Category Archives: Time in China

Trip Pictures Part 1

We shared a lot of pictures on our Facebook page during our trip because it was so much easier to upload quickly from our phones, but I wanted to try to start to get the blog caught up as well. So here are some highlights from our trip to Beijing and our touring time there. It’s hard to believe it’s already been a month since we did all of this – Wow!

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Our second day with Emily is what is known as “Adoption Day” because it’s the day that all of the final paperwork is signed to finalize and complete the adoption legally. Depending on the province, there are a variety of offices to visit and papers to process. We had several places to go and things to do and it was really overwhelming for Emily. She stayed in the carrier but was so scared and cried most of the time. The first office was quiet and it was just us, but we also had to go to the police station to take her passport picture and register the adoption and apply for the passport and it was in and out of the van and loud and tons of people and the poor thing was just so scared. We got a quick break for lunch and she got a tiny nap at the hotel, but then we had to go again to the Notary office. She was so tired and just fussed in the carrier the whole time trying to go back to sleep but just hot and overwhelmed. It was a relief to get back to the hotel to stay put for the evening.

In Tianjin she was consistently happiest when we went to dinner. Time and again we would see her relax and start to really open and up and be funny. She was not happy about coming back to the room and usually would cry a little when we opened the door to go in.

Wednesday and Thursday we had some great outings in the morning to the Old Cultural Street and People’s Park. We got some great souvenirs at Old Cultural Street and enjoyed every chance to learn more about Chinese culture. Our guide gave Gabi “Chinese lessons” each day teaching her 5-6 new words and Chinese characters so we practiced recognizing and saying them when we were out and about. On our way home she took us to a great local place to get a true Tianjin pancake. Wow!! Soooo good! Not at all like our pancakes. More like a wrap crepe thing made of eggs and flour with a crunchy texture inside and a variety of choices of filling. Our second day we walked through People’s Park. It was just absolutely lovely. The sky was overcast and the weather a little cooler so we just strolled and enjoyed the beauty of the park. I could have stayed there for hours. It was so peaceful and relaxing. Emily loves feeling the texture of the leaves and plants. It’s precious. On the way back to the hotel we stopped by the famous Tianjin Eye – a massive ferris wheel. We took some pictures and were in awe of how big it was.

This city is really beautiful. Different from Beijing and Guanzhou. Lots of new construction happening with skyscrapers that remind us of NYC, but historical buildings and areas rich with European architecture from former times when countries invaded and ruled this port city.

On Friday morning we swam a little, then packed up and prepared to leave. We had to go back to the orphanage for our guide to pick up one last document, then stop by the police station for her to pick up the passport, and then we headed to the airport. It was wonderful having our guide with us all the way to the security checkpoint. She made sure we got our checked luggage on okay and our tickets in hand and we even got Gabi some McDonald’s before heading towards the terminal 🙂  We were very sad to say goodbye to our guide. She was not only great at her “job” but she was a kind friend and companion. We really enjoyed getting to know her, sharing things about our lives and learning from her. She has over twenty years of experience working with families, orphanage directors and children. We feel honored to have had her as our guide.

The flight from Tianjin to Guangzhou was delayed 2 hours. So we got dinner in the Terminal. Kevin’s dinner was the biggest bowl of soup I have ever seen – all three of us could have shared it. And my plate of noodles was huge! I shared it with Emily and we had lots leftover.

We were thankful to be waiting in the terminal by the gate and not on the plane which often happens. We could at least move around. Emily fell asleep in the carrier about 15 minutes before we were called to line up for boarding. That little catnap was it until almost the end of the flight…

Chinese airports are a very different experience. We learned that the majority of the air traffic is controlled by the military. Each plane must get permission from the military before taking off, so there are often delays. Everything is communicated by an automated loudspeaker system. There are no screens or computers at each gate. The attendants are just there to collect tickets. There are screens displaying flight information, but when a plane is delayed they don’t tell you how long it will be. You just sit and be quiet and wait. You watch the other delayed planes on the screen to see how close yours is getting. And then you get ready because the second they announce your flight is boarding people jump out of their seats and walk/run to get in line at the gate. There are no “groups” for boarding. It’s every man for himself. In our case, we had to board a shuttle bus to take us to the plane. They pack you in like sardines. Then your ticket is checked again at the airplane. So it’s really different. But honestly? The whole thing was way better. People were polite, it moved really fast once they announced boarding. It was probably less than 30  minutes from that announcement to the plane taxi’ing away from the gate. Yes, there’s a lot of “Control” in play, but it was a nice change from the typical chaos and rudeness we often experience in American airports.

As we went “wheels up”, I wasn’t sure how Emily would respond but she was quiet and happy. Just like when we left James’ province last time, I felt my heart break knowing my precious girl was leaving her birthplace and her birth mother was out there somewhere. I wish it didn’t have to be this way. I hate the pain this broken world causes. I prayed for God to give her birth family an unexplainable peace that she is okay, and for all of the children and families who are forever separated, that God’s gracious love would give them strength and healing. I couldn’t hold back my tears though. I love my daughter, and I hate that this part of her story has to involve such loss. I have learned that it’s important to let your heart grieve. To feel what you feel and to connect with it as it comes in this journey.

The flight was comfortable and the people were very patient. No one said a word as our girl cried and sometimes screamed for nearly the last hour of the trip. She took a break, asleep from exhaustion, for about ten minutes towards the end, then woke up for the final descent to bring us down with some more crying  🙁   It was nearly 11pm at that point so hopefully everyone understood there was nothing we could really do, she was just so tired. Thankfully she was quite happy to be off the plane and was quiet until we got in our van where she promptly fell asleep. It was 1am before we all crawled into bed. We were relieved it was over and so glad to be in Guangzhou in a more familiar place knowing we’d be seeing other families soon.

Our trip is now more than halfway done and that too is a relief. We miss the boys a lot and while they have had a great time with family, we know they are ready for us to come home. It will be so wonderful to hug and hold them after this long separation. And we can’t wait for them to finally meet their sister!

Family Day

Where to start to describe the last four days? Wow. We are in love with our daughter, we love this city, and we love our guide!

Monday – Family Day

We got to the Children’s Welfare Institute (CWI, aka “orphanage”) around 9:15. It was exciting and emotional just finally being on site and knowing she was there and we would soon be together. They took us into the meeting room where two of the assistant directors were waiting. Talk about night and day from our experience with James. It was a very nice conference room with flower centerpieces, a huge screen at the front with a slide announcing the adoption, and there were gifts placed on the table that I could tell were for us. We signed all of the paperwork and then we told that Emily was on her way over with the nannies. We knew that she had been cared for very well and had bonded to these loving caregivers, so we fully expected her to be scared and upset. And indeed she was. It broke my heart to see and hear her cries. I hated that she had to go through that. In the end I had to simply pick her up and take her and offer lots of sweet crackers and a bottle of water. I was so glad I had brought the kind of bottle that they use there because I could tell she instantly connected to it and was comforted. We were strangers to her and of course she was terrified. As she drank the bottle she calmed and I could finally wrap her in my arms and cry tears of relief and happiness. It was the moment I’d been waiting for. Gabi’s tears came then too and I wrapped up both my girls in a hug. Kevin patiently waited nearby and took pictures. She definitely wasn’t ready for Daddy yet, but that will come in time.

They did a small ceremony with the head director who came in. They gave us a TJ CWI banner and commemorative plate and then presented us with a scrapbook they had made of her time with them. It is beautiful and a very special gift. Then they took us over to the main building where the children are. The building is clean, well maintained, and warmly decorated. They took us down a hallway where we passed their medical clinic for sick children. Very few orphanages have any kind of built-in medical care. They had tiny babies and some older children. We passed another large room where social workers were working with children one on one. The next room was AMAZING! It was a play and therapy room. It was nicer than the gross motor room at our Occupational Therapy center at home! This CWI takes pride in not only offering great facilities and well trained staff, but in the relationships they build with all the children and this was so evident as we walked into the playroom where Emily used to go with other children her age. They had several nannies there and it was obvious there is intentional, meaningful engagement happening. I was trying to assess the room as fast as possible knowing there were three other children there whose families were anxious to get an update, and that there were others whose files were prepared and are just waiting to be matched. I also wanted to give the nannies some updates on their “alumni” – sweet ones who’d recently gone home to their new families. So it was a little chaotic but I managed to get video for two waiting mamas, and share the updates and ask questions about Emily. But then her favorite nanny came in and it was heartbreaking all over again. She clung to her and I wished so bad I could make it better. We took a picture and then had to make a quick exit as she was not going to be able to calm down. I wish we had been able to go to the room where she slept but in the struggle of the moment I forgot to ask. It was reassuring to see all of the love she’d experienced, and to know the other children are being very well taken care of. But it was still hard to leave them. Especially the ones whose Mamas I know are longing to hold them.

We went to the store, like a Wal-Mart, after we left the orphanage to grab formula (in case she didn’t like what we brought) and diapers and some food to have in the hotel for us. We got back and settled in and after a lot of patting and singing, Emily stopped crying and fell asleep on me where she slept for the next 90 minutes before I was able to shift her over onto the bed. That’s what I saw that she likes to suck her thumb which explained why it looked like she’d been biting it 🙁  But it’s a healthy self-soothing method versus what many children develop after living in an institution. We’re also trying to help her attach to a little Minnie Mouse blanket in hopes of weaning the thumb eventually. But it’s great for now 🙂

She was very sad when she woke up and just clung to me. So we just kept things really quiet and chill and kept her calm with another bottle. We headed to dinner in the Executive Lounge not sure what to expect. Towards the end of dinner I sensed her relaxing a little bit more so I decided to see if she was ready to respond to tickling. Oh my!! We got our first smiles and giggles! It was an amazing feeling to see that we could make her happy. I started crying again. I was so relieved for her, and us.

We came back to our room to get ready to Facetime the boys. She really came out of her shell with them! Andrew asked us to do patty cake with her and I hesitated at first but decided to try it and she loved it! She even waved and said “bye bye” at the end. It was really special.

She fussed after her bottle but then looked at me, pointed to the pack ‘n play and that was it. I just patted her a little and she was out.

It hasn’t been that easy since 🙂 but we’ve found that she seems to love piano music so we’re wondering if they maybe played it in the CWI at nap and bedtime. She calms instantly with Hillsong Piano Lullabies!

We went to sleep that first night in awe of God’s grace in giving us this precious child.

China Trip Part 1 – Day 2 Touring

Click HERE to catch up on the first part of our trip (Flight, Beijing Hotel, Day 1 touring including the Care Home visit)

Kevin and Gabi slept a lot better our second night in Beijing. I’m waking up around 2:30am and will be up for about 90 minutes and then go back to sleep for another hour or two. We had breakfast at the hotel and packed up our backpacks for another HOT day of touring. David was working with another family who had elderly parents with them and required extra assistance so he had a new tour guide for us and her name in English was “Happy” and she was very enthusiastic and helpful. She provided us with so much historical information and was great about guiding us through the crowded places. Just like in the U.S. the summer time is a popular time for sightseeing. Beijing in particular, is the top spot for touring in the summer. Many families send their children to Beijing to see the cultural icons and be inspired to work hard to be able to return to Beijing eventually to go to University and beyond. The streets and highways are crowded with tourist buses.

We began at the Temple of Heaven. The beautiful park like setting is not only a popular place for tourists, but locals come to practice Thai-Chi, traditional dances, to play card games for fun with friends, to play their instruments together and even to play matchmaker for their unmarried adult children! 🙂 Its like a among parents – they type up information about their children including their age, educational level, current salary and phone number, and place it around for other parents to take not and hopefully make a match! 🙂

The temple area was amazing. The craftsmanship and artistry was stunning. It was increasingly hot and humid but thankfully there was a breeze and a couple of the buildings had air conditioning which offered a break from the oppressive heat. This was our first experience with locals who saw us a “celebrities” and insisted we take a picture with them. Gabi had her picture taken with a sweet girl that was probably about 8 years old and her mom insisted on a selfie with me 🙂

We walked out of the temple of heaven area and our guide had Gabi use one of the famous yellow bikes over to the pearl market plaza. The yellow bikes are an amazing story of technological innovation and entrepreneurship. There are millions of them in Beijing and millions more across the country. In a nutshell, here’s what happened: Everyone knew there were way too many cars on the road in Beijing, Shanghai, and across the country. Traffic was a problem, smog is an awful problem and the government’s efforts to increase the use of public transportation wasn’t enough. A lot of young people talked about bicycles as a solution. But only one young woman actually did something about it. She created a system in which all of these bikes have a lock that is activated by the use of a QR code. You simply walk up to one of these yellow bikes (they are EVERYWHERE), scan the code with the app on your phone, to get the combo to unlock the bike and charge your account, you bike to your destination, scan again to end the charge, flip the combination lock to reset the bike and you’re done! It’s convenient, easy and accessible and it’s working! Fewer people are driving, and they like the physical activity. The yellow bikes are specifically for shorter distances. The cost is only about $1USD per ride. There are other color bikes for longer distances. Like so many things, the system is planned out so well down to the details of the construction of the bike to have perfect durability for four years with no maintenance.

We got Gabi pearl earrings to save for her wedding and we got Emily a pearl and jade bracelet for her wedding. Part of her Chinese name means “jade” and it’s highly valued in Chinese culture so it’s important to us that she have something representative of her heritage for one of the most special days of her life.

Next we headed over to the Hutong Village area where we had a pedi-cab ride to a local family’s home. We made dumplings with the family and then enjoyed a delicious lunch which they prepared for us.

Our van drove us to the Spring Palace next. The history of this place was craaazy! It was originally built by an Emperor for his Mama, but what happened in the years after involving the “Dragon Lady” was really fascinating. Too long to post here, but definitely look it up.

This was one of the prettiest places we saw. I can see why it was an idea location for the royal family to spend their summers. The area around the lake was so picturesque and the lotus flowers were beautiful. Many people were out on little boats, and there were men using these special brushes and water to “paint’ ancient written languages on the walking paths.

We left the Summer Palace a few minutes early because it was the heat of the day and we were pretty tired by this point. We got to drive by the “Bird’s Nest” Olympic Stadium. Wow! Pictures cannot do it justice. It was so much bigger than I imagined. It sits empty now, just a tourist attraction. We were told that it used to be farmland and the Chinese government bought new houses for all of the landowners and gave them a stipend to move away so they could build the stadium. Our guide estimated that the Olympics overall had propelled Beijing’s economy forward thirty years.

We wrapped up the day back at our hotel with a quick swim at the pool and dinner, and Facetime chat with boys back home. They are doing really, really well. They are being spoiled in great ways by Aunt Lauren and Mimi 🙂

Sunday we had time in the morning to pack up and have breakfast and then we taught Gabi to play Skip-Bo, and we watched a little American Ninja Warrior before heading down to meet our guide, go to the bank to exchange money and make the drive to the Beijing south train station. It is really big and so much newer than the big train station in Guangzhou. It’s also not air conditioned, so we were very thankful to get there and be able to grab tickets for a train departing just 15 minutes later. We nearly had to run to the gate, but we made it! It was a comfortable, quick ride out to Tianjin.

Tianjin is so much different than Beijing. It reminds us so much of New York with the architecture of many of the buildings. Because it’s a port city it has been subject to many foreign invaders over the years and it’s easy to see the influence of both European and Japanese styles in the architectural design features of the buildings and skyscrapers. It has a more neighborhood feel in many ways. One of our guides told us that many people live in Tianjin and take the 30 minute bullet train to work in Beijing. Housing is cheaper in Tianjin and it’s a nice place to live. Sounds a lot like NJ and NYC to us 🙂 We even noticed that the types of cars on the streets shifted. Beijing was surprising to us in that the majority of cars were fairly high end whereas in Guangzhou they had been middle to low end. Here in Tianjin it was mostly your average sedans out on the road with only a few high end cars. There is also an explosion of residential and commercial construction inside the city and just outside of it as the government looks to shift some of the population load from Beijing to Tianjin. We are looking forward to exploring more of this beautiful city this week.

We “nested” in the hotel room, setting everything up for Emily and ourselves for the week, and prepping what we think we’ll need for Monday morning. We talked to the boys again. Missing them a lot right now and wishing China wasn’t a 14 hour plane ride away so they could be here to meet their sister in person tomorrow too. James is doing so, so well but he did ask me tonight if I could come home now. They are headed to Clarks Summit today. Andrew is going to a sports camp with his cousin for the week and James gets to enjoy lots of one on one time with Mimi.

I’m finishing up this post in the middle of the night because jet lag simply doesn’t want to let me sleep between 2 and 4 it would seem. I did have a troubling dream about having all sorts of problems once we got to the orphanage (not problems with Emily) which woke me up even earlier tonight. After tossing and turning for awhile I figured I’d get up and finish this. Hopefully the Melatonin will kick in after this, but I’ll be throwing in some peace and calming oil too and asking God to calm this heart of mine and let me rest in His loving care over me and every detail of this HUGE day to come tomorrow.

China Trip Part 1

We left on Wednesday around noon to begin our 13.5 hour flight to Beijing. The first 7 hours weren’t so bad. We paid for Economy Plus to get some extra leg and seat room which was well worth it. Gabi and I watched Hidden Figures, did some reading and played cards. I was fighting a sore throat and the cabin pressure wasn’t helping so I was struggling to stay asleep until it was time to sleep but then once it was time to sleep it proved to be really difficult to do while sitting up. We all tossed and turned trying to get comfortable. We let Gabi stretch her legs over us so she could sleep and she got probably 4-5 hours which was good. We landed in the middle of the day local time. Landings are always tough on me. The pilot did a good job but I still felt pretty sick and lightheaded so combined with lack of sleep and the emotions of finally being in China so close to Emily I shed quite a few tears in relief when those wheels touched down.

We’ve been at the Marriott City Wall in Beijing – GREAT hotel. We highly recommend it. Good food, comfortable beds, very clean and great customer service.

We had arranged for sightseeing for two days with David Wang, a local Beijing guide who works with adoptive families and has a big heart for China’s orphans. He’s worked with many families who’ve adopted from Emily’s orphanage. We would highly recommend him to anyone interested in sightseeing or doing a heritage tour. He also arranged our transportation from the airport to our hotel here in Beijing and from our Guangzhou hotel to the HK hotel. His prices are usually lower than any of the adoption agency’s fees for these services and he is very flexible and provides great service.

We went to the Great Wall. David chose a fantastic location. It’s farther outside the city but it allowed us to have some of the best views of the older parts of the original wall. We took a ski lift ride up and did a mountain toboggan car ride down which was really fun! We learned a lot about the history of the wall and its importance in Chinese culture and society over the years. Then we a beautiful overlook of the Forbidden City which was the home of the Emperor for many years. It was AMAZING! So much bigger than we could have imagined. We toured with another family so we took them back to their hotel and then made the trip to the other side of Beijing to the Chunhui China Care Home where Emily spent five months after her surgery. The Beijing traffic is no joke, so everything took longer, but the driver David got was really good and got us everywhere as fast as possible. All my pictures are on my phone and I haven’t had a chance to add them to Kevin’s laptop yet which is what we brought with us that I’m blogging on, but I hope to get a few added later.

We arrived at the home and were so warmly greeted by the Director Lynn. The story of this home and its foundation is awesome – check it out here and be totally inspired! I immediately recognized parts of the home from the pictures we received and felt the tears rising up because we were in the same place our daughter had been and it was like one more connection to her. The staff was so friendly and warm and enthusiastic. We got to meet all of the children and see their rooms, and most importantly to see Emily’s room and meet her nanny, Feng Mei. We gave her a gift and expressed our gratitude, and were able to ask several questions about Emily. Besides meeting and talking with Feng Mei, my favorite part was meeting the children. From tiny infants to children six years old, they had a variety of medical needs. Some had just come and were preparing for surgery, others had been there for a few months and were rehabilitating. One of the tiny little girls who has spina bifida that prevents her from walking wanted Gabi to hold her and she did – it was precious. I was so thrilled in the moment I didn’t take a picture and now I wish I had. We talked about the summer volunteer trips and are already dreaming of returning together to the home 🙂  The Director Lyn, was an awesome woman. I could have stayed for hours talking with her. They were really happy to connect with us because most of the time when the children return to their orphanage they have no idea if they are adopted or not. They pour so much love and work into these children and then have to let them go and just hope for the best. It is such selfless work. I could tell her heart is heavy for the children and all the others that she knows are out there. She softly asked me, “Do you know? Are there many families on the waiting list?” She longs for these precious ones to be in the love and care of forever families. Each one is worthy. I wish I could tell her that there is a waiting list families seeking to adopt children with medical needs. But I encouraged her that the adoption community is strong and we will continue to advocate and educate and work because we are together in this – this work, this passion, this cause worth giving our lives to – of finding a family for every child.

Day Two of touring in the next post…


New Year, New Family

2016 is upon us and as we embark upon our first full year as a family of five, and James’ first year with his new family, we continue to think of the children we left behind in China who wait for their own forever family…

This is part three in my series on our visit to James’ SWI (Social Welfare Institute, aka “orphanage” and the larger topic of “orphans” in China today. 

Ping Ping is like so many children in China’s Social Welfare and Child Welfare Institutes. In fact, she is one of hundreds of thousands of children currently in government or private nonprofit care in China. She waits for a forever family, and we pray for God to provide that before she ages out at 14. When we realized how close and and James had been it was so hard to say goodbye. We didn’t want to separate them. We had our guide tell the children that we would make sure James would never forget them and that we would talk about them with him as often as we could. Through our guide, the nannies told us that Ping Ping is a huge help to them, that she is kind and happy, but that she always gets sad after the visit because she’s old enough to understand that she will never see her friend again once they go. This was heartbreaking. And as I thought about how she must be feeling – watching someone else go with their new family – I wanted so badly to be able to speak her language and tell her that she too was beautiful and valuable and deserved the love of a family just as much. I wanted her to know we would not let James forget her and that I thought she was so special.


I couldn’t speak her language but after spending that short time with her I knew we could communicate on some level in our own way. I knelt down, looked in her eyes and held her hands and told her what was on my heart. And then she did the same. I have no idea what she said and it was so unexpected I didn’t even think to call the guide over to translate and she was saying so much looking right back at me so intently that I didn’t want to break the moment. So while I don’t know what her words were, I know what I saw and I know what I felt. She was smiling so big those dimples were nearly bursting. And there was such sweetness in her voice I could have stayed with her for hours. In that moment, in my heart, I vowed to myself to do everything in my power to find her a family.

This beautiful child does not belong in an institution. No matter how loving or kind the caregivers, no matter how high nice the facilities or nutritious the food (and in all honesty, most of them aren’t able to provide either) no matter safe it may seem, the bottom line is that a child should grow up in a family, in a home.

I made it out of the room with my tears held in, not wanting to upset James or the other children but hardly able to contain the flood of emotions I felt in leaving them. It was incredible how I could hurt for these precious ones just moments after meeting them. It truly felt wrong to walk away even though we had no choice. As we climbed in the car that waited to take us to the train station, and as we sat waiting for our once again delayed train, and as we made the now 4.5 hour ride home, and then finally crashed in our room with cup-a-noodles for dinner, she remained in my heart. I couldn’t escape my grief for Ping Ping and the other children. It was a devastating mix of emotion – to see the beautiful boy asleep next to us with the hope of a family’s love – and yet being so very intimately aware of the other children who were sleeping yet another night in their metal cribs without a mommy or daddy to sing and rock them to sleep, to pray over them. Without a mommy and daddy to comfort them if they had a bad dream, to hold them and kiss them and nurture them. And I wept. I wept and eventually cried myself to sleep. There would be no peace that night, or in the days after because all I could think about was her, and the others, still there. I thought ahead to the day that would come when James would ask me about her. And would I be able to say that his Dad and I had done absolutely everything in our power to give her a family?

Yes, we will do everything. She will not be forgotten. She is one of hundreds of thousands of children in China who wait for a family. But she is the one that God has put before us.

So, what’s next? The first step is for the SWI Director to file her papers for adoption with the CCCWA (China Center for Children’s Welfare & Adoption) in Beijing.

FAQ: What does it mean for her to file papers? Aren’t all kids in an SWI or CWI up for adoption? No, only some of the children at a facility are up for adoption. In addition, some children are placed in local foster homes, or in group homes that are sometimes run by private groups. (I.e. Bethel House which serves children with visual impairments.) The Director of each SWI and CWI has the power to determine which of the “eligible” children will have papers filed for adoption. Each Director has a different philosophy about this and offers different reasons for why and how they do things. We can speculate about the motivations and operations of all of this. And it can be highly frustrating when we don’t get clear and consistent answers. Unfortunately it’s simply part of the system…

Our guide has followed up with the Director to ask her to file papers and the Director said she would do so this month and would notify the guide when she had done so. We haven’t heard anything yet. Ping Ping captured our guide’s heart as well and she really wants to see her find a family as well. The Director gave us her business card so I’m going to write her in the next few days to update her on James and inquire about Ping Ping’s papers.

Once the papers are filed it can take 3-6 months for the CCCWA to review and translate and post the file to the shared list. Our agency has agreed to keep a lookout for her file and to pull it to their list asap if they see it. Regardless of which agency it ends up with, we want to advocate for her as much as possible. We’ve even done some preliminary research on the Chinese hosting programs but unfortunately those are usually facilitated by agencies with their partner orphanages and James and Ping Ping’s SWI does not have a partnership with an agency.

So, we wait. And we pray. And we look forward to when our friends go early next year to get their daughter and hopefully make a visit to the SWI and can provide us with an update and deliver some care package items.

So many children wait and I know that so many of you long to do something. You want to make a difference and find a way to help. Maybe you’re not ready to adopt but you are ready to make a New Year’s resolution that will make 2016 a much better year in the life of a child. Here’s a great way to do that – sponsor a child through one of these great organizations. There are all kinds of ways to sponsor – some are for immediate medical needs, some are long-term opportunities that enable better nutrition, development and education opportunities, but all breathe life into the body, heart, mind and soul of a child without a family. You can make their next year their best yet.

Love Without Boundaries

Show Hope

Bethel House


This is the second post in a series I am doing on our time spent at James’ SWI and the larger topic of children in China today as it relates to those in foster care, “orphanages”, and the like. If you haven’t read the first post, you should definitely go back and read it before you read this one.

It was very, very surreal. We were finally there, and yet it seemed hard to believe that this place we’d imagined James in, was actually right in front of us. I tried to take it all in and at the same time being intimately attuned to James’ reaction and needs. We approached the gate and waited for someone to come and let us in. James was just very, very quiet. Our guide told him again that we were just visiting to see his friends and say goodbye but I can only imagine it was very confusing for him.

A worker finally came and let us in and I realized that this was likely the first time that James had ever walked through this gate. The first time he had ever been on the outside going on, at least in his own memory. He didn’t indicate wanting to go to any one place, nor did he show any expression of feelings at all at this point. We stood in what I can only describe as sort of a courtyard area, basically cement/blacktop type driveway I guess, and waited for one of the Directors to come. We really had no idea how this worked. We didn’t know if they liked to handle things a certain way, we didn’t know what they would let us see, or what the general feelings were towards us. As we waited we began to see some workers and some of the elderly folks in wheelchairs up the drive near one of the other buildings. And then we heard James begin talking excitedly, calling out to someone he recognized. We had no idea what he was saying but he was pointing and seemed happy. Again, I didn’t know what the rules were, but at that moment I decided I’d act and ask questions later. My son needed a chance to connect so we started going towards the woman he was wanting to see who was calling back to him “Zhi Zhi!”. He looked at us as if to ask if it was okay and we told him yes, yes, it’s okay and he got down and was given a hug and so much affection. Like everyone at the SWI, this woman had no English at all. We did our best to communicate, but our guide was trying to figure out where a Director was, so we just rolled with it, staying close to let James know we were with him, but giving him the space to enjoy these moments. We could hear her saying “mama” and “baba” and smiling so we know she was talking to him about us. A few moments later, another woman came and then another and another. It was awesome to see him happy to see them. It was clear to us then, that they had loved him and wanted him to have a family. We captured some of this on video and in pictures as best we could. The whole time I was thinking, “I hope this is okay?? Are we gonna get in trouble?” but I just didn’t care because I knew this was priceless. He needed to see those he looked to as caregivers keep reaffirming us, and we were able to capture those moments for him to look back on. It was also important for me to say “Thank You” to them. I looked the in the eye, some I took their hands, and said it in English and Cantonese and used my best gestures to say how much we were thankful for them and for him. They would look directly at me and nod their understanding. I so wished I could say more in their language…

I decided to keep heading the direction those women had come from and as we came to the end of the first building we noticed two women hanging laundry on several very long lines. I recognized one from earlier pictures. She seemed to be in her late teens or early twenties. She was clearly not a traditional “worker” like the others. She was dressed differently and was busy at her work, but I got the sense she was reporting to the other women…there is a very good chance she grew up here and when she wasn’t adopted by age 14, when children in China become “unadoptable”, she was allowed to stay on to work and live there. I quickly wondered how she felt about her circumstances. If her heart hurt the way I imagine it might. No doubt she had watched other children leave, heading for loving families, and perhaps always wondered when it would be her turn. And then, why was she never chosen. This would not be the last time I would wonder this about a young girl that day…

The Director came to greet us finally and she was quite excited about James. He didn’t engage with her to the same degree as the others but neither did he seem uncomfortable in any way. We turned to head towards a room on the first floor of the building just inside the gate and that’s when we heard them.

“Zhi Zhi!” a little girl’s voice rang out.

“Zhi Zhi!” we heard from another one.

And then we saw them.

Little hands, little faces, little bodies jumping up and down with excitement from the barred windows of the second story. His friends had heard the news – Zhi Zhi was here – and they couldn’t wait to see him.

My heart lept. I wanted to cry and smile and laugh at the same time. I was really starting to struggle with the loss of James leaving people who he had loved and who had loved him as best they knew how. I knew that it was the better choice for his life, but I just wished it didn’t have to involve this loss. And now…to hear and see his “first family” in these children, was just so intense. It’s hard to find words.

However, I knew that my friend’s future daughter was among these children. I knew her name, her face, and that of her waiting family and I was on a mission. I needed to learn as much as I could for her Momma – to stand in the gap while she waited. I scanned the faces trying to find her and once I did I called out her name. She was likely shocked that I knew it but she eagerly waved back. I wanted to go right up to the kids, but they wanted to give them lunch and wanted to talk to us first.

We stepped in the room and sat down. They offered us lunch. Our train had been delayed and because we had to go back the same day we didn’t get the chance to take the director and some of the ayis (nannies) out to lunch which is customary on a visit. But they knew it was lunchtime and insisted that they feed James. They fussed over him – bringing a special chair and his favorite congee – and I decided to eat some too. I wanted him to see me eating what he had eaten, and I wanted to know what it tasted like so I could try to replicate it at home. It was actually pretty good to me!

We had a nice conversation with the Children’s Director, through our guide. I won’t share everything we talked about here as much of it related to private matters around James’ early days, but what was very interesting was when she said that many of the workers very having a hard time with him being gone – that they wanted him to be happy but they didn’t want him to leave. She kept reassuring us that he is very smart and can really do anything. We made sure to say to her that what they had done in preparing him – in showing him our photo album and teaching him about us – that it was very good and very helpful and like a gift to us. We asked them to please keep doing it for other children and families. We showed them the gifts we had brought and talked about the other needs that they have. Specifically, they need vitamins, diapers, new fans, and money or help to repair a broken A/C. They only have one working mobile unit in the room with the kids. This is in an area of high humidity where 85 feels really cool. And, as is traditional, they layer the kids in clothing almost year round (they ease up in the summer) because they believe children get cold easily. I am working with my friend that is traveling early next year for her daughter to get these supplies to them. Our family is purchasing a big bottle of gummy vitamins from Costco, with an instruction label in Chinese, for each child. We are going to ask for donations to help cover the cost of extra luggage for this family and to put towards the fans and A/C repair.

As good as this conversation was, I was really ready to move on. The kids were waiting and I knew we didn’t have a lot of time. Finally I just asked if we could please go see them. We paused on the stairs to take a picture. This was one of the places they had taken a picture of James to send to us. I knew from our training that it was important to have a visual demonstration of transition for him to look back on. So now we have a picture of him there before he came into our family, and a picture of him there with us as part of our family.


James on the stairs.png







We climbed up the stairs and immediately on our right was a room with all of the children – about 12 altogether ranging in age from what I would guess is 18 months through what we now know is 11. Yes, 11. 18 months to 11 years old. In one room. A room that we would later learn was THE room where James had lived his life to this point. Where he slept, ate, and “played,” for four years. This room was about 15×20, with large metal cribs lining the walls, and an open area in the middle. The older children sat in a row of chairs, as they did in nearly every other picture we had of the group, and the younger ones moved around in walkers. I wasn’t sure where to go first, I wanted to put my arms around all of them. But James knew exactly where he wanted to go, and within seconds of walking in the door this happened…

This is a little girl that we now understand to be akin to what is termed an “institutional sibling” to James. He calls her by her nickname, “Ping Ping”, and she was one of his best friends. Until that moment we’d had no idea. And when this happened my heart nearly stopped because I thought both “yay! he had friends” and “oh my gosh I don’t want him to have to say goodbye.”

I knew about Ping Ping from someone else that had visited this summer. This family had shared with us that the workers had told them they believed she had dwarfism and that she was ELEVEN years old and they liked to give her jobs to help with the younger kids so she would feel like she had a place. (Does she actually have dwarfism? I don’t know. Yes, she’s more the size of a 7 or 8 year old, but who knows why that actually is. What I do know is that she seemed healthy, strong, active and engaged.)

Ping Ping has never been to school. Ping Ping is what we could call a “tween” and she is spending her days caring for other children. How many years has she been doing this? I don’t know. Why was she at this SWI? I don’t know. And it doesn’t matter. What I know is this – she will age out of the system in less than 3 years and without a family to adopt her, she will likely live the rest of her life at this SWI hanging laundry, cleaning dishes, sweeping floors, and sleeping in a communal room with other workers, with no opportunity for education, or ever setting foot outside those gates.

This girl was our son’s safe place. This girl has missed out on most of her childhood. Ping Ping was sweet and polite and full of smiles. And I could not get over her dimples.


Ping Ping has kept a part of us in China because she holds a part of James. She holds memories and relationship that is dear to him, and in the few moments we spent with her, she became dear to us. There is more to share, more to say about Ping Ping’s future, but as you celebrate Christmas and the holidays this season with your family, would you pray with us for Ping Ping? She needs a family, she needs a chance. She needs someone willing to be the one used by God to step in and change the direction of her story.

Part 3 in the series: More about our time with the kids, Ping Ping’s future, and why saying goodbye was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done in my life.