Faith hand out all the gifts we had prepared together.  Every child received a gift bag and a few older, close friends even got some extra special items.  The previous day our children owned next to nothing but today they got to share their newfound blessings with all their friends. 

Then it came time to say goodbye and hugs were exchanged all around.  Mark and Faith, however, had one surprise left and it was something we'd known nothing about.  They had been given a little spending money over the last few months and they had saved it up.  With grateful hearts they placed the majority of it into the hands of the head nanny.  "A donation to their orphanage to help with expenses."  Tears welled up in our eyes as we realized just what type of children we had been blessed with.  They had next to nothing but they gave it to help others.  How could we ever possibly deserve children like this?  Only by God's grace could we ever receive such a gift.

I, Wei ShengCheng (Mark) agree to be adopted.

I, Wei JuQing (Faith) agree to be adopted.

Friday, July 15, 2016

                                                           Orphanage Revisited -

Our eldest daughter, Caitlin, courageously left China 3.5 years ago with little understanding of where she was going.  She left behind her friends, her nanny, her country and the only home she had ever known.  Today ........... today she came back!

As the bus rumbled down the street it splashed through the fresh puddles and we could see the excitement on Caity's face growing.  Her smile grew wider as her feet bounced up and down in anticipation.  She looked to her parents and back out the window.  She stood up, sat down and then slapped my shoulder multiple times.  "Daddy, daddy, we getting close now."  We rounded one more corner and passed through the gates.  Caity was home.........

We exited the bus just as dirty little faces peaked around the corner.  One by one they appeared, timidly approaching the newcomers.  Then the nannies appeared and Caitlin was reunited with the kind hearts that taught her grace in the midst of the poverty and hunger of her childhood.

In a country where touch and hugging is rare, the warmth of the embraces were remarkable to witness.  The nannies proudly led us to the new common eating area.  Previously the children all ate in their tiny rooms but now they had a special place for food.  It was a minor improvement but an improvement nonetheless.

We visited with all the children as they ate their meals and were surprised to see that they had food in excess.  Caitlin tells of how hungry she was every day of her life.  She tells of how she would scrounge for food in trash cans in the hopes for some tiny scraps.  We pray that this was a permanent improvement and not just for show.

Much to our delight we watched the smile on Caity's face as she shared all of the snacks we brought with us.  She left years ago with nothing and now she comes back to share her blessings with all those left behind.

We watched our two youngest children transition from shock at the living conditions to comfort as they interacted with the many smiling faces, following the lead of their eldest brother.

The tour continued and Caitlin showed her siblings her former room.  Very small by western standards for one person - here it was shared by eight individuals - 2 children per single bed.

The odors of the distressed living conditions wafted past as the tour progressed.  Outside was a little child using a bucket for a toilet and waved as we went by.  The rusty old sink sat silently for the moment.  A place where Caitlin spent many hours scrubbing all the children's clothes by hand.  In summer, in winter and all year round.  The shadows of memories echoed behind her eyes as she absorbed all the realities of her past.  Was this really where she had lived for so long?

Then it was off to lunch.  Caitlin was permitted to bring whomever she wished and she chose no fewer than seven people.  (Good thing we brought a bus.)

To be present at this meal was an honor and a joy.  There was no shortage of conversation and laughter was the main dish served.  We exchanged stories of the past and present, America and China and delighted in every tale.

We had the great honor of being invited back to one of the nanny's homes.  An opportunity to see how the locals live and experience the hospitality of the woman who taught Caity to be the incredible young lady she is today.  We squeezed through a gap in the fence and proceeded up the graffiti-ridden stairway.  This nanny had very little but shared with us all that she had.  She was kind and generous in every way and gifted us with an experience we will treasure forever.

Before the two hour journey back to our hotel one thing remained.  Just as Luke and Rachel got to view their files in Korea, so, too, will Caity see her file in China.  She will not learn anything of her biological parents since she was abandoned but she will learn one unique piece of her history. She will learn her "finding place".  The place where her mother left her on the steps 16 years ago.

We travelled there together as a family.  One would think that a place of such great significance would be ordained with some type of memorial or a plaque but the sad reality is that it is only significant to us.  Caitlin was found very unceremoniously on the steps of a bus station and all we could do to celebrate her "finding place" was to take a few photos as the rain fell around us.  It was strange to think that her "biological mother" could have been in one of the surrounding apartments; perhaps even walking past us as the station bustled with activity.  We will all need time to process the sad reality of this experience in the coming days but one thing is for certain; through the actions of this "biological mother" our family has been deeply blessed.

As we travel back on the bus together I listen to the chatter around me.  SongAe and the translator - the children are laughing - but mostly I listen to Caitlin.  Caitlin and her good friend from the orphanage who is accompanying us back to the hotel for the night.  There hasn't been a moment of silence between them since our departure.  I hope they talk all night long..............