Friday, January 22, 2016

Today is Sweet

Samuel has been home for almost 5 months. I have so much to share yet the words don't easily flow. My review of Samuel's progress and God's goodness will never be sufficient in giving God the praise He is due. I think that's part of the reason I haven't written a post lately. It's hard to put in to words how mightily God has worked in our lives, in the lives of our littles. Still, God calls me to sing His praises from the rooftops and I gladly give it my best shot.

Samuel has made incredible strides. When we were in China, he was barely walking. He would take a fumbling step or two at a time. He now runs through the house yelling for his big sister, "Nei Nei!" (That would be Mei Mei... Oh and yes, she sings, "watch me whip, whip, watch me Mei Mei." That girl is something else). Samuel's weight and height are completely on track for a child his age. He's saying about 15 words and clearly understands everything we tell him. He has the most beautiful belly laugh of anyone I've ever known. I'm convinced those baby belly laughs will be the sound that echoes through heaven. He has formed a genuine attachment to all 6 of us and has a very healthy balance of affection and fear towards others. When he first came home, he was terrified of anyone and everyone, except for our immediate family. He shuttered if someone said "no" and was clearly traumatized by previous events in his life. This sweet boy is now healthy, confident and secure. Truly miraculous. Only God can transform a life like this. From ashes to beauty, that's God's specialty.

And his "special need"... y'all. This kid is amazing. He is incredibly resourceful with his little hand, as we call it. He has learned to pick everything up with it so that he is able to manipulate with his fingers on his right hand. He does whatever the other kids are doing, with no problem. We encourage him to try everything before we help him. "I can't" is not allowed in our house and we will expect the same from Samuel. The biggest tragedy resulting from his special need is the fact that he was abandoned because of it. While this need seems insignificant to us, his birthparents probably felt that he needed serious medical intervention. And of course, the people of China have very little access to any sort of medical resources. I have a painful desire, literally a physical ache, to share with his birthparents how very well he's doing. Apart from the tragedy of abandonment, we consider his special need a gift. We know that in ALL things, God works for the good of those who love him (Romans 8:28). I am sure that God has huge plans for Samuel. Plans for pain, no doubt. But in the end, pain that leads to faith. Plans to prosper. (Jeremiah 29:11) Despite what our culture tells us, we know it's a privilege to have a thorn in our side (2 Cor. 12:7-10) because Jesus uses that to bring us closer to Him. My prayer for Samuel is not that God would take away the pain, the questions, the physical limitations, or the teasing from other kids (which we already endure). My prayer is that He would use this thorn to draw Samuel into a greater need for Christ. "Head winds are right for royal sails." ~ RW Emerson

Neat side story while I'm talking about Samuel's little hand... We are at a fall community event, maybe 500 people there. Kids are running around, we're all enjoying the day. A man sees Samuel and we hear him say, "Timmy, come see! His hand is just like yours!" Long story short, we began talking. Their teenage son has amniotic band syndrome and they just happen to spot Samuel. Y'all... this is a RARE special need. Turns out this boy is the baseball pitcher at our local high school. He pitches the ball with his left hand and quickly puts his catching glove on. Amazing, right? So we ran into them again and his mom brought us a goody bag with some very special things. One of the items is a glove that Mizuno fit and made specifically for their son. They wanted Samuel to have this! I am so overwhelmed at how God works through every day situations. Truly another miracle. We couldn't even find another family in the area with this if we tried. But God. God orchestrated our meeting so perfectly. Do you reckon we'll be attending some of his baseball games? We can't wait!

Yes, the Lomans are doing well. We are forever grateful for the support you have offered, for the checking in, and the prayers that you faithfully pour over us. This season of life is extremely hairy but it's what God has blessed us with and we roll with it every day. I am so often asked, "Is your family finished growing?" Oh goodness, that reminds me... a sweet angel contacted me the other day and asked if we'd be growing. She wanted to know because she felt called to help financially, the way she had for our journey to Samuel. Do ya' think I was humbled? Man! Could that be God reminding me that He will always faithfully provide when we are doing His will? I've learned never to guess what our future holds. God's plans are not ours and thankfully, his prevail. I do know one thing. I feel a tad restless. I sense that in my husband too. Restless in the sense that there is too much work to be done for Christ. Too many orphans, too many who don't know Christ, for me to be sitting in cozy suburbia. That being said, I also feel a deep peace in what God has given me for now. He has called me to be a supportive wife, to shepherd our children, to educate them at home. It's clear they are where my focus should be right now. It's not always easy and it's often thankless. But God sees. And He wants me right here. So I wait. Restless but content. I press on, hopefully honoring God all my days. I don't know if our family is complete. He hasn't revealed that to us yet. I don't even know what tomorrow holds. I do know that we are His and I find immeasurable comfort in that. If He leads us to a dirt hut in a volatile land occupied by Christian haters, then we'll go. But today, God has us right here. And today is sweet.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Embracing Power in Weakness

"As for God, his way is perfect: The Lord's word is flawless; he shields all who take refuge in him. For who is God besides the Lord? And who is the Rock except our God? It is God who arms me with strength." (Psalm 18:30-32)

I'll be honest. I've struggled with what to write about next. We are in the midst of a season where God is working mightily. He called us to some hard and exciting stuff. Samuel has been home for 6 weeks and the range of emotions and recent happenings are plentiful. I'll give a quick update on how everyone's doing but I really want to focus on how God is changing me, what He is doing through our lives and in my heart.

We are finding our new "normal" and beginning to adjust to what life with Samuel looks like. Throwing a 15 month old in to the mix has not been easy but our little guy and our entire family are making incredible strides. Sleep has been hit and miss, down time is rare, and the energy level in our home is through the roof. I spend most of my time just laughing at the chaos. I'm afraid I may cry if I stop laughing. Samuel has bonded with us beautifully. We are completely comfortable with having him around other people but it will be a little longer before we let anyone else hold, change, feed, or bathe him. For now, you'll have to take my word for it that those cheeks are the. most. kissable. We are waiting for some blood work to come back but are pretty sure he's completely healthy. We believe he's extremely bright and we know he's incredibly sensitive.

I still can't believe he's home. It's all a whirlwind, but sometimes I just stop and look in to those dark, soulful eyes. I wonder what I did to deserve him. Nothing, I remind myself.  I am mystified over a God who would give us such a lofty gift, a God who would make this precious spirit a son... a son to us... a son to Him. Abundant grace. Sometimes there just aren't any words to describe this great privilege we have.

I am overwhelmed by God's goodness. I am amazed at what He has entrusted us with, and even more amazed that because of His strength (Phil. 4:13), we are completely capable. God is reminding me to be keenly aware of the fact that everything we do is because of Him, for Him, and impossible without Him. Yes, we have a lot going on. And it's oftentimes hard. But what a privilege to be shown, and reminded daily, that His power is made perfect in my weakness (2Cor.12:9). This life He's given us... it's rich because with every challenge that presents itself, I am drawn closer to the only One who can handle it.

As I grow in my salvation, it's becoming clear to me how some of my friends have 9 and 10 children. I know... GASP! I'm not saying that's God's plan for our life. These friends are people who rely solely on the power of Christ in their homes. They don't have much money, they don't have all the answers, but God has always come through for them. I learn so much from these sisters.

People tell me, "I don't know how you do it." They say it to you too. They definitely say it to my friends with 9 and 10 kids. It can be about anything, really. For us, they're talking about the adoptions, losing children, having 5 children, homeschooling, working from home while rearing, all of it. Here's the thing. I don't do it. I really, really don't, y'all. My best friends can tell you that I've mastered the art of complaining. That's my flesh. If it were up to me, it would all fall apart. Every piece of it. BUT GOD. He is able, and His grace is sufficient. If we just believe that, if we could just wake up to the reality of His unrelenting love for us, if only we could remember His unwavering faithfulness. It's our own pride that stands between us and real joy. It's our own fear that prevents us from stepping out into the waves. God promises only good things when we step out for Him (not easy things but good things... very different).  

I don't know what your "not me" looks like. I don't know if you're contemplating adoption, considering a new job, moving to Asia to become a missionary, or trying to decide what you'll cook for dinner tonight. I do know one thing. God is able. God is able and He never disappoints. He always provides and He will never forsake you. That doesn't mean He grants your every wish. What it does mean is that if your desire is OF HIM, in conformity to His will, He will grant. He will provide. (Psalm 37:4) This life is but a vapor. Step out, friends. Step out without fear. Whatever that looks like in your life. Start with prayer. Listen for His will, spelled out clearly in scripture. The plan He's calling you to may seem impossible, but the One who is calling you to that impossible task is the One who can and will faithfully provide in it.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Home. Hard. Humbled.

It's been quite a ride and I wasn't sure when I'd have a moment to sit and write again. We obviously made it home. It wasn't an easy 27 hour journey but God delivered us home safely. All praise to Him who called us, carried us, and brought Samuel into His fold!

Jet lag is a beast. I've traveled to Europe and ended up a little sleepy for a week. But this is more like an illness. Samuel and I are trying to adjust with lots of water, sunshine, and big kids who keep us awake during the day. I'm exhausted but just so grateful to be home with plenty of time to heal, rest, and love on my people. We're not getting back to school work until next week at the earliest so we have a little time to just "be".

Samuel and I are both being tested this week for parasites. I didn't realize this until yesterday but about 80% of children who come home from China have Giardia. Ugh! We've both exhibited symptoms but they come and go so it's hard to know if we're infected or just suffering the effects of a virus or jet lag.

Suzi is adjusting well to being home. She's glad to be back with her "girls" (dogs) and seems to be resting well. We are so grateful that she could come with me to China. Suzi has so much energy, which was helpful in running for food and anything else we needed. She is a prayer warrior and was faithful in that during our trip. I'm sure those prayers, and yours, carried us through!

As far as attachment and bonding, Samuel is adjusting amazingly well. Until about a week ago, he was terrified of strangers. I consider it a complete miracle that he attached to me within minutes. This was absolutely an answer to prayer. He was afraid of Suzi, however, and anyone else who came within a few feet of him. This was very difficult because he spent hours just screaming in the hotel room where the 3 of us lived together. As a result of his fear, I chose to forego many of the sightseeing opportunities and build a safe environment for him in our hotel room. He made great progress with Suzi when we got to Guangzhou and I was thankful for that peace. He doesn't seem to be as afraid of strangers anymore. Praise God for progress!

He adores his daddy. It took him about a day to really warm up but after some bottles and hugs, he claimed Seamus as his favorite. Melts my heart. He's very playful and has learned quickly how to keep up with his 4 older siblings. We will continue to shelter him at home until our bond is solidified and he seems certain that we will meet all his needs. He has come a long way in a short time. I am so thankful that he's beginning to feel safe. He's definitely learning that we are his family and will not leave him with anyone else. This is a process, of course, and he'll grow stronger in his security every day.

We are overwhelmed by the amount of support we have received throughout our adoption journey and now, as we've returned home. I could seriously write a thousand thank you notes if I had the time or energy. For now, THANK YOU. You know who you are. The airport welcome, photography, cards, texts and FB comments, errands, donations, prayers, babysitting. The meals, oh my goodness, the meals. Is there a greater blessing on earth for a daddy with 4 kids on his own and a mama who comes home with no energy and 7 mouths to feed?

When God called us to another adoption, I had no idea how it would happen. We didn't have the money, the energy, the resources to go through this long and hard process again. We did hear His promise whispered over and over again, "I. Will. Provide." He is so faithful, y'all. He never leaves a single detail unaccounted for when He calls us to something. He provided everything we needed through YOU, His hands and feet. I can't stress enough that each and every one of you are the reason that Samuel is home with his forever family.

Orphan care is a ministry we embraced by going to China, according to His plan. Orphan care is a ministry YOU embraced by serving us with your gifts. I honestly know that many more people would adopt internationally if they were sure they might receive the same support we have. I know this for a fact. I know it because I've talked to so many people who say, "We can't because...We would but...". I ask that whatever gift you used to bless us, please continue to use that to encourage other families who want to adopt. Please hear this again. Every card we received, every meal, every hug... it's orphan care. You cared for the least of these, just as God calls us all to do. Thank you, from the bottom of our hearts.

We would be grateful if you would continue to keep us in your prayers as we navigate these hard days ahead. I believe the worst is behind us and I have no doubt God will continue to provide. He has taken us on an incredible journey of kingdom work and we are humbled to be lived in and through. It's exciting to think about where He may lead us next. For now... I need a nap.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Consulate Appointment and Shamian Island

Today was a very busy day. We are finally back in the room and the VPN is on! Quick... type before it erases!

Some families had their consulate appointments yesterday so we chilled during that. Last night was the dinner cruise and Samuel and I skipped it. So glad I made that call because we were both tuckered out very early. We did go to the Noodle House with 2 other families for dinner (the other 2 families whose spouses aren't with them either). It was delicious and dirt cheap. Double score!

This morning we took our tour bus to the American Embassy where I swore an oath and Samuel was officially approved for his U.S. Visa! We returned to the hotel for about 15 minutes, enough time to potty and repack the diaper bag. Then it was off to Shamian Island, one of my favorite places in Guangzhou. It's a quaint little island with shops and restaurants.

We ate lunch at "Lucy's" right when we arrived. They cater to westerners and serve things like hamburgers and grilled cheese sandwiches. I stuck with the chicken fried rice and noodles. Samuel and I shared and Suzi ate a chef salad. Then it was off for some shopping.

I bought all 5 of our kids beautiful silks (the traditional Chinese clothing). I can't wait to see them wearing them at church, Chinese New Year, etc. We had time to stop at 3 shops. Two of them are Christian-owned (we deliberately patronized them because we knew ahead of time who they were). We bought small gifts at each store and also took a rest at Starbucks. Y'all. I don't do Starbucks. Huge Planned Parenthood supporter, among other things, so I don't give them business. But when you're just desperate for a cup of joe... Chinese Starbucks can't be the same company, right? Er... Anyway, my hazelnut latte was delightful and I was so grateful for their western-style bathroom!

We had a little adventure on the way back to the hotel. Our bus driver hit a car! They don't call the police unless it's totaled so the drivers had a little discussion, we saw our driver give the guy some cash and we were on our way again. Samuel crashed on the bus (not like the first crash) and he's been out ever since. Getting your U.S. citizenship and painting the town red can be quite exhausting for a little fella.

Samuel is making great strides. He is a handful, which means he's adjusting well. I do still see moments of grief but not nearly as many. He is very comfortable with me and has begun asserting himself. Aren't they supposed to do that at 3? Mercy. He's not as affectionate as he was when he was really grieving. I'm missing those extra snuggles, but so thankful he's feeling safe. He's been really happy and playful, as long as he eats and sleeps. He'll fit right in with the rest of our crew!

Suzi is well. She is one active lady. She's always bringing us food, helping with bags, and makes me coffee in bed every morning! I told her today she's the best sidekick ever. Last week was so hard for so many reasons but one was because Samuel was terrified of Suzi (and everyone else). So if she was in the room, he just screamed. Can you imagine? We share a hotel room! He has really warmed up to her (Praise The Lord!) and I can tell she's falling in love with him. :) Last week was also a lot more emotional which adds an extra dynamic to an already hard scenario. This week has been a lot better for all 3 of us.

Now we wait for the consulate to issue Samuel's physical visa, which should be delivered to our hotel tomorrow afternoon. Families are advised to leave China no sooner than 48 hours after their consulate appointment, in case something goes wrong with processing the visa. This is why we don't fly out until Thursday night, even though all adoption related tasks are behind us. Did I really just type that? I'm leaving here Thursday night! That's only 2 days away!

Outside the American Embassy

Shamian Island

Sweet Sadie (also adopted)

This little American held out as long as he could. Exhausting Day! 

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Friday, Saturday, Sunday

The days have become such a blur. Travel, paperwork, bonding, sight-seeing... I'm thankful for my calendar and clock.

On Friday afternoon, Suzi, Samuel and I flew from Nanjing to Guangzhou, where we are spending the rest of our time in China. All adoptive families have to spend week 2 in Guangzhou because this is where the American Embassy is located. The flight was pretty uneventful, especially for Samuel. We chose the window so he could be amazed at our flying. He was amazed by the back of his eye lids. Seriously, before we took off and until we landed. Hooray for sleeping babies! We made it to the airport where our guide was waiting with our itinerary for the week. We checked in to the Garden Inn and began the 2nd leg of our trip.

There are 9 families here who are with Lifeline, the same agency as us. We all stay at The Garden Inn (5 star hotel) because Lifeline gets an amazing group rate. On Saturday morning, we met our group in the lobby at 8:20AM. From there, we took our tour bus to the Guangzhou medical clinic. Samuel had to go through an evaluation before leaving the country. This is one of the requirements for adoptive families. The examination included a general well-check, measurements, and ENT. If your child is over 2 years old, he must have blood drawn for a TB test. Phew! Samuel did well but it was exhausting for everyone. That took about 3 hours.

We drove back to the hotel and then had to meet in a conference room at the hotel for more paperwork. This took about 2 hours and was helpful in getting prepared for our consulate appointment Tuesday. At that point, he and I were both at our limit. Suzi was busy getting food for us, as she has been doing often. Thank you, Suzi! Samuel and I ate in the room and took a good nap later in the afternoon. I think I remember ordering room service for dinner when we woke up. What a fog!

This morning we met our group downstairs at 9AM for scheduled sight-seeing and shopping. I was pretty bummed to see that no time had been carved out for worship. When we were here last year, we went to an amazing worship service but that wasn't in the cards this time. We made 2 stops before returning to the hotel. First, we went to the Chen Family house which is now a Chinese folk art museum. It's definitely one of my favorite places to visit in China. I had 2 chops made (a chop is a carved stamp that has your name in Chinese characters on it), one with our family name and one for Samuel because the other 4 kids received them on our last trip.

I also purchased a scroll for Samuel, just like one that we had made for Emily last year. The artist paints it right in front of you. Get this... I walk in to the shop that I was familiar with from last time. I immediately saw the cart full of hanging scrolls to display ordering options. I walk up to thumb through and Emily Hope's scroll was hanging right in front. I don't mean the same print or pattern. It said, "Emily Hope" and her birthday and Chinese name (Gao Yu) was written in Chinese! I guess they duplicated the one I ordered last time I was there and had been using it as a display ever since! There I was, in China, seeing the exact scroll that is hanging in Emily's room. For a minute, I really thought my mind was playing tricks on me.

After the folk art museum, we were driven to the market where they sell jade, pearls and other items, all at amazing prices. I purchased wedding pearls for my girls last time but did not spend any money here this time (except for a few small gifts). After spending an hour at the market, we were driven back to the hotel. Suzi went to the store for coffee creamer and water. Samuel and I went to McDonald's with 2 other families. That's about all we could handle. We are resting now and plan to just take it easy tonight and most of tomorrow.

Tomorrow (Monday), some families have their consulate appointments. We will rest until they are finished. Then we are going on a Pearl River dinner cruise at 5:30. It's not really as nice as it sounds but it's good to get together with the other families and just relax a little.

Our time here is dwindling. We will be on that long flight home before we know it. God has been so gracious and has provided for all our needs. We are comfortable, well-fed, and in good company. Samuel is making great progress. He was terrified of everyone but is warming up to Suzi quite nicely. Quite inconvenient for your baby to be terrified of someone living with you! Poor Suzi (and Samuel). I'm so thankful for her patience and for his growing to know her. 

Totally stressed on the flight ;)
At Samuel's medical

My view the second I walked in. Unreal.
Artist painting Samuel's scroll

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Orphanage Visit

Wednesday was supposed to be for sightseeing in Nanjing but I felt like that wasn't best for Samuel so we stayed behind and rested most of the day. Thursday was a huge day for us and I'm glad we chilled before that because we needed every ounce of energy we had stored.

We woke up Thursday morning (stomach in knots), ate breakfast and met our guide in the lobby at 7:00AM. We drove 4 hours to Samuel's orphanage, which is northeast of Nanjing. The city was beautiful, compared to many cities I have seen in China. It's on the east coast of China so most people there are fishermen or cater to tourists. The drive was uneventful and Samuel was an angel, as usual.

Lianyungang Social Welfare Institute has a new, beautiful building that was built about one year ago. We didn't get to see the old facility but suspect Samuel was never there anyway, since he's so young. The orphanage visit was short and not very thorough. Our experience here was very different from our visit to Baotou SWI, Emily's orphanage. We were greeted by several ladies who would walk us down the sterile hallways. They first showed us the room where Samuel had "play time" but there were no children in it at that moment. Then they asked us if we wanted to go visit his foster home, down the hallway. Foster home?

We knew that he was under the care of a "foster mom" but heard that he was still in the orphanage setting. We assumed it meant there was a particular Aiyi (nanny) who cared for him and a few others. We learned something amazing about the past 8 months of Samuel's life. In December, he was moved from the orphanage general population to a foster home that's attached to the orphanage. The house was probably about 800 square feet and he had a bedroom with his crib and another bed. It turns out he had a foster mother and father who loved him very much. He also lived in this house with 3 foster brothers and a baby sister.

When we entered the foster home, the brothers were there, along with the mother who was graciously cooking dumplings and other food for us to try. When she saw Samuel, she began to sob. He leapt for joy, kicking his legs and smiling at her. It was clear these 2 had a very special bond. I cried uncontrollably. The pain and the joy all in one was too much to hold in. The reunion was emotional and exhausting. There was the language barrier (we did have our translator with us, it was just very chaotic) and everyone was just overwhelmed. The foster mama was very concerned about Samuel's arm and wanted to make sure we would seek medical treatment. It was precious to see that she cared so deeply.

A few minutes in to the visit, the foster dad ("Baba") came home. His face lit up at the sight of his "Pei Pei". He cried and cried, embraced Samuel, and kissed him numerous times. Again, Samuel leapt for joy and was so excited to be with him. I was afraid Samuel wouldn't want to come back to me but for the most part, came back and forth pretty easily. I can only imagine how conflicted his little heart must have felt. Leaving this family was very tough. Samuel clung to the only Baba he'd known and screamed to stay with them. We all shed tears. I thanked them and gave them a gift. We entered the elevator and Samuel immediately stopped crying, head rested on my shoulder.

We were never shown any rooms at the orphanage. There are about 200 kids here but they were all out of sight. This was a little disappointing because Suzi and I would have enjoyed the opportunity to love on these kids and take some pictures for other waiting parents. It's not uncommon for orphanages to have most rooms closed to families. I can only imagine why. We did see a few children in strollers who were also being fostered. Sweet faces. Be still my heart.

We were then taken to a room with a grand lunch waiting for us. There was an assortment of food and we were certainly treated well. I believe the children eat the same food (since it was prepared by the orphanage staff) and I was happy to know the kids are likely consuming protein and vegetables. The lunch was nice and it was quickly time for departure. We were only there for a total of about an hour and a half, including lunch.

I am so grateful that Samuel formed meaningful relationships in this foster arrangement. He has been shown how to connect and trust. He is terrified of everyone around him, except for the people he loves (including me). Believe it or not, this is a good thing. He's learned he can trust specific people. Our first adoption looked very different. Emily was indiscriminant and trusted anyone. She has learned that she shouldn't trust everyone and that she can rely on her family. It's been interesting experiencing 2 very different adoptions, different in so many ways.

Samuel and I were both wiped out when we left the orphanage but there was one more stop I had to make. One very hard stop. His finding spot, the place where Samuel's birth mother decided to leave him on June 16th, in the middle of the night. I stood there and cried. I grieved so much. I felt the pain his birth mother must have felt. I bet she was scared, leaving him there wrapped in that flowery blanket. Maybe she was crying in that very same spot, wondering if anyone would ever give him the medical attention he needed. We'll never know. Here's what I do know. She chose life for Samuel. She probably saw his medical need during the ultrasound and could have easily aborted the pregnancy. But she didn't. And I'm grateful. He is one special little guy and I am so blessed to be his momma.

Y'all. This boy is the most snuggly thing ever. He loves to sleep right beside me and often just lays his head on my shoulder. The Boba carrier that was loaned to me is working great! Lots of exciting things happening, I wish I could share them all! I believe our guide in Nanjing is coming to know Christ. We were able to witness to her and answer several questions about Christianity. I plan to stay in touch with her and walk alongside as she has questions and prayer requests. Samuel says, "Momma!" He also learned the sign for "more" and the kid can eat like nobody's business. Suzi is doing well, feeling great and I believe having quite an experience, soaking all this in. Internet and VPN access has been sketchy, at best. Trying to post things has been quite frustrating. Praying this goes through! Here are a few pictures from Thursday.



Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Gotcha and Adoption Day

Before I start writing about the whirlwind I am currently experiencing, I'd like to say thank you. Thank you for the meals and support back home. Thank you for the many prayers that are being lifted up for our family. Thank you for the encouragement through Facebook. I can hardly keep up with all the messages and comments. Please keep them coming. I can't respond to all of them or click "like" on every comment but I do see them all and appreciate every word. The support I am feeling half a world away is truly miraculous. Thank you.

Yesterday was Gotcha Day. It was messy, and hard, and beautiful, and glorious. Samuel grieved deeply for losing everything he was familiar with. It was exhausting. For both of us. He is terrified of strangers and had clearly formed a bond with his caretaker. So many tears. So much fear and angst in his little heart. I honestly don't have much to say about the day because it really just felt like survival mode. I am unbelievably grateful for this day, as hard as it was to experience.

Today was Adoption Day. This is the day that Samuel officially became a part of our family. He is no longer an orphan. He is the beloved son of the One true King. Son to Laura and Seamus. Brother. Nephew. Grandson. Forever a part of our family and forever a part of God's elect Kingdom. I look at his face and am awestruck at how much God loves him. He plucked Samuel out of a horrific situation, and placed him in a family who will nurture him and show him the love of Christ. There are hundreds of millions of children who will never know the gospel, who are living hopeless lives. He chose Samuel to be redeemed from this. I am in awe. There just aren't any words to explain the joy over what took place today. All God. Please know this. Not me. Not Seamus. ALL CHRIST JESUS. Please consider being His instrument, a vehicle for His work in these children's lives. I promise there's no greater joy on earth than the fruit you will reap from your obedience.

I can talk about the hot, smoky room we entered yesterday to meet Samuel and the same room where I returned to sign paperwork and stamp our fingers to seal the deal. But I want to take a moment to share something bigger. I am a witness to God's miracles. Friends, there aren't even words to describe what has happened to Samuel since yesterday. Your prayers have been heard. Not one of them was in vein. He heard and has responded with incredible grace. I am dumbfounded, humbled by His goodness. Why am I surprised? We need only believe!

Samuel is attaching to me in a significant way. He has begun smiling and playing. He is comforted by my touch and voice. He is opening up and showing that he is beginning to trust me. The kicker happened today when we returned to the Civil Affairs office. The caretaker who brought Samuel to me yesterday was there again today. This time, he didn't scream and cry for her embrace. He clung to me tightly and turned away from her. I couldn't believe it. I thought for sure he'd digress as soon as he saw her but our bond only became stronger. I know there will be many more moments of grief that will rear it's face in different fashions. But I truly feel like Samuel has made monumental progress in only one day. This can only be the grace of God.

Samuel does the cutest thing to stand up. Because he's missing his left forearm, he only has his right hand to push him up. So, he uses his head on the floor to help. I'm amazed at this child and his ability.

He's about to wake up from nap so I'll end here. I'll try my best to keep the blog updated. Forgive when I ramble. I'm experiencing a rainbow of emotion and am exhausted. Most of my posts while in China will be informational, not eloquent. ;) Grateful ahead of time for the grace!

Gotcha! Grieving Together
Gotcha Day
Gotcha Day... Finally asleep after many tears
On our way to Adoption Day!
Seal the deal, Mom!
Making it official with our red fingerprints!
After one day with me, y'all. Unreal.
Miracles are real

Sunday, August 23, 2015

His Grace is Enough

"My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." (2 Cor. 12:9)

I woke up this morning at 3:00AM in a dark hotel room in Nanjing, China. Reality had finally sunk in. And I lost it. I sat up and began sobbing. I sat there in that dark room with tears streaming down my cheeks. I grieved many things that hadn't really come to the surface yet.

I grieved for Samuel, who is being transported to Nanjing this morning. I grieved for his confusion, his sense of security, his safety. I grieved not having my husband here. I grieved that I don't have his shoulder to cry on and that he doesn't get to hold Samuel today. I grieved the exhaustion and intensity of this trip. It was hard. Dark. Sad. And as He always does, God spoke to me in a gentle but firm voice.

The Lord immediately brought me to a place of repentance. He led me to His word and humbled me. "I lift my eyes to the hills- where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth." (Psalm 121:1-2) He quickly reminded me that my eyes need only be lifted to Him. He is here with me. He is with Samuel. He is with Seamus. He is the same faithful God He's always been and will be forever. My reliance on something other than His presence exposed my weakness and sin. A circumstance as this can quickly reveal our idols. And I was quickly humbled.

Friends, we need not put our rest, our assurance, our hopes and desires in anything but Jesus. Even my own husband can become an idol if I remain in grief over his absence. The truth is, God's grace IS sufficient. When He said that, He meant it! It's ALL I need right now. I am so grateful today that He reminded me of His unfailing love and His desire to be in relationship with me. Let's use these moments of desperation to be conformed to His likeness. Even amidst trial, or should I say especially amidst trial, be grateful for His faithfulness in transforming us. My scaly eyes often only recognize His faithfulness in desperate times like this morning. So I praise my God for bringing me to my knees. Sobbing and sad to joyful in Him alone!

"When I said, "My foot is slipping," your love, O Lord, supported me. When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought joy to my soul." (Psalm 94:18-19)

Suzi and I spent some time together this morning in prayer and scripture. She shared a devotional with me that was confirmation of all the Lord had earlier revealed. Amazing God we serve, y'all...

"I am all around you, hovering over you even as you seek my Face. I am nearer than you dare believe, closer than the air you breathe. If My children could only recognize My Presence, they would never feel lonely again.  I know every thought you have before you think it, every word before you speak it.  My Presence impinges on your innermost being. My own children have nothing to fear, for I have cleansed them by My blood and clothed them in My righteousness. Be blessed by My intimate nearness. Since I live in you, let Me also live through you, shining My Light into the darkness."

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Made it Across the Pond

My laptop is dead and our converters aren't working in Korea. I'll be able to figure it out once we're in China but for now, I'm typing on my phone. Just wanted to give an update here, as I'm not sure when my next opportunity to write will be.

Suzi and I left New Orleans Friday evening. The trip has not been gracefully uneventful, but full of grace, nonetheless. We flew to Los Angelos and laughed quite a bit on that flight. Suzi is one funny gal and we enjoy laughing at the other's delirium. I think I'll start a journal to remember all the quirky and hilarious experiences we have.

We did make it to LA safely and barely made it to our next flight, but not before Suzi got her things confiscated and had a pat down in a private room. Fun! We hustled from there and made it on to our Asiana flight to Seoul, Korea. LAX is a huge airport yall. I thought Atlanta was something to brag about. They got nothin' on LAX!

Our 13 hour flight to Seoul was quite an adventure. I did sleep for about 6 hours, thanks to some special "friends" who were consumed with water. I do want to respect my sweet friend's privacy but I will say Suzi was very ill on that flight. We are in the Seoul airport now, recharging and refreshing. She seems to be feeling better but is definitely pretty run down from that leg. Any prayers you can offer up would be appreciated! I found a fabulous cup of coffee in this airport (the conversation to complete this transaction was quite comical. It went something like this. "I'd like a cup of Kenyan drip coffee please." Adorable Korean girl responds, "It take 2 days," and hands me a beeper. Luckily, my beeper went off in 8 minutes.).

Our layover in Seoul is about 7 hours. From here, we will fly to Nanjing, China. This is the capital city of Samuel's province and is where we will spend one week. We arrive in Nanjing at 2:30PM on Sunday, which is 1:30AM CST. Y'all. I will be meeting Samuel in about 24 hours! Oh the love. I can't even.

I feel fantastic so far. I remember the agony of jet lag and suspect it'll hit hard. But for now, I'm just so excited to embrace my beautiful son. I have bionic energy right now!

My next post may be my GOTCHA post, so keep an eye out! Please pray for Samuel over the next several days. This will be a very traumatic experience for him. I just know God will envelope him with His peace that surpasses understanding.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

What to Expect When Samuel Comes Home

Dear Friends and Family,

It is with great anticipation and excitement that we write this letter to you. As you know, Laura will be traveling to China Friday to finalize our adoption and bring home our son, Samuel! We are deep in the trenches of preparing for his arrival. We feel like a big part of that preparation is to prepare YOU for his arrival as well. There are so many unknowns and we love all your excitement and questions about his homecoming. We feel it will be beneficial to Samuel if we can be open about our expectations of friends and family upon his arrival. 

We have gone through extensive training with medical doctors, psychologists, therapists, and social workers. We have learned what we can expect from adopting an orphaned child, as well as how to cope with expected behaviors. In the first 14 months of his life, Samuel has experienced great trauma. He has experienced abandonment, medical issues, and no family to bond with, just to name a few. Being institutionalized has a major impact on a child’s development. We expect our son to be delayed in many areas.
One area that will need our immediate attention will be attachment. He has never learned to have a trusting bond with a mother and father and he will have to learn this attachment, just as a newborn does. Our parenting of an adopted child will look completely different from the way we have raised our biological children. This may change after a year or so but it is essential that we make sure he has learned proper attachment before we altar any of our parenting. What will this look like? 

In order to create a healthy attachment, Seamus and I must be the primary caregivers for several months. Only we can feed him, give him a bottle, change his diaper, and provide his basic needs. Samuel will likely sleep with us at first (we NEVER let our biological kids do this). He will basically call the shots. If he wants something, we’ll give it to him (within reason, of course), in order to build trust and an environment where he knows he can rely on us. Discipline will be taught later, just as it would with a newborn. A good way to view this is to think of him as an infant. Because he never had the experience that a properly cared for newborn does, we will have to train him as though he is a newborn. Again, any rules that we have had with our bio kids are basically thrown out the door. They had the opportunity to connect with us from birth, and Samuel has to start from the beginning.
Laura will be home with Samuel for an extended period of time, and will rarely leave the house with him for several weeks. As eager as we know you are to meet him, we have a few requests. We ask that if you have something to give him, you give it to us first, and we will pass it on to him. We ask that no one hold him until we feel that attachment bond has been established. I am planning to carry him in a wrap so that when we do go out, people won’t be tempted to hold him. We are excited that so many friends are already talking about play dates with our sweet boy. Please know that we absolutely want this to happen, as soon as we are able. 
There are numerous ways you can help, upon our return. Our older kids would love some play time, or maybe you could help with an errand or a meal. I promise to be open about what we need when we return. So many of you have already offered such wonderful care and we really appreciate that!

We have extended an open invitation to any of you who would like to greet Samuel home at our airport return. We welcome a beautiful reception like this! And we welcome plenty of hugs! I know everyone will understand why they can't hold him just yet. Plus, his daddy isn't going to let anyone have him once he finally gets his arms around him! If you would like to be a part of this special day, please message me and I'll add you to a closed FB group where all our flight information is published.
The time frame on all this will greatly depend on Samuel’s progress. We will continue to communicate with you, as progress is made and new phases can be introduced. If this sounds extreme to you, it did to us as well before we were completely educated on the needs of an internationally adopted child. I realize we may upset someone but our son’s well-being is of utmost importance to us right now. We can’t expect you to understand why we are implementing this “cocoon” phase but we are grateful if you can just love us through it. Please fire away with any questions you have. We are happy to answer anything! And please, no question is a dumb one. Believe me, we’ve asked them all of the professionals. Asking about the unknowns will ultimately benefit Samuel and your relationship with him. Our social worker, Logan Gibbons, has also offered to answer any questions from our friends and family. We would be happy to share her contact information if you request it. She is a professional who is experienced in this area, and has a very good understanding of the protocol we are implementing.
We long for the day Samuel can forge meaningful relationships with our friends, when he will be running around with your children and getting big hugs from each of you! Thank you for your understanding until we are comfortable with the hugs and other social interaction. We are grateful for the love so many of you have poured out on us and we are comforted knowing that you will walk alongside us when Samuel comes home!
With love in Christ,
Laura and Seamus

Below is a letter that our international adoption pediatrician prepared. It's a generic template but helps to explain our situation from a professional prospective...