Thursday, May 19, 2016

Learning to Dance

A couple of weeks ago, I came to the hard realization. I need help.

I was sitting in the doctor's office listening to him tell me about Hengxin's condition and what it would mean for the rest of her life. My head was spinning with implications. So much has happened and so much is still yet to come. The endless doctor visits, the mounting medical bills, thinking of all the other areas in my life that are suffering and neglected, feelings of guilt... it was all crashing in at once. All of the sudden I felt like I was floating- but with weights pounding in my head. My ears started ringing, and my fingers and lips were tingling. 

I spent the rest of the afternoon in a deep fog, tears coming several times throughout the day. After dinner, I withdrew into my room and fell into a deep sleep for several hours. I awoke to a darkened house. The kids were in bed and the house was quiet except for the sound of Dennis feeding the dog and closing up for the night.

"I need help, Dennis. I can't keep doing this on my own," I told him as we sat in the darkened dining room. I had said this in the past, but this time I meant in a way I never had before.

In every way, Dennis is my better half. I could never ask for him to be more. I'm beginning to think that he's quite possibly the inspiration for the romantic hero in Nicholas Sparks' books- as well as MacGyver, Spiderman, and the Hulk, all rolled into one. He gives everything he has, exhausting himself trying to help in anyway he can; but because of the reality that he needs to hold a full-time job to support the family, the heaviest part of handling Hengxin's medical issues has landed with me.

I don't know what I've been trying to prove for so long or why I thought I had to do it all. Maybe to prove to all the naysayers and everyone who warned me that this would be hard that I could pull it all off seamlessly- that we could emerge unscathed. But that's just not the case. We were never meant to be islands, and what we think are circling sharks are actually lifeboats, just waiting for us to say the words, "I need help."

So, I started getting that help in different areas of my life. None of this to get a better life, but simply to help clean off my looking glass, and to allow myself to see the beautiful life that I already have.

I once heard the relationship between a parent and a child described as an intricate dance: two people learning to move and sway in sync with each other. When child cries out, mom steps forward to comfort. When mom uses that tone of voice, child steps back knowing she means business. It's an ebb and flow of sorts as they learn to anticipate and react to each other's subtleties, each rhythm unique to each parent and child. With my biological children, that dance began when they were in the womb. By the time they were born, we had already been dancing for nine months. 

With Hengxin, that dance began just two and a half months ago. Dennis pointed out the other night, that we still know so little about her. What was her life like in the orphanage? What else does she remember about her birth family? What's going on in her mind behind those beautiful almond-shaped eyes? We have so much making up to do... so much lost time.

That day in the doctor's office, she shut down again as the interpreter told her some of the medical things that were coming down the pipe for her. She rolled over on the exam bed so she wouldn't have to look at us, and the tears began to flow. As I moved towards her to comfort her, the interpreter, a Chinese woman we have come to love and trust, advised that I give her space and back off.

For a split second I was torn. She knows Hengxin's birth culture better than I do. Hengxin was not taught to display or react to emotional gestures the way I do. Maybe she was right. I hesitated, wondering if I should listen to someone, who in many ways, probably knows more about my daughter than I do.

"Screw it," I thought. That's not how I dance. I went over and hugged her and stroked her head. "Things will get easier. This has been hard, but you have been strong," I told her. I knew she didn't understand what I was saying, but I needed her to know that when she cried, mom would come.

And I'm learning to dance as well... to the reality of my new life- one that involves a lot of jumping between lifeboats and remembering that the music was not given to us so we could dance alone. Nor were we meant to dance with gritted teeth and white-knuckles, but to embrace the music for what it is: crazy, messy, and unpredictable; but intricate and amazing, and full of beauty.

And what a beautiful little dancer my girl is turning out to be.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

She called me "mama"

There's something about being exhausted that makes me want to sit down and write, I think to try to sort it all out. We've been in doctor's offices and waiting rooms all day. Aside from two thyroid scans, we were evaluated for the worst double ear infection I've ever seen, and an arm fractured in two places from four-wheeling- all for Hengxin. Poor girl! Trying to keep Mila contained and acting semi-human for that long was a task of Biblical proportions in itself- like trying to feed Cheerios to a cross between a wet cat and T-Rex. So yes, I'm tired and my nerves are raw.

The other day someone said to me, "You're a strong person. I don't think I could ever do what you're doing. I'm just not that type of person."

I was embarassed. If I have ever made it seem like I am "that type of person," then I have been unintentionally but terribly deceiving, because "that type of person" is certainly not me. Sure, I have my moments, but that's all they are... moments. And sometimes, when I'm in a good place, those moments are longer and closer together, but usually they're sporadic and unpredictable. Hopefully some day those moments will all string together and I will in fact become "that person," but that woman is still light years away.

My children will tell you that I've taught them lots of things: how to say "thank you" and to respect all life, from the tiny ant to the huge oak tree. They've learned tolerance, tidyness, and how to work hard. They've learned that true beauty comes only within- that anything else is superficial and fleeting.

But I've also taught them other things- many of them not so stellar. I've taught them that 8:30pm is the witching hour when moms turn into momsters. They've heard me say (and then repeated) a few four-letter words. And I've taught them - no, shown them- that people can be selfish, short-sighted, and impulsive.

In the few years that they'll live under my roof, my children will see both the best and the worst of human nature, all from the same person- their mother.

On Tuesday Hengxin called me "mama" for the first time. She said it casually, without even looking up, as she called for me to help her with an English assignment.

I answered equally non-chalantly, but inside my heart wanted to burst. She called me mama! I had been waiting and wondering how long it would take. Two months and two days.

I think of the vulnerability it took for her to call me mother. So recently I was nothing more than a complete stranger. What if she called out for me and I scolded her that I was not her mama? What if I told her I was only a mama to my biological children? What if I hadn't answered? I can only imagine. It would have been crushing. But once again, my brave girl stepped up to the plate and took a risk, and I was amazed by her.

But man... I sure hope she knows that she's not getting a fairy godmother version of a mama- that I'm just a 34 year-old kid, still trying to get my crap together. That everyday I pray for the strength to do and to be what I'm utterly incapable of being on my own. As Mother's Day approaches this year, I'm grateful for the greatest gift I've ever been given: the beautiful little souls God gifted me that have helped me so clearly unearth both my short-comings and my potential.

But I guess that's both the beauty and the beast of motherhood. We will never- can never- be everything we should, and somehow these amazing little people still love us and call us mama.

Friday, April 22, 2016

It never should have been this way

It's really a remarkable thing to watch. Watching her learn to love and trust again, watching her blossom right before our eyes, watching her take risks and push herself- it's incredible. She is remarkable. Truly. But I can't help watch her and think that it never should have been this way. She should have never been here in the first place. She should have never had to cry herself to sleep in an orphanage, wondering why her father left her on a street corner that day and never came back. She should never have to be haunted with the fading memory of her mother's face. She should never have to wonder why she was the only one, and why her siblings were spared. She should have never been taken to a strange land with unfamiliar people. I am often told how fortunate she is to be with us, but I don't think I'll ever be able to agree with that statement. If she had gotten out of life what she deserved- what she was rightfully entitled to- she'd never be here today.

It's impossible to quantify the leaps and bounds we take each day with her. It's like having an 11 year-old newborn, but on warp speed: the first taste of peanut butter, the first sip of apple juice, her first time riding a bike, getting her ears pierced, coaxing her into a swimming suit for the first time, teaching her to say "thank you." Last night before bed she gave me her first real hug- the kind where she holds on a little longer and leans her head against my chest. Every day there is another "first."

I love watching her push the boundaries on her comfort zone with me too. Today I saw it as she groggily emerged from her bedroom and climbed into my bed to catch 5 more minutes of sleep, just like my other kids do when morning comes too soon. Another first. Each tiny first seems like a huge milestone.

A few weeks ago I sensed that our restrictive cocooning period was wearing on her. I feared that perhaps it would start taking the opposite effect if I carried on with it much longer. We toured the local elementary school with an interpreter and she eagerly told me she wanted to start school. Now! I hadn't planned on enrolling her until the fall, but she emphatically told me she was ready. So exactly one month after coming home, she began half days at school. It's hard for me to wrap my head around the courage it has taken her to do the things she's done over the past two months, none with the guarantee of ease or success, but all almost entirely with enthusiasm and cheerfulness,

She is astounding. Truly. She has no reason to believe that we won't betray her, that everything here isn't temporary too, just like everything else in her life used to be before we came along. She has no reason to trust us and yet somehow she does... implicitly. How she has managed to maintain a level of trust in the frailty of the human spirit alive for so many years is beyond me.

It has been one of the most incredible things I've ever seen but, like anything else that's built to last, has also had its challenges. We have moments of being tired of each other. Her new siblings get under her skin sometimes, and her heart aches for the ability to speak freely, without the confines of a language barrier... and sometimes we all just want to go back to the way things used to be when things were simpler. But like in every relationship, each challenge is part of a greater whole- a greater overall wellness. Because without these challenges, our relationship would lack roots- it would lack any depth. It's the very moments of wanting to give up, but not giving up, that help her to realize that we are here to stay, come rainbow or thunderstorm.

Yesterday evening I got a wonderful phone call from her endocrinologist- a diagnosis! Thankfully, of all the possible diagnoses that had been thrown our way, this one is the most reassuring. It's interesting how when the other possibilities are so daunting, a person can breathe a sigh of relief when they're told that all their child will need is a couple of major surgeries and life-long management and medication. But that, I can handle! The other prospects... not so much. We still have a long road ahead, but at least now that road has direction.

And so here we are, almost two months after meeting for the first time, and Dennis and I both agree that she's not the same girl we met that day in the Civil Affairs office. Her eyes are brighter and she's come alive in a different way. She's a sister, a daughter, and an integral part of a family- none of these for the first time- but now forever.

Friday, April 1, 2016

Imperfect Child

Today marks one month that HengXin offically became a part of our family. This past week has been both beautiful and rough. With HengXin battling constant low-grade fevers and brutal insomnia, she has felt utterly miserable. She has become weary of taking the new medications since the promise of feeling better has proved to be anything but true. If anything, she has felt worse since starting them.

The stress is starting to catch up with me as well. The possible diagnoses they're throwing out are scary and overwhelming. The magnitude of how our lives have and will continue to change is hitting me like a ton of bricks. It was a long morning of doctor's appointments and testing, and it's looking like this might become part of a new norm for us, at least for the forseeable future. I had a good cry this afternoon and felt better.

From the first day we started looking into adoption, it has been a rollercoaster, with both amazing vistas during the highs, and intensely discouraging valleys during the lows. Coming home has been no different. 

As sweet as she is, she manages to push buttons and trigger insecurities I never even knew I had. Almost constantly throughout the day, a silent dialogue is running through my head.

It's from having lived in an orphanage.

It's cultural.

She's never been taught differently.

She's grieving.

Don't take it personally.

This isn't about you.

...But even knowing these things, it's still tiring.

Thankfully my little girl seems to feel a close bond to me and Dennis, and seems content to be within arm's reach of me at almost any time of day. Hugs are beginning to be something she enjoys, and readily embraces us several times each day. For someone, like me, who loves physical affection but also needs her space, the constant physical closeness has been both a blessing and a challenge.

Earlier this week I had to go for a jog to decompress. After a long day of eye-rolling and typical pre-teen attitude, I needed some space and a break... a four mile break. Dennis talked to her about how mom gets tired and needs a rest sometimes. And sometimes mom feels sad and overwhelmed.

I returned home at dusk to an eager little girl awaiting me at the gate. She eagerly hugged me, pointed out the beautiful colors of the sunset, and led me inside to a surprise she had prepared for me. Banana slices- cut in the shape of a heart- with Skittles sprinkled on top, a tall glass of water, and marshmallow Peeps were neatly arranged on a plate. Sitting next to it, the stuffed animal she had bought me in China, with the bracelet we had worked together on in the hospital. Oh.... that girl. How does she do it? One moment I want to rock in a corner, banging my head against the wall, and the next moment my heart is a melted puddle on the floor.

One of her favorite ways to unwind is to sing along to Chinese music videos. The sounds of a prepubescent Chinese boy band are heard throughout the house almost any time of day. I love hearing her sing along, though it's usually the same song over and over and over ...and over again. 

After my tearful mini-meltdown today, I came home from work to find her listening to her song again. She brought me the phone and pointed to the screen, indicating that she wanted me to watch the video. She had found a version of her song on Youtube with the lyrics translated into English. The song was titled, "Imperfect Child."

As I finally understood the words to the song she had sung along to, dozens of times each day, my tears again flowed freely. But this time the tears were different. I couldn't believe this was what I had been hearing all along. She eagerly watched me and then smiled, asking if I liked the song.

Did I like it? Are you kidding me? I gave her a big hug. I love it. Now, please excuse me while I mop up the puddle on the floor that used to be my heart.

When my smile shines like the sun
When my dreams are bright enough
The whole world will applaud me
But only you worry that I will get hurt

While the whole world waits for me to fly higher
Your heart hurts for my tiny wings
You support me
And give me a place to rest

When I need to seem like a perfect child
And fulfill everyone's expectations
Yet it seems you don't mind
The sight of my foolish mistakes

My imperfect dreams 
You think about with me

My imperfect courage
You tell me to be strong

My imperfect tears
You wipe with your smile

My imperfect songs
You sing each one

My imperfect worries
You worry about each one

This imperfect me
You treat like a treasure

The love you give me is not perfect
But is most beautiful

The whole world is rushing me to grow up
But you hold me tightly in your arms
And shelter me from unknown storms

When I work hard to be a perfect child
And fulfill everyone's expectations
You don't tell me all your wishes
Fearing the weight on my shoulders

The love you give me is not perfect
But is most beautiful

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Dying, Grief, and Rebirth

It was an awful dream. Gruesome and bloody and terribly disturbing. It came when we were in China, the night after HengXin's first major shutdown and I wondered why it seems like the dreams that are the most telling to me have always had a gruesome element to them.

I dreamt I was still in college, and as with most dreams, much of what I saw made little sense or was strangely bizzare. But the one thing that was perfectly clear was the terrible aftermath.

I had come home from class to find police tape restricting the entrance to my dorm room. A flurry of investigators were inside my room, taking pictures and collecting evidence.

"Your roommate died today...murdered," the policeman told me off-handedly. "But feel free to go on in and go about your business. Just ignore us while we finish up our work. We'll be done and out of your hair soon."

I ducked under the police tape and was aghast. Blood was splattered throughout the room that we had shared. It was horrifying. Choked with grief and shock, it was staggering to comprehend the loss of my friend and the horror of what had just happened. My world had been completely turned upside down and I knew I would never be the same again. There had been a terrible tragedy and I had been asked to pretend that nothing had happened.

I woke up, still overcome with grief from my terrible dream. I looked over to the little girl we had just adopted a few days before, sleeping restlessly in the room next to me, and realized this dream had been about her and her life.

She has had a hard life. Abandoned at the age of five, she remembers many of the details of the terrible day that forever changed the course of her life- the day her biological father abandoned her. She remembers her parents, her siblings, and many of the painful aspects of her first few years. Life has always been difficult for her, even when she was home with her biological parents.

She was then sent to an orphanage, where she would spend the next six years bouncing between foster families. Developing deep friendships with her foster siblings only to have them severed as they were either adopted or shuffled around to other foster families. The only permanent thing about her life was the very nature of its impermanence. Nothing stayed. Everything eventually left. And left behind in the wake of so much tumult and uncertainty was a small little girl, with medical issues and grief of her own, expected to pick up the pieces and continue on her merry little way. She speaks of it matter-of-factly. It is what it is, she says.

This girl is a fighter and I am continually amazed at her resilience- at her ability to be cheerful and kind and selfless when life has given her so many lemons. But it still breaks my heart.

This weekend was tough. Friday morning she was admitted to the hospital for tachycardia and severe hyperthyroidism. Her endocrinologist said he had never in his career seen thyroid levels so high and that he couldn't send her home until she was more stable. Her tiny heart was racing at 180 beats per minute- dangerously high- but again, she continued to smile and said she felt fine. The doctor had confirmed what I had suspected from the first day I met my cheerful little girl- that she is much sicker than she looks.

And then came the tests: MRI, EKG, echocardiogram, ultrasounds, blood draws galore, and the promise of dozens of more tests and visits to every possible type of specialist in the coming weeks and months.

I once heard grief described as the waves of a storm on a sea, pummeling a traveling ship at unexpected times and in unexpected ways. As she lay on a hospital gurney after eight hours of being unable to eat, and an hour and a half of being poked and prodded by an ultrasound technician, she was hit by another wave. Curled up in the fetal position, she sobbed. Tears streamed down her face and her tiny body trembled. It was just too much for such a young mind and heart to be taking in all at once.

Although I believe she truly likes us, and possibly even loves us, there is still a chasmic grief for the life and the little sense of security she left behind. There probably always will be. Although we will love her forever and are here to stay, no amount of love can ever reverse the many terrible things that have happened in her past.

Not to say that her life can never become beautiful or move on- but for there to be a rebirth, there has to first be a death, or a series of them. The death of her medical symptoms. The death of blame she places on herself for the course of her life. The death of being an orphan. The death of feeling like she has to do this all on her own.

As we sat in the hospital room and I watched her undergo test after test, I thought of the beautiful irony that this all was happening on Easter weekend- during the very days that tell the ultimate story of death and rebirth. The Son of God, who Himself was well-acquainted with grief, was surely buoying up this precious but wounded daughter of mine during her grief.

After the wave passed, this little ship put a smile back on her face and resumed her teasing of the doctors and nurses, and making me laugh with her silly antics. We read books, strung beads, and spent way too much time playing games on the IPad the hospital had lent to her.

When we were in the hospital, she told me that when her birth mother would leave her home alone to care for her younger brother, as she did every day while she went to work, they ate ice cream to pass the time. I had to smile to myself. In the four weeks that we've had her, we've made it our little tradition to have ice cream every day. I didn't realize that this was perhaps why our little tradition is so dear to her. It is as a link to her biological brother who was also torn from her that terrible day.

On this weekend that we celebrate the beauty of death and rebirth, I give thanks to God for letting me witness such a beautiful rebirth in such a precious daughter of His. Because of Him, she will live again.

A dozen roses from her dad as a welcome home gift from the hospital,
as well as soft blanket with her name embroidered on it.
We still aren't sure who brought it by but she loves it! Thank you!

Sunday, March 20, 2016

No longer just the nice lady

Tomorrow marks three weeks that HengXin will have been a part of our family. In some ways it has flown by and in other ways it seems like the days have crawled by. In many ways, having her as felt like having a newborn again, and I seem to have much less time and sleep than I did before, but I am eternally grateful to have her in our family. As I write this, my eyes well up with tears at my gratitude to God for having led us to her. She truly is a special girl and I love her dearly.

We had so many friends and family praying for a smooth flight home, that I realize I need to follow up on how it went, as I know their prayers and faith were what brought us home in one piece.

I had quite a bit of anxiety leading up to our flight because of her history of motion sickness and how she had shut down for us a handful of times in the past. I had prayed that God would grant us yet another miracle- that she would handle the flight home well and not shut down until after we got home.

On the first leg of the trip from Guangzhou to Shanghai she did amazing- thrilled at the take-off, and marveling at the city and tiny cars below. The newness of the experience seemed exciting and exhilarating to her, enough that she wasn't affected by motion sickness. Phew... Maybe this wouldn't be so bad. 

Soon after landing at the Shanghai airport, I could see her eyes hooding and growing distant. She stopped making eye contact and started increasing the walking distance between us. I had seen it enough times to recognize the warning signs. I looked in despair at Dennis and thought, Oh, no, no, no... We can't do this now!

We were in one of the busiest airports in the world, surrounded by a sea of quickly moving people. We had just spent an hour waiting for our luggage, only to realize that the airline had lost one of our suitcases- the one with all of our souvenirs and gifts. Our next flight was scheduled to leave in 30 minutes and we were frantically trying to check our remaining bags in through Seattle and make it through the long security line that seemed to be moving at a snail's pace... and she had just shut down. ...clamped down. She was no longer responding to me or Dennis and insisted on sitting on a curb around the corner from us, just out of sight.

I had to get through to her- desperately so. Again, I prayed silently for wisdom. Where in the past I had quietly given her space and time, that simply wasn't an option this time. I knew I needed to try something different so for the first time in the two weeks that she had been with us, I knelt in front of her, leveling our eyes, and used a tone that every child understands in their mother's voice. I knew she couldn't understand my words, but she watched my hand motions, heard the gravity in my voice and saw the seriousness in my face. I saw that she understood what I needed her to grasp.

"I know you're sad, and it's okay to be sad, but you have to say where Mama can see you. There are too many people and you will get lost."

Our battle of wills went back and forth for several minutes- her giving me death glares as I continued to insist that she stay where I could see her. She angrily motioned that she had no intentions of getting on the plane, that she was staying right where she was.

"What are you going to do?" I asked her exasperated. "Are you going to stay here alone in Shanghai, because Baba and I are getting on that plane."

With furrowed brows she begrudingly stood up, motioning that she would follow us and stay within sight, though she still maintained her distance.

As we stood in the agonizingly slow security line, I peaked over and saw her staring off in the distance. Huge crocodile tears were streaming down her face as silent sobs shuttered through her tiny body. I had seen her cry before but never like this. I reached over and hugged my grieving little girl, sure that she would push me off, but she stiffly stood still without pulling away. I stroked her head and told her I loved her. A thousand memories came flooding back, of me standing in the airport, with tears streaming down my face as my family moved to another country, yet again, leaving all of my friends behind. We did it so many times, and somehow it never got easier. My little girl was aching, and in a very small way I had felt some of her pain. I had to blink back my own tears at the painful memories. And yet, in an odd way, I was relieved to see the grief because it told me she understood.

Within minutes she was smiling and back to her cheerful self, having given her grief its space and time- as she should- and had moved on.

We ran full speed to our next flight and made it on the plane by the skin of our teeth. She sat down in her seat, out of breath and laughing at how frantic the airline attendants were to get us in our seats so we could take off. She was back.

The rest of the trip was wonderfully uneventful. She did amazingly well on the rest of the flights and seemed thrilled at the prospect of finally coming home to her forever family.

I think our relationship took a turn that day in the airport in Shanghai. I was no longer just the nice lady who took her to get ice-cream at the 7-Eleven and bought her gifts, but someone that cared about her enough to wag my finger at her and insist on her safety. Oddly enough, I think she found a strange sort of maternal comfort in that. Surely this is not the last we've seen of her grief, but it's something that I know must be met and embraced for what it is, each time it comes.

We are home- and I am so glad for it- but I realize now, more than ever, that our journey is just beginning.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Finally Home

We are finally HOME! It's hard to describe what the past two days have felt like. It will take sometime to put into words the overwhelming feels of both joy and responsibility that I've felt over the past 36 hours. I'll save that for another time as it is quite late and I'm still recovering from jet lag.

We kept the specifics of our travel dates and information fairly private until we returned. I felt uneasy advertising the fact that our house would be empty for two weeks. While we were gone, I updated family and a few friends.

February 28, 2016

I apologize for the delay in getting an update out. Facebook and all Google services are blocked in China, and the VPN we bought to get past the block has not worked well. Funny how now that we don't have access to Google that I'm realizing how much we depend on it everday back home for a hundred little things!

We arrived in Guangzhou at about 2:30am Sunday morning. We are 15 hours ahead of home here, so that would have been 11:30am on Saturday back home. We were exhausted. We rested for about 10 hours at the hotel and then caught a bullet train to Nanning.

It's 3am as I write this (though I didn't send it till several hours later) on the night before we meet our little girl, and I'm wide awake- partly from jet lag, and partly out of anxiety.

Part of my anxiety comes from some of the challenges we've encountered in the short day we've been here. The biggest challenge by far has been communication. I had assumed that, like in many parts of the world, there would be a fair amount of people that have a basic working knowledge of English. Perhaps that assumption is part of the American arrogance that most foreigners can't stand about us, but either way, it has surprised me how puzzled people have been at what we assume to be fairly intuitive sign language. They seemed baffled that we don't understand Mandarin and insist on repeating themselves, regardless of how much I try to let them know that we don't speak Mandarin.

Needless to say, we have felt completely helpless when we haven't had our guide with us, so much that it's comical. I mentioned to Camden last night to take mental note of how frustrating and tiring it is to be so incapacitated by a language barrier, and that HengXin will feel even more helpless and vulnerable when she is back home with us.

But even with the few frustrations we've had, it has overall been a very positive experience so far. There is much I've seen that I like about the Chinese culture. China is absolutely beautiful.

We will be meeting our little girl in a few hours at 2:30pm Monday (11:30pm Sunday back home), and assuming custody. We will leave the hotel a bit earlier so we can visit the site where she was found by a policeman when she was five years old. It's a simple street corner but for some reason I feel compelled to go- to visit the place that forever changed the course of her life.

Please pray for her. She didn't choose any of this- not her abandonment, not her special need, not living for so long  in an orphange, and certainly not us. I pray that when we can't communicate with words, that our hearts will make up the difference, and that she knows that she is loved in a way that surpasses human understanding. How could we love someone we know so little about? Even I don't know, but somehow we do, and deeply so.

I'll try to give my next update soon after we take custody of her, which will just be in about 6 1/2 hour from now.

We love you and thank you for your prayers and well-wishes. They mean more to us than you know.

February 29, 2016

(Rita's update)

I apologize for the terrible pictures. I forgot my camera cord and our old laptop does not have a card reader. Here are some pictures I took with Dennis' phone from off my camera. I apologize but they'll have to suffice until we get home and I'm able to download them. We were waiting outside the room where she was waiting for us at the civil affairs office and our guide came out and said she was crying inside with the orphange director as she waited for us. That put me over the edge and I started crying too, realizing that no matter how nerve-racking this was for us, she was a hundred times more terrified than we could ever be. What a brave little girl she is. She came in to meet us, walking tall but very nervous and gave us hugs. What an amazingly brave little girl. She showed us a picture album of her friends and had small gifts for each of us. Her orphanage director had bought her a cute little suitcase filled with clothes, framed pictures of her friends, and her favorite snacks. I am so grateful that my little girl seems to have been cared for so well. We are unsure about her name still. She told us she likes the name Sophie, but she also laughed and said she likes her own name as well. We are in no hurry to change her name until she is good and ready. From what we can tell, she is very, very sweet. Very thoughtful and giving, offering us some of her favorite candies and showing us things from her life. Though her file and the guide say she is timid, she seems to have warmed up to us quickly and smiles and laughs easily. As the evening winds down though, I sense that some of her initial excitement is beginning to wane. Perhaps she is tired and perhaps reality is beginning to set in. Please continue to pray for our brave little girl. It seems fitting that we took custody of her on the 29th of February- leap year. What a big leap for us, but an even bigger leap for her as she leaves behind every stitch of comfort and security that she has ever known. I love this sweet little girl.

(Dennis' update)

So far, so good. We went to the civil affairs office today and got temporary custody of Hengxin. She is with us now, and we've been able to play, color, and walk around with her. We've asked her if she is afraid and she indicates that she is not. You could tell she was nervous when she met us, and our guide told us that she had cried some before they brought her to us, which is a good thing. She is somewhat shy, but her smile melts my heart. Her smile is what hooked me from the beginning, and it was comforting to me to see her smile and laugh with us today. Tomorrow we go back to the Civil Affairs office to finish the final adoption paperwork and fill out an application for her visa. She is very considerate and we are looking forward to another day. Language is a barrier but we've enjoyed having her help us learn a few words and phrases. We have yet to have her try to speak any English words yet but i'm hoping it will happen as she becomes more comfortable and less shy. She is a good girl and we are loving finally having her. Camden is great and has tried hard to make her feel comfortable and they both laugh every time he tries to say something in Mandarin. Look forward to tomorrow.

March 1, 2016

Today was a difficult day for me. Not because of our little girl, but because of the emotions that came with the reality of what my little girl has been through in her short life. With each passing day I'm learning what a survivor she is. She unexpectedly opened up to our guide, who she really seems to like and trust, and told him about the day she was abandoned by her parents. Her file was unclear on details of her abandonment, just as it is about almost everything else. I don't believe it's because the orphanage intends to be untruthful, but simply because of the sheer volume of children that are in their care and because of the many things that are lost in translation when their file translatess from Mandarin to English. She remembers in heart-breaking clarity the day she was abandoned. She was about five years old and recalled to us many of the details of that day along with valuable but heart-breaking information about her early years at home. When the civil affairs office gave us a copy of the newspaper article that sought her parents after she was abandoned, I couldn't stop the tears. Her little face, along with a dozen other children's faces who were also abandoned and whose parents were being sought was too much for me.

Today was a stark reality that adoption is not a happily ever after. It is just one more step along a cobblestone road of broken hearts and loss. Hopefully a step towards that happily ever after, but still just one more reason to grieve and another challenge to create familial bonds with nonfamilial people.

After finalizing the adoption at the civil affairs office, we visited her orphanage and foster home. Her foster mother is a lovely woman who seemed quite smitten with Camden. She kept offering him food and at the end of our visit gave him a big hug and a kiss on the cheek, which is not typical affection towards strangers in China. What a sweet lady. She mentioned several times how helpful HengXin was to her and how helpful and kind she is to everyone around her.

Nanning is a beautiful city, with many trees and parks. She will miss this place. The sounds, the smells, the people. I'm sad for her just thinking about it.

We did have a few difficult moments of grief today, but she once again amazed me with her attempts to tell us how she was feeling with our little pocket dictionary. She is a precious girl and as of today, I can finally say that I am officially and legally her mother.

March 3, 2016

We've spent the last two days visiting Guilin, a place known as one of the most beautiful places in China. I read about it in a book and wanted to come when I realized it was only a short train ride away from Nanning. It's pretty much heaven on earth. I told Dennis we need to sell everything and move here, especially considering how Super Tuesday went. But in all seriousness, being here feels like coming home to me. Of all the places I've been to, this definitely is at the top of my list of favorites. Last night we watched the night fisherman who use the comorant fishing birds. If you get a chance, look up some video clips online. Amazing. Today we took a 4-hour river cruise down the Li River. Absolutely remarkable. I kept thinking about my dad and how much he would like it here- the agriculture, the breath-taking scenery, the simplicity of life.

HengXin is doing well. She is remarkably patient and tries very hard to be positive and kind. Her and Camden have become fast friends. It's cute watching them together. Every evening she seems to withdraw within herself and shut down for about thirty minutes. From what I've learned, this can be common, especially in the evenings with adopted children, but she recomposes herself and moves on. She amazes me. As I type this, her and Camden are jumping around the hotel room, playing with a helicopter toy they bought today. Bringing him was one of the best decisions we made.

I'm saddened to see how people here watch her as she walks by and to hear some of the callous things people say to her. She draws more stares and attention than we do as foreigners. I'm by no means an expert in the Chinese culture, but it seems like there is a very narrow definition of beauty and she is an outlyer. It saddens and frustrates me but she seems to take it in stride.

She bought me a beautiful silver bracelet today in Yangshuo and I'll treasure it forever. Partly because it was bought in a charming 1400 year-old town, but mostly because I felt like it was her way of showing love to her new mother. She is a darling girl. I can't wait for you all to meet her.

March 5, 2016

Sometimes when we pray for wisdom, instead of granting us wisdom, God instead gifts us with people who have the wisdom that we lack. Today was one of those days for me.

We arrived in Guanghzou late yesterday. The American consulate is here and it's where we will stay to finalize her visa paperwork until we leave.

This morning HengXin was scheduled for a medical exam. I realize that I don't have the same knowledge or education as a doctor, but even as a nurse, I could see that the exam was a far cry from thorough. I am anxious to have her examined in the United States by our pediatrician. She obviously needs glasses and has a significant goiter in addition to her main diagnosis of adrenal insufficiency. I suspect hyperthyroidism because of what I've observed this past week, but we will have to wait and see for sure.

On the way back to the hotel she unexpectedly shut down again. But this time there was open defiance which we hadn't seen in her before. She had experienced carsickness in the van and adamantly refused to get back in. She sat down on the sidewalk and said she would never ride in a van again. Oh, boy. We agreed to walk back to the hotel, which was thankfully only a 15 minute walk. With each step, she seemed to shut down more and more. By the time we got back to the hotel, she wouldn't make eye contact with us and wouldn't let me within 10 feet of her.

Dennis had to go back to the lobby to complete more paperwork with our guide so it was just me and her in the hotel room. By now the wall felt 10 feet high. I went into the bathroom and prayed that I would be granted the wisdom and the patience to break through this wall. I sat quietly next to her as she cried. I reached out to touch her shoulder but she jerked away angrily and stormed out of the hotel room. Afraid she would try to run away, I chased after her. As the door shut behind me, I realized I didn't have a room key and we were locked out. Thankfully, she couldn't activate the elevator without a room key, so we sat in silence in the darkened hallway for what seemed like an eternity, though it was probably only 30 minutes. Any time I tried to close the 15 foot gap between us, she seemed to become more angry and more determined to shut me out.

I can't do this. I'm not patient enough, not wise enough. I'm not made out of what it takes to do this. I don't want to do this... the thoughts kept coming and I felt more and more discouraged.

When Dennis returned, I quietly told him I needed a break and that I'd grab some lunch with Camden. I had to take a breather.I felt helpless, rejected, angry, and scared as hell.

Camden put his arm around me in the elevator and asked if I was okay. "I'm frustrated," I told him. "I just don't know what to do."

He told me I needed to look at the big picture and remember that in the week she's been with us that she had been wonderful. This has been her worst moment. He reminded me that considering all she's been through in her life, she's entitled to have her moments of grief and that we need to be patient.

After lunch he suggested we stop at the corner 7-Eleven and buy some ice cream to take back to HengXin. I skeptically told him I didn't think she would take it.

"You're probably right," he agreed, "but hopefully she'll appreciate the gesture." Wisdom far beyond his years.

As we approached the hotel, Dennis and HengXin were leaving to get lunch. Camden offered her the ice cream and she quietly thanked him.

After some time, Dennis returned to the hotel room with her- both of them laughing and grinning ear to ear.

I later asked him how he had broken through to her, and he said he had used Google Translate to tell her in small sentences about when he had left home to live in Australia for two years. He told her how much he missed home and how he cried himself to sleep every night for a long time. He told her how much he missed everything about home. And then he told her how much he loved her and how honored he was to be her father. He loved her smile from the first photo he saw of her. He was afraid she might not learn to love him as much as he loved her but that he hoped someday she would. And then he cried with her.

I think God wanted them to have that moment together. Perhaps that's why wisdom and patience evaded me.

So today I thank God for the men in my life that make me better than I am- that bridge the many gaps in which I lack.

Since I'm all teary writing this, I have to inject some comic relief.

Camden asked to stay in the hotel while we took HengXin for her appointment this morning, knowing that he would just be sitting in a waiting room.

While we were gone, room service came to clean the room. He pulled out his handy dandy Google Translator and told the cleaning lady that his parents had gone out with his adopted sister and that while we were gone, we had asked him to clean up the room a little and do some homework.

Humiliated, he told me that his phrase translated to, "My parents went out to party with my adopted sister and left me."

I guess between that and Luke telling the Bakers that we feed him tobacco, I shouldn't be surprised if DCFS comes knocking at our door soon. To the wonderful people who are watching our children while we are gone, please disregard any and all incriminating statements that our children make about us in our absence....

March 6, 2016

Part of me is cautiously nervous that this week has gone so well. Aside from three relatively brief episodes of shutting down, she has done phenomenally well, much better than I had even dared to hope she would. I don't think she has fully grieved yet, and that grief will surely come eventually. It has to. But in the meantime I will be grateful for the wonderful time we are having. A wise friend, who is also an adoptive mom, wrote on her blog several months ago about the so-called honeymoon period that many adoptive families have. The honeymoon is inevitably bound to end- just like it does in any relationship- but helps establish a baseline of trust and provides opportunities for bonding moments, so I'll be grateful for it while it lasts.

The last couple of days have consisted of walks, card games, sharing card tricks, coloring, and laughing at how epically Google Translate screws up what we are trying to say to each other.

Many have been curious about why we have chosen to keep HengXin's Chinese name as her first name. It's common for adoptive parents to give their children an English first name to facilitate pronunciation, but she has remained adamant that she wants to be called by her Chinese name. She's proud of it, she tells us, and its meaning has great significance to her: Eternal Joy. And from what I've seen of her over the past week, her name is spot on. I love it.

I think of what I've learned about those two words recently- of both eternity and joy. Eternity does not always simply mean that something lasts forever, but also that it comes from and is of God. And joy... well, I've learned that we can't know joy without knowing pain. But pain is what sweetens that joy and helps us recognize it in an otherwise bland existence.

So, yes... HengXin sounds about right to me. I apologize in advance for the difficulty in pronunciation. Maybe practice it and roll it around in your mouth a bit since I know it's hard to say and even harder to remember. If it helps, it's pronounced "Hung-Sheen." If it makes you feel better, she has a hard time remembering and pronouncing our names too. We were practicing her new last name today and she said that Americans have a bad habit of saying things backwards. We had a good laugh about that because here, the last name is said before the first name. She has been known as Xia HengXin her entire life, but said she does not want to keep her Chinese last name. We were told that her last name was likely given to all of the orphans that were found that year in her province. I imagine it's a stark reminder of her abandonment, and something I understand why she is happy to shed.

A dear adoptive momma, who is here bringing home her 11th child, bought my little girl a beautiful gift today- something that we'll always treasure. It's HengXin's name artistically written in Chinese calligraphy. HengXin loves it and when we got back to our room, she eagerly wanted to teach us how to write her name. She showed us the sequence of the different strokes and was very complimentary of our chicken scratches next to her graceful handwriting.

March 8, 2016

Today I was able to breathe a final sigh of relief. We finalized HengXin's visa paperwork at the American consulate and part of the interview included her giving her final consent to be adopted. Even though the past week and a half has gone extremely well, a part of me has wondered if maybe it has all been a little too good to be true- if perhaps she was just in denial. I still think she is to an extent, but I wondered if it really came down to it and she was asked to leave everything behind, if she'd really agree to it, or if she was ready for this week-long field trip with this goofy American family to be over with. But when the interviewer asked her if she understood that she was coming to the United States with her new baba and mama, she smiled broadly and said, "yes."

She's continues to have episodes of shutting down on a nearly daily basis, but I've started noticing patterns and identifying possible triggers. She came out of today's shutdown relatively quickly after only about 30 minutes, and it was with less defiance. I hope that's a sign of developing trust and a realization that we accept her as she is- the whole package- including her pain and grief. If there's one thing that I admire about her and aspire to become more like, it's her ability to pull out of her funk and move on. She doesn't pout or hold grudges. Within five or ten minutes of climbing out of it, she's back to her normal, cheerful self. When she's done, she's done- something I'm endlessly grateful for.

Some of you have asked about her personality. I sense A LOT of similarities to Luke. It's definitely a strong personality type, but one I love and admire greatly. The first few days after we met, I caught her several times staring intently at me, as if she was trying to decide if I was someone who could be trusted. Trust seems to be everything to her.

She is extremely thoughtful and loves to show her affection with small gifts. Last night after her shutdown, she spent several hours making me a bouquet of origami flowers- I'm guessing as her way of apologizing. She stayed awake long after rest of us had gone to bed, working intently on them.

She loves to share. This, again, has surprised me, since I had expected that a child raised with very few personal possessions would want to cling on to everything she has. But the first thing she wants to do with a treat or a new toy is to offer it to everyone around her. Today my labor of love for the day was to try the pickled chicken feet that she offered me- bones, claws, skin and all. I barely choked it down but she seemed pleased as I crunched away.

She is smart... like, really smart. I'm almost embarrassed at how much I assumed that there would be some delays, but she is extremely bright- not just by orphanage standards, but by any standard. I'm curious to see what testing reveals in terms a of grade placement. I imagine she will only be one or two years behind Camden, at the very most, which is to be expected. She seems to love to learn so I don't doubt that it will take her very long to learn English.

As fair warning for my very huggy Hawkes family, she's not a huge fan of hugs or physical affection. She told us that Dennis was only the third man that she had ever hugged, so we might want to scale back a bit on the typical Latin welcome. I do give her lots of side hugs though, and try to touch her shoulders and back when I can, and it doesn't seem to bother her.

In many ways she seems older than eleven, though in some ways she is a very typical 11 year-old girl, noticing cute boys and playing with dolls. Like Luke, an automatic "off-switch" seems to be when she feels patronized or like someone is talking down to her. We've seen it a couple of times with the guide and I have to stop myself from chuckling. She is totallyno-nonsense... comically so. Many of our laughs this week have come from watching her roll her eyes at something frivolous or someone trying to pull the wool over her eyes. She has very little patience for that.

She is almost always very cheerful and loves to tease and laugh. She is oddly both go-with-the-flow and stubborn simultaneously.  An interesting paradox, but one I've become very familiar with observing Luke for the past almost nine years.

All in all, I truly love her personality. It's refreshingly honest and genuine. I pray people back home will be able to see past any visual differences and love her for what she truly is, which is a truly precious little girl.

I didn't plan on bringing up her physical appearance, but since it has proven to be a point of significant confusion and surprise here, I think it would be a good idea for people to understand a bit about what to expect.

Her medical condition can produce more masculine physical characteristics in women, but the fact that she has been untreated for the past three years has pronounced many of the features. Many people are visibly very confused when they see a child who to them seems very male wearing a dress and being referred to as a girl. I've gently corrected countless people that "he" is a she, and my daughter, and even then they look at me skeptically. Another result of her medical remaining untreated for the past three years has also resulted in a very short stature. At first glance some might even take a guess at dwarfism, but her unlikely proportions and height are simply a result of her untreated condition. Like I said before though, we will learn a lot more once we have her evaluated in the U.S.

Please message me privately if you have any questions and I will do my best to answer them the best I can with the limited knowledge that we have.

We're on the countdown. We just need to get through two more days of hotel life and then we're on our way. I miss home. I miss my other kiddos like crazy. As much as I've loved China, there's no place like Idaho.

March 9, 2016

We will be flying out in less than 24 hours and I'm ecstatic to come home again. HengXin woke up with a fever yesterday and again today. She's been laying low and has been doing a lot of self-care. In many ways she seems more intuitive than many adults about what to do when she's feeling ill. I think this tells me one or both of two things: either that she feels sick a lot and knows the routine very well, or she's had to figure these things out on her own with little help. Having met her foster mother and seeing what a kind woman she is, I'd tend to think it's the first of the two possibilities. She desperately needs to be medically evaluated for so many reasons.

She said something yesterday that made me realize that she really doesn't understand the full magnitude of what's happening. We were saying good-bye to our guide yesterday when HengXin asked if she would be able to come back to China next year and attend middle school here with her friends. Oh, dear... We had another shutdown after that.

Before we started learning about attachment, bonding, and grief, I would have assumed that any orphan would be thrilled to have a family. I would have guessed that any grief that came from leaving their homeland would be easily overridden by the joy of having a forever family. Talking to our children at home today reminded me of how nothing could be further from the truth. They've all been staying with wonderful caregivers- people they all love dearly and who have treated them wonderfully and lovingly. But watching Lauren's eyes fill with tears and Luke's lower lip quiver as we talked to them, reminded me that no matter how much they are loved and cared for by the people they're with, there's just no substitute for home- for the security that comes with the familiar.

Please keep HengXin in your prayers tomorrow. We are likely to be embarking on the second most difficult thing she's ever experienced, second only to her parent's abandonment. The flight worries me. A lot. She'll likely be fevered, homesick, and possibly motion-sick all at the same time, flying thousands of miles above the earth and away from her home, trapped in a cramped airplane seat for eleven and a half hours from Shanghai to Seattle. And to top it off, she has a stubborn streak as wide as they come. I can't help but wonder if she'll agree to get back on the plane from Seattle to Boise.

And I realize that's only the beginning. Once we get home, we will be starting another stage of grief and adjustment.

I fell asleep last night thinking of how much our Father in heaven loves her. How He no doubt has a soft spot in His heart for her, as He does for all of the motherless and fatherless. I pray that we will be strengthened on this last leg of our journey home. Please pray for my little girl.