Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Ayla's coming home...

We made it to Hong Kong and are about to head to bed. Please keep us in your prayers as we start the long journey back to sweet home Alabama! Ayla does not like for me to sit down and is typically clingy, so we are a little concerned about 15 hours on a plane. The good news is we only have one layover in Detroit. Once we clear immigration there, Ayla will instantly become a U.S. citizen!!

We are so so excited to see everyone and welcome Ayla home! We would love to have anyone who wants to greet us at the airport to be there. Consider this your personal invitation! We are scheduled to arrive in Birmingham at 4:30 on Delta flight 5086 from Detroit.

There are just a couple requests... please meet us downstairs at the bottom of the escalators by baggage claim. We are going to have just a couple minutes with family up top before we head down so Ayla can meet her Pops & DeBe, aunt, uncles and cousin Kali. All our flights have been a little early so far (knock on wood), so we may very well be downstairs at 4:30.

Second, since we are still going through the bonding/attachment phase, please don't reach out to hold Ayla. You are welcome to talk to her or rub her arm, etc. You can imagine the confusion she will have. Just a week and a half ago she was taken from the only place and people she knew. Then, just as she started coming out of her shell and felt like the hotel room was our home, we move her again. Because of this, once we get home from the airport, we will be spending a lot of time at home as a family to help her become secure with all the new changes. So, the airport is a great place to meet her before we hunker (sidenote: I don't like the word "hunker", but I can't think of another's late) down at home.

Ok, now I have a request for you all. This blog is really for Ayla to be able to look back on to see how God brought our family together. I would love for her to have notes from any of you who have followed our journey and prayed for us. We have had so much encouragement and have truly felt that we have been surrounded in prayer throughout this process. So, while you're waiting for us to get home, please leave notes for Ayla in the comments section of this post (not on facebook).

Ok, we look forward to seeing you all soon and hope some of you can make it to the airport!!

With love from China,
Tiffany, Steven & Ayla

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

out of the ashes...

I started this blog Saturday...the ONLY day Ayla slept in her crib for a nap. She woke up before I was able to finish, so by "yesterday," I mean Friday. :)

Yesterday was a long, exhausting, but amazing day! We, along with 5 other families, met at 6:30am to begin the 4 hour drive to visit the orphanage in Maoming, where our children had lived until just 4 days ago. There was some apprehension about the day, because we didn't know how the little ones would react to being back there and seeing the nannies who had loved and cared for them. It was a long, bumpy ride, but we finally pulled up to a gate, and walked into the place we had only seen in pictures.

As soon as we pulled in, there were nannies there with umbrellas to lead us up to the third floor where the children lived. We walked into their little playroom, and shortly after, a little line of children filed in and started playing. We had been told several times that Ayla loved to ride "the trojan," which is a little blue plastic rocking horse. She pretty much shut down when we walked in, and started looking all over the place. It was very similar to the way she responded on "Gotcha Day." A few of the kids were playing, so we walked over to the rocking horse. I started to put her down to see if she wanted to ride, but she clung to me and didn't let me put her down. I was TOTALLY fine with that!

There were a couple nannies who came up to her and rubbed on her face and talked to her. She looked at them a little and then turned her head away when they put their arms out to hold her. There has been one nanny who we've seen in lots of pictures with her, who she was very attached to. That nanny was not in the room. I wondered how she would respond to her. I knew it might be hard, but I really wanted to meet her and thank her for loving our daughter and preparing her for a family. I kept looking around for her, but didn't see her anywhere.

They had also prepared lunch for the kids so we could see what they were used to eating and how they were fed. I thought we had been feeding her a lot, but it turns out we've been holding out on her! They eat a big bowl of rice, beef & chicken, something green and leafy, and then something soupy in it. The nannies fed them with a regular spoon and big bites! Ayla took a few bites and then shook her head "no."

As I sat on the floor holding Ayla, I just looked the parents holding former orphans in the very room where these kids had spent countless hours, children still waiting for families, some adopted kids crying for their nanny...and was completely overwhelmed. It was so hard to imagine that this was all Ayla had known up until a few days ago. Any tears that didn't fall on Gotcha Day were falling now.

We didn't spend a whole lot of time in the room. There was a quick trip to the next room over, which was the crib room. Actually, we just looked through the window because the beds were full of sleeping babies. One of the nannies pointed out which bed was Ayla' already had a new owner.

It was almost time to say goodbye, and up walks Ayla's nanny...the one I had been hoping to see. She came up and reached for Ayla, but she just turned her head away. I was overcome. The nanny was so sweet with her and just talked to her and smiled at me, although I have no idea what she was saying. Through our guide, we were finally able to thank her for taking care of Ayla and preparing her for our family. After a few minutes, it was time to leave. The orphanage director, the nanny, and one other nanny who worked with Ayla came to tell her goodbye one more time. I was about to have Steven get a picture of us with all 3 ladies, but 2 of them started crying and turned away. More tears. We are so blessed that our daughter was loved enough that there were people sad to see her go. She was loved, and even though she will not remember her time in the orphanage, I know these special women have made a lasting impact on Ayla's ability to attach and love.

On our way back to the bus, we were taken through the back orphanage gate to Ayla's finding spot. It was nothing more than a dirty alley. We were told that babies are left there at night so whoever leaves them doesn't get caught (it is illegal to abandon a baby in China). It was hard to imagine that Ayla had been left there. She was found in a paper box, wearing flower clothing, with a birthnote that said her birthday was May 4, 2010. She was found on May 24...less than 3 weeks old. We also found out that she was a premie, with a low birthweight. A tiny new baby, abandoned and all alone. The fact that she was left at the orphanage where someone would find her does say something about her birthmother. Someone risked getting caught to make sure she was found. We definitely don't plan on telling Ayla some fairytale story about why her mother had to give her up, because the truth is we don't know. However, I am thankful that her birthmother chose to give her life in a culture where abortion is common. I am also thankful that she was most likely cared for by her birthmother for her first 3 weeks, and then left with a note in what was probably the safest place they could find.

We made a few more stops to the finding spots of the other children in our group, had lunch, and then started the long drive back to Guangzhou. That night at the hotel, Ayla began coming out of her shell. She let me put her down and she played and ran around the room. We heard some great laughs as we chased her around!! Later that night though, we also saw a more of the other end of the spectrum. She had a screaming, crying, back arching fit, and was inconsolable for 20-30 minutes before she wore herself out and went to sleep. Bedtime and naptime have been a struggle ever since (hence the lack of blogposts). On one hand, it is good that she feels comfortable enough to finally grieve. On the other hand, it is exhausting, and has been the hardest part of the journey. We are praying this phase gets better and better...preferably quickly! Still, we wouldn't trade this journey for anything!

It's Tuesday night now, and Ayla's suitcase is packed to come home. Honestly, we have really enjoyed being here! The time has gone by really fast. While we are excited to get home, we are not super excited about the long plane rides coming up. We just purchased a lap ticket for Ayla, rather than getting her a seat. That was probably best since she will have a meltdown prefers for me to hold her. She also wants me to stand up when I hold her...yeah, it may be a long 24 hours! Please pray for all 3 of us...and the poor people whose seats are nearby!!

We cannot wait to get our sweet girl home! We would LOVE to see any of you at the airport Thursday who would like to come. I will give the details in a separate post, so stay tuned!

Just tried to upload pics twice and it won't work. :( Lots of pictures on facebook though! Heading to bed for the last time in Guangzhou...

Thursday, March 8, 2012

little things...

Sorry for the lack of blog posts. I just laid our sweet girl in her crib, and she is sound asleep. Until now, I haven't had a free hand to type. I'm gonna try to do this one quick because we are meeting at 6:30am to make the 4 hour drive to Maoming to visit her orphanage. So right off the bat, we'd like to ask for your prayers. All 9 families in our group will be going to whichever orphanage their child is from.

Tomorrow will not be an easy day, but it will be an important one. Of course, we are all wondering how our babies will react to seeing their orphanage and nannies again. Some of you are probably wondering why in the world we would even go there. There are several reasons. First, it is important for us to see where Ayla came from. We will be taken to her finding spot, where she was abandoned when she was 3 weeks old. We will also get to ask her nanny questions and get a lot more insight into the first 22 months of her life. One day, Ayla will ask questions about her adoption, and it is very important to us to be able to give her as much information as we can.

Second, I have a very soft spot in my heart for her nanny. We have heard she was very attached to one in particular. I want to hug her neck and thank her for loving our daughter until we could come get her. The love and care she gave her will have a huge positive impact on how she attaches and bonds with us. You can pray specifically for the moment we see her nanny. For obvious reasons, there are concerns about how Ayla will respond.

Which brings me to the last reason we're going...closure for Ayla. She had no clue why she left the orphanage on Monday morning. Even though visiting will be emotionally exhausting, we are praying that she will gain a sense of security with us when she leaves one last our arms!

Ok, on to a few updates. Ayla is continuing to adjust. She has been VERY clingy the past 2 days (hence no blogs). My arms are sore, but so worth it!! She can be sitting in my lap and will still reach for me to hold her. She prefers that I be standing up too. We are working on her being able to sit and play with me beside her, which she'll do a little...but not for very long. Today was the first time she really cried hard, and she did it about 3 times. We know she is grieving, and we knew it would happen eventually, but it is heartbreaking and exhausting to watch. She finally cried herself to sleep in my arms this afternoon.

She is obsessed with the hotel hand towel. It still goes everywhere with us! She was used to sleeping with a washcloth at the orphanage, so it must be the texture that she likes and makes her feel secure. No interest in the adorable lovies whatsoever! We will have to steal purchase one from the hotel for the long trip home.

Today we learned that she likes to feed herself with a spoon! She does pretty well too! She even gets the pieces that fall in her bib and puts them back in her bowl. She is eating more and more. She LOVES french fries! Really, she just likes to eat! I have been working with her on the baby sign for "more". When she runs out of something, I will sign it to her and say, "more, more." Well, she hasn't gotten the sign down, but she now says, "mo, mo," in the cutest little raspy voice, for ANYTHING she wants!

She is giving us little glimpses of the personality that is hiding somewhere under all the shock from the past few days. We are getting smiles a little more, and have even heard a few good laughs. The first was Wednesday. We were sitting in a chair and she was playing with a couple stacking cups. She was touching them to my face. Then she started doing it harder...and harder. Then she got me pretty good, and I had to tell her no, pretty firmly. I thought it might hurt her feelings, but apparently it was hillarious! We are pretty sure we've got a fiesty little girl, and she's gonna give us a run for our money.

Speaking of stacking cups...those are her favorite! She will play with them for hours! She usually has one in each hand. We may be on and off the bus and walking all over the place, and she will not drop them (or whatever is in her hands). When she plays with anything, she will not move to another part of the room without taking EVERYTHING with her. We call her the "toy hoarder". It is so funny to watch her. If her hands are full, she'll prop stuff under her chin so she can take it with her. Sharing is not going to be a fun lesson for her to learn!

My favorite new thing she did just happened tonight on our way to dinner. It was just the 3 of us walking quite a ways, so I had her in the carrier. She has been getting lots of kisses, but hasn't given any. While we were walking, I looked down at her and kissed her and said, "Give mommy kiss." I've done that a lot, but this time, I thought I heard her smack her lips like she was trying to make a kiss sound. I looked at her and smiled and tried to get her to do it again. Not a chance. Then, as soon as I looked away she did it again. I looked back at her and she started laughing. Then she kept making the little kiss noise. Oh, I could just eat her up!

Overall, things are going great! Daddy still hasn't gotten to hold her, but she will let him feed her and kiss her. Hopefully it won't be much longer. There are a few other dads in our group waiting to hold their daughters too. This is completely normal, but I know Steven is so ready! And mommy's arms could use a break every now and then (still not complaining though).

Alright, time for some ibuprofren and then off to bed! Here's a few pics...

Monday, March 5, 2012

Gotcha Day details...

My heart is so full! As I write this, Ayla is still fast asleep. I can't imagine what a long, scary day it was for her, but she is a little trooper.

The tears were off and on all morning as we waited for 2:00 to come. There were 9 families in our group, and we boarded a bus to head to the Civil Affairs building. On the ride there, we received several instructions on what would happen when we got there. There would be paperwork to look over, as well as a document to show as they handed her to us (to make sure they were giving the right children to the right families). Once everyone's paperwork was checked, they said they would call families one by one...slowly, so the families would have plenty of time to take pictures of each other.

Not. the. case. It was crazy. We were all taking pictures as the first baby came out from behind a curtain that led to a playroom. I lost it! Then, baby 2 came quick, then this time we were all fumbling paperwork and cameras, realizing it was going to happen fast. And then, there she was. It was our moment. I reached to take her from the orphanage representative. She resisted a little, but then came to me without a whimper. Almost immediately, we were asked to move over so another family could meet their child (thanks for preparing me for that Heather!). I could tell she was scared to death, and I must have gone into protection mode. I just held her close and whispered to her. Some of the babies came out kicking and screaming, and I could have burst into tears at any moment. But because she was calm, I (tried) to stay calm so I wouldn't upset her.

We went over to a couch where all the other families were heading to dig into our diaper bags for any kind of treat that might make the kids feel more comfortable. The cheerios didn't get much of a response, so we quickly moved to sweettarts (we had been told the kids liked them). She ate a couple and then let me feed her some puffs. We looked at our toy camera (thanks Pops & DeBe), but couldn't hear the sounds it made over all the commotion in the room.

Steven went to get some questions we had prepared answered by the orphanage representative with our guide. So it was just the two of us (sort of...if you don't count the other 50 familes in the room). She just looked around, looked in the diaper bag, and let me hold her. We played with a little lovie, and she gave a few half-smiles. She would look up at me from time to time. There were several times when I thought she was about to sob, and I would think, "here we go". Her little lip would quiver, but it was like she was trying to hold it back. She never cried at the Civil Affairs building.

After all the families got their questions answered, it was time to go. We walked out of the building as a group...11 more than when we walked in (2 families in our group adopted 2 babies)! Praise the Lord for 11 less orphans in China! We got on the bus and headed to a shopping center to get the right formula, diapers, rice cereal, etc. Ayla was so tired. Her eyelids would drop, but she wouldn't let herself go to sleep. I'm sure she was scared of what might happen next if she dare sleep. She had a quick meltdown on the bus, but someone handed me a dum dum and that did the trick!

We got to the store and I put her in a carrier. After fighting sleep for a while longer, she finally dosed off. We were sweaty and exhausted, and ready to get back to the room. When we finally did, we tried to show her around, but she didn't respond much. Steven had to leave to go do more paperwork, so now it really was just us. It was tough. I set her down so she could walk around. She was scared, and nothing would soothe her. Our first communication was her shaking that precious little head telling me, "no." Again it looked like she was fighting back tears. "No." She didn't want puffs. "No," she didn't want to play with toys. "No, no, no." I just scooped her back up, crying for her. We paced around the room, and finally she saw something she wanted...a bath towel. I gave it to her (of course), and she laid her head on it. We didn't even attempt a bath, but I wiped her off a little as I changed her diaper and put pj's on her.

We were waiting for Lily (the amazing woman who does so much on behalf of adoptive families here in China) to come show me how to make her formula the way she was used to it. She came and made her a bottle. Bless her little heart...that's what she wanted! I held her while she guzzled it down. She didn't want me to hold the bottle (as we gain trust, this is something that will hopefully change), and even wiggled down to the floor to finish it off. When she was done, she handed the bottle to me. I reached for her...and she reached back. I melted. She perked up a little, and Steven came back. We had not had a chance to discuss the answers to all the questions we had asked earlier, but he told me that she is used to sleeping with a small bath towel.

Steven hadn't held her yet (this is very common). She would take puffs from him, but would give him the "evil eye" if he reached to hold her. We had seen that look in pictures before. Lifeline had prepared us very well on how a lot of the children are scared of men at first. He has been very patient and sweet with her. Hopefully, she will let him hold her soon. Some of the husbands went to get food to bring back for dinner, so Steven headed to Pizza Hut with them.

It was about 9:00, which is her normal bedtime. I laid with her on the bed and she started to drift off. I picked her up and laid her on me, and she fell asleep. I placed her in her crib, and covered her with the towel. I. was. starving...and exhausted. I got ready for bed, and Steven came back shortly after that. I had some pizza, and was planning on getting some things ready for today. But, unsure of what the night would hold, I went to bed too.

I have been up since 5:00, and she is still fast asleep. She stirred a couple times, but I just rubbed her back and she fell right back to sleep. Her normal wake-up time is 6:30. It's 6:45 now, so I'm expecting her to wake up any minute. Lots of pics were posted on fb, so rather than taking time to upload them, I am gonna go get ready for our first full day together! On the next post, I will do my best to post lots of pics!

We are so so blessed and thankful to finally have our daughter in our arms. Please continue to lift us up in prayer...that Ayla would begin to trust us and bond with us as her mommy and daddy. She had a long day yesterday, and we know there will be grieving over the next several days, so there will be some tough moments. We are confident that God will give us the strength and grace to make it.

We are in love!

There's someone we'd like you to meet...

We've got her!! It has been a crazy day! She did great when they gave her to us, but is grieving now. Ayla is precious, and I can't wait to tell you more soon. God is good, and we are blessed. Please continue to pray as we make this sweet transition.

Sunday, March 4, 2012


I think I've imagined this night for a long time just never felt like it would actually get here. The last few days have flown by, and I cannot believe this is our last night without Ayla. Words can't describe what I'm feeling right now. It's like lots of emotions all mixed together into one big knot in my stomach. We have been counting down by months, then weeks, then days, and now hours, hoping they pass quickly. We are so excited we can hardly stand it!

On the other hand, I could just burst into tears for how her nanny must feel tonight. I know how it feels to say goodbye to kids you love with all your heart. She has loved our daughter and cared for her for the first 22 months of her life. I'm sure she has been counting down over these past few weeks too. Only, she has wanted time to pass slowly. My heart breaks for her as I know she must be thinking about how this is her last night to tuck her in. We are so grateful for this woman we've never met, but yet has taught Ayla how to bond. She has helped prepare her for us.

And then I think of our precious girl, and how she has no idea what's about to happen. When she wakes up tomorrow, she will be whisked away from everyone and everything she knows and placed in a van for a 4 hour drive...maybe her first time in a van. Maybe even her first time out of the orphanage. How scary for her. Then she'll enter a building she's never seen before and be placed into the arms of complete strangers who look, smell and sound completely different from her nanny. We've been looking forward to this day for the past 18 months, but for her it will be traumatic.

I think this is the reason for a lot of mixed emotions tonight. Ayla won't understand what's going on, and she won't know that she can trust us. It will be hard to watch her grieve, which we know will happen at some point over the next few days. We don't know what that will look like...if she'll cry, kick and scream, shut down, or all of the above. What we do know, is that God has very clearly led us to this moment, and He is faithful. We don't know what tomorrow's story looks like, but we know the Author. And He is good.

We have been so blessed by friends and family who have been walking this journey with us and lifting us up in prayer. Even in the midst of lots of emotions, there has been an overwhelming peace. Please continue to lift us up in prayer. There are 9 Lifeline families in our group, and we will all be meeting our children in the same room tomorrow. A few of the moms are close friends of mine (if I'm not blogging fast enough for you, you can read their stories from my links on the right), and it is so amazing to be going through this life-changing time together.

Earlier today, we all sat in a conference room to hear about the schedule for tomorrow. Normally, families prepare a list of questions for whatever representative from the orphanage is there. Since there are so many of us, they went ahead and requested some of the information up front. We learned her schedule, how she likes her formula, and then a little bit about her personality. She can say a few words in Chinese. I will be asking what those words are tomorrow. Apparently, she likes birthday cake and candy. She also loves music, colorful toys and the rocking horse (her original paperwork said she "likes to ride the trojan"...I'm guessing that's the rocking horse). They also said she's shy.

So, the schedule for tomorrow...Gotcha Day! Our whole group will leave the hotel at 2:00 (midnight Sunday night Alabama/Central time). We should get to the civil affairs office around 2:30 and then one by one, we will meet our children. They will unite families from other agencies between all of us because our guides need to be available with each Lifeline family, so this will probably take a while. Once we're done at the consulate, we all go straight to the store to buy some things we'll need. I say all this because it may be a while before we'll be able to post anything. Some of you had mentioned waiting up... realistically, you may just want to check early Monday morning! If you do wake up during the night, please pray for us!

Ok, I am going to attempt to get some sleep before our big day tomorrow. I cannot wait until our next post...I know it's the one you've really been waiting for. Us too!!

It was only appropriate that we do one more Starbucks run in honor of our Red Thread coffee group. I love these 2 ladies...Kim and Rushton. So so thankful to have been on this journey with them, and thrilled to be here in China together!

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Thawing out...

This morning we woke up to another freezing day in Beijing, and we got an early start. The plan was to go to Tiennamen Square, The Forbidden City, do a Hutong Tour, and then go to The Temple of Heaven...all before catching a 5:30 flight to Guangzhou.

Well, Tiennamen Square was closed because of some council meeting going on, so we went straight to The Forbidden City. It is ginormous! Wendy, our sweet guide, told us a lot about it. There were over 1 million workers building it, and it took 40 years to build! Every detail has some kind of meaning, from the colors used, to the number of tiers on the roofs, to the location of walkways. The number 9 is really significant to the Chinese, so 9 and multiples of 9 are used everywhere. There are 9,999 and 1/2 rooms in the city. The temple for the gods has 10,000 rooms, and since the emperor wouldn't dare compare himself to a god, he shorted himself by half a room. Ha! And what is half a room??

The information was interesting, but sad at the same time. There are so many superstitions and gods, and so many lost people. What seemed like far-fetched, silly tales to me were the very things so many Chinese people believe in. Including Wendy.

We were so cold, that we were very glad to finally get through the Forbidden City. Next, we headed to a silk was inside, so we were happy to be there. We watched the tedious process of how silk is handmade...there's a woman, not a machine, who pulls the silk worms out of the cacoons. The factory then led to a door to what looked like a department store. We saw the children's section, and bought a couple silk outfits for Ayla!

Still not ready to brave the cold again, we headed to lunch. The restautant felt more like a hotel, with multiple rooms. There was a banquet going on there, so we were led to a private room to eat. It was strange, but the food was good. WAY too much for just the 2 of us though!

Then came the Hutong tour. Hutongs are narrow streets through old Beijing, where only rickshaws can drive. It is very traditional, and the homes are built in squares around a central courtyard. We were winding through the streets and then Wendy knocked on the door of one. We were invited to come inside. The man who lived there was a prefessional calligrapher. It felt really awkward walking through his home. There were caged crickets on a dresser. It reminded me of the movie Mulan, and I am sure there is a superstitious reason why they had them.

Wendy and I rode together in the rickshaw, and we had a great conversation. She knew we were in China to adopt and was really excited. She kept saying how Ayla was unlucky, but now she's lucky. I was able to open up to her a little bit about my faith. She was very sweet, but not very open. She assumed I believed in just 1 God because I was American. The talk was short, but I am praying that she will respond to the gospel one day.

We ended up opting out of the Temple of Heaven tour. It would have been outdoors as well, and we were already cold. So, we went a little early to the airport. We were finally on the flight that would take us to Ayla.

I cannot believe we are here. I am sitting in a beautiful hotel room on the 15th floor overlooking the city. There is a little crib at the foot of my bed, and it will soon be our daughter. We are halfway across the world, in a huge city, with millions of people, but we are here to meet one little girl that God has so clearly led us to. Not by coincidence, but by His sovereign will. Not because she had a streak of good luck, but because God has a plan for her life.

I am dosing off as I write because I am exhausted from the last few days, but I am reminded of the infinitely greater lengths that God went to to adopt His children, to adopt me. My prayer is that these next few days will be a picture of the gospel, and how adoption is at the heart of it. If you know Christ, I pray you will have a fresh sense of how sweet it is to be a part of God's family. If you don't know Christ, I pray you will be drawn to the One who sacrificed His only "natural" born Son, so that you and I can be part of His family forever. Romans 8:15 says, For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!”

Here's a few pics from today. I wanted to do more, but they are taking too long to upload. :(

The Forbidden City

"The Couples Tree" - 2 trees grew together

The emperor had 3000 concubines. They could not leave the Forbidden City unless they gained the emperors favor and had his permission. There were so many that some never even met him. This is where they could go to mourn for the family they missed.

Wendy was helping me find a cute silk outfit for Ayla.

The rickshaw that we rode...

Friday, March 2, 2012

Xtreme Great Walling...

We were not expecting to see snow flurries when we looked out our hotel window this morning. It was really foggy, and it didn't seem like ideal weather for our Great Wall trip, especially since we had been warned it would be significantly colder there. But, today was the day, come rain snow or come shine.

As we drove through Beijing, we saw the site of the 2008 Olympics. We had to look fast because our driver has a heavy foot. There's really no such thing as defensive driving's offensive! As we moved to the outskirts of the city, the temperature dropped and there was more and more snow the further we went.

We took an unexpected stop at a jade factory. We learned that not all jade is green, and saw some pretty amazing things carved out of it. It was interesting, and after a crash course on the process of what they do to the jade, we got to go to the "big showroom." We managed to leave without falling into that tourist trap.

We had to walk a couple blocks to a restaurant where we ate lunch near the entrance to the Great Wall. It. was. freezing. Like, my lungs were burning it was so cold. Our sweet guide, Wendy, asked us how long we wanted to stay at the Wall after lunch. At this point, we were fine with a quick walk on the wall and a few pics to prove we had been there. Wendy said our best option would be to take a cable car that could have us near the top of the wall in 3 minutes. Then we could walk to the top and snap a few pictures. Sounded like a plan! After lunch, Steven invested in a very handsome "Great Wall" beanie and we were on our way.

The cable car ride was really cool! This wall is literally built through miles and miles steep mountains. Wendy told us that 2000 years ago, the first emperor forced prisoners to build it. They had to work 16 or more hours a day and may of them died because of poor working conditions. They buried the bodies in the wall, so it is also known as the world's longest cemetery. Ok, enough with the history lesson.

We got off the cable car and headed onto the wall. Part of it has steps, and then there is a section that is just a really steep incline...covered in snow. We held onto the rail and started up. It was so slippery! Our guide said she has never been to the Wall in the snow. We looked behind us only to see a long line of Asians holding onto the rail for dear life behind us. There was no turning back. (Sidenote, this is not the tourist season, so it was just us and maybe a couple hundred Asians...we stood out like a sore thumb). Everyone was slipping and laughing. This could have been an Olympic sport!

We finally made it to the top of the incline where we tried to get some pictures through the fog. Then came the hard part...getting back down the incline! It was hilarious. Basically, you just held onto the rail and slid until you ran into somebody or could get your footing. One guy decided he didn't want to wait in the long line of people going down via the hand rail. He walked to the middle, squatted down, and slid all the way to the bottom into a group of cheering people. Steven got it on video, but it won't upload...we'll work on it. We had a blast! We may not have been able to see much of the wall, but we had an unforgettable experience!

We went to a tea house to warm up. That was a neat experience too. It was no Milo's, but we enjoyed it! We ended t
he day by going to an acrobatic show. That was fun too, but the jetlag was starting to get to us by that point. Our time here in Beijing is short, so we are trying to cram a lot in. Tomorrow we will go to the Forbidden City, Tiennamen Square, and do a Hutong tour. Then we will fly out to Guangzhou and prepare to meet Ayla!

Thursday, March 1, 2012

we're here!

Thank you all so much for your prayers! There was definitely a peace throughout the days before we left and throughout our 28-hour trip, and we know it's because we are being lifted up by our friends and family. Praise the Lord, we are a HUGE step closer to Ayla!

It is 1:00am on March 2, and we just got checked into our hotel in Beijing. Unfortunately, the hotel was completely full and since we arrived so late, they had no choice but to upgrade us to a suite!! Any bed would have been welcomed at this point, but we are in a really nice hotel room for the next 2 nights. We are tired, but so excited to finally be here! Tomorrow (well, technically today) we are going to sleep in and then go to the Great Wall. 

On a funny note (maybe only because I'm sleep deprived), I wore a sweatshirt today that I got last summer. It has Chinese writing on it, but I had no I idea what it said...until today. We met a man in Tokyo in the security line who was really friendly. He teaches in Florida, but was coming home to China for Spring Break. He told me it said 5 yuan (the Chinese currency) and 10 yuan. Apparently, the whole sweatshirt looks like a Chinese bill. Random. So, as we are boarding the plane to Beijing, the sweet flight attendant smiles at me and says, "10 bucks." Not sure I'll be wearing it much more. Ok, so that isn't that funny.

Ok, here's a few pics...goodnight!!

Birmingham airport, 2/29 at 4:30am.

The plane that took us from Detroit to Tokyo...
we had a row of 4 seats to ourselves.

Lookin' a little rough in Tokyo...

Just landed in Beijing!!

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

on our way...

I just have a second...we are in Detroit about to board our plane to Tokyo. We'll have a 4 hour layover and then fly to Beijing. It will be around 10 am Thursday morning at home in Alabama when we finally get there. Thank you all so much for your encouragement and for covering us in prayer.

We will be posting as often as possible, but will be offline until tomorrow. It is so hard to believe we are finally at this point. Thanks for coming on the journey with us...see you in China!!

Monday, February 13, 2012

the little face in the background

I think it goes without saying that adopting is a long process. There are lots of milestones along the way, but in my opinion, there are two that stand out above all the rest. Two moments that change your life from that point on. The first one is when you are matched with your child. Up until then, you can only imagine who she is...what she looks like, how old she is, where she lives, or how she got there. But once you're matched, the vague picture in your imagination becomes clearer. You're not just pursuing a child, you're pursuing that one. The second moment, and I'm sure the best of them all, is the one when your little one is placed in your arms. We haven't made it to that day, "Gotcha Day," yet. I cannot wait to write that post, but for now, I want to look back to the day when God revealed who our daughter was.

So, we go back to late June, 2011. We had been "logged in" to China for over a month, which meant we were ready to receive a match, or referral. For months, we had known her name would be Ayla, and we could not wait to have a face to go with the name. The way the referral process typically works for China is that once a month, usually towards the end of the month, a list of children comes out. The agency takes all the information you provided and matches you with a child that seems to be the best fit for your family. The list comes out in the morning in China, but because of the time difference, it's late at night here. Since it was late in the month, we knew the list was coming soon. But, in addition to this list, Lifeline (our agency) was in the process of partnering with an orphanage in Maoming, China. We knew files from those children were coming soon as well, so there was a good chance we would be matched with a child from there.

Now before I dive into the details, it is important that you know a few things up front. First, my grandmother (mom's mom) was born in 1930, my mom was born in 1960, and I was born in 1980. We had indicated that we desired a little girl who was between the age of 0 and 1. So, I just knew our daughter would be born in 2010. Second (and totally unrelated), my husband is a lot of things, but one thing he is not is observant. I never expect him to remember details. Third, my dad is a total people person. He loves everyone and their mother. He and my mom were anxiously awaiting our referral too.

Ok, moving right along. It was Monday, June 27 and my phone was never out of reach. We were expecting a call any moment telling us we had been matched. I was so excited and had instant butterflies every time the phone rang or beeped. I wondered what it would be like to see a face for the first time. Would I just know it was her? Would I somehow recognize her? What would her special need be? We had been praying that God would clearly show us who our daughter was. I was trying hard to stay busy so time would pass quickly as we waited, but it wasn't working very well. Finally, a text came through. It was from our social worker. Heart pounding, I checked it... "Call me when you can." I'm sure she was surprised at how quickly her phone rang. She proceeded to say that we had been matched and she was pretty sure it was with a Maoming child. However, there was a technical issue and the files hadn't come through, so she didn't have any more information. This had never happened before, but they expected the files soon so she would let me know as soon as they came. More waiting.

The suspense continued through Tuesday, and to make it even more gut-wrenching, Lifeline launched their brand new Maoming program on their website. It was complete with adorable pictures and videos of waiting children. Our social worker assured us that the child we were matched with was not one of the children on the site. That would have just been cruel! So for fun, Steven and I sat in bed and looked through the pictures and watched the videos...some of them multiple times. One little girl called "Betty" stood out to me, but I didn't think much of it or mention it to Steven because I knew we were already matched.

Wednesday came and the agonizing wait continued. Still no files. Granted, it had only been 2 days, but when you're waiting on something that could come "any minute" for over 48 hours, it feels like an eternity. By late morning I knew it was the middle of the night in China, so I figured we wouldn't hear anything at that point. At least I had Bible study that night to hopefully distract least a little? Please! My mom and I, along with 2 friends, went and grabbed coffee after Bible study. It was getting close to 10:00 when a text came through. "Call me when you can." I walked away from the table as I dialed the number. This HAD to be it. "The files are here, and you have been matched. I am emailing the file to you now." The first thing she told me was that she was a little older than we requested, but not by much. She was born at the end 2009. I'll be honest, my heart sank, but I quickly tried to tell myself that a birthdate was not that big a deal. I came back to the table and told my mom we needed to leave because I was not going to open the file without Steven.

She dropped me off at home, and I told her I would forward the file to her so she and my dad could see her! Steven was already asleep, so I dragged him out of bed and to the computer. It was the moment we had been waiting for since we started the process. The plan was to read her file first, then look at the pictures. But, as soon as we clicked the email, a full-screen picture of a little girl popped up. It caught me totally off guard and didn't feel at all like I had imagined it would would. I didn't feel like I recognized her or anything like that. There were 3 pictures, and I actually pointed out a little girl in the background because she was looking at the camera in all of them. I remember thinking, "That's so typical...being more interested in something other than what you've been given.." We read through the file and found the only special need she had was a mild delay. That was amazing, because all institutionalized children are delayed. She was healthy...and cute!

At this point, I wasn't sure what to think. I knew not to trust my emotions, especially after the dragged out waiting over the last few days. Maybe I just had unrealistic expectations of what it would be like to see her face. Sure she was a tiny bit older than we were thinking, but that wasn't a deal breaker. I was trying to be excited and talk myself into all the reasons why we should accept this referral. Not sure what to say, I asked Steven what he was thinking. "She's really cute." I agreed, but told him I just wasn't sure if she was our daughter. He said, "It's late and we are tired. It may just be that we need to get used to the idea that she's a little older than we've been picturing. Let's pray about it and sleep on it, and I bet we'll be excited about it in the morning." He headed back to bed and I called my friend who had also been matched that night. I wanted to know how the experience was for her and her husband, hoping she would identify with my unsettledness. I quickly realized we had two very different experiences. They knew the little girl they were matched with was their daughter as soon as they saw her, and they were beyond excited.

I sent our file to my mom and dad and read through it several more times. I prayed for peace as I headed to bed. I hardly slept at all. My mind was racing and I kept pulling up the pictures, trying to imagine this cute little girl as my daughter. At some point I fell asleep. I didn't even hear Steven get up or leave for work. I thought I would feel better about everything that morning, but I didn't. I was an emotional wreck and didn't know what to do. I tried to calm down so I could call Steven and see what he was thinking about everything. I didn't want him to know I had been upset because I didn't want that to sway him. I was expecting him to say something like, "She's healthy, she's cute, and there's no reason not to accept the referral." But he didn't. He instead told me that he had gotten up early and looked at her file and pictures, "She is really cute, but I just don't think that's our daughter." I burst into tears, partly out of sadness that we still didn't know who our daughter was, but maybe even more out of relief that we were on the same page. We decided that we were going to turn down the referral. It was the last thing I wanted to do because it meant choosing to wait even longer. But you know that peace we had prayed for? Well, it flooded over me even in the midst of my sobbing. It wasn't what I expected. I had hoped for a peace to say yes, but God was giving us an overwhelming peace to say the point that I knew it would be disobedience to do anything else.

By this time it was close to 10:00 Thursday morning. My mom called and asked how I was doing, but I couldn't even get a word out. She knew. I managed to blubber out, "We have to say no. That's someone else's daughter." Then she told me what happened at their house the night before when I sent the file to them. My dad (the guy who's just crazy about everyone) said, "I don't think that's Ayla." My mom felt the same way. Of course they were ready to welcome her and love her had we accepted her referral, and I don't think she would have ever told me that if we were going to say yes. But, God used that as another confirmation that we were making the right decision.

I was ready to get the dreaded call to our social worker over with. It was yet another blubbery (on my end) call. I tried my best to explain how there was really no reason for us to turn her down, except that we just could not get a peace about it. She was understanding and told us to take a look at the Maoming site to see if any of those kids stood out to us. If so, we would be first on the list. I was not excited about "picking out" a child from a website, but told her we would look. I hung up the phone, and just to torture myself a little more, I pulled up our referral pictures and looked at the face of the little girl we had just turned down. As painful as it was, I knew we had done the right thing. She was someone else's daughter. I trusted God would lead us to ours, but it was hard to still be waiting. Again I stared at the little girl looking straight at me from the background. In one picture, she was leaning back to be in the picture. She had on a pink shirt with a green "3" on it.

I pulled myself somewhat together and pulled up the Maoming website. As I scrolled through the familiar faces from two nights earlier, I saw little "Betty" again. She still stood out to me, so I clicked on the video of her. I had watched it before, but this time I noticed something I hadn't the first time...a green "3" on her pink shirt. No. Way. I pulled up the referral picture again, and sure enough, the little girl in the background was Betty. "Ok, Lord. Is this her? Are you already leading me to our daughter?"

My mom came over and took me to lunch. Emotions were still raw, but it was nice to have support and confirmation that we had made the right decision. I told her about "Betty" and how she was in the background of all the referral pictures. She said she and my dad had noticed her too. Of course they had! I decided not to tell Steven about everything right away. I wanted him to have a chance to look at the website again before I shared where I believed the Lord was leading me.

When he got home from work, I casually asked him if he remembered me pointing out a little girl in the background. I really didn't expect him to. After all, I had woken him up to show him the pictures in the first place (and remember he's not always the most observant). Much to my surprise, he knew exactly what I was talking about! A few minutes later, I told him that our social worker wanted us to look at the website to see if anyone stood out to us. He says, "I don't need to look. I like Betty." I about fell in the floor. "Ok God, I hear you loud and clear!" It was miraculous! God led him to the same little girl, AND he remembered her name! Now, I know what some of you are thinking..."She obviously doesn't know her husband that well, he is pretty observant if you ask me." I later asked Steven if he knew the name of the little girl we were originally matched with. Nope! was a miracle!

The next morning we called to let our social worker know that God was leading us to pursue "Betty." We knew her paperwork was not ready, but we had a peace to wait for it. Then came some heart wrenching news, "We cannot match you with Betty until her paperwork comes, so if another family with an earlier log-in date requests her, they will take priority over you." Not what I had expected to hear. The next two months were hard. We did not question whether or not God had led us to this little girl, but we did wonder why. Was she ours, or had God led us to her to teach us something through the trial of not being matched with her? I knew God was in control, and I knew whatever happened was His best for us. But oh how I prayed that His best would not be through pain this time. I prayed that Betty was our Ayla.

Finally, on September 9, almost two and a half months after first seeing her face... "Call me when you can." I called immediately. Heart pounding, I heard the words I had been longing for, "I have the file, and I am sending it over right now." I hung up the phone and Steven and I ran to the computer. We read through all the information and learned she had been left at the orphanage entrance in a paper box. She was dressed in flowered clothes, and a note was attached to her with her birthday. May guessed it, 2010. We were waiting to see what her Chinese name was to lock in on a middle name. One of the names we were considering was Mae. Just like I had for the first name, I had looked up Mae to see what it meant. It literally means "the fifth month." Part of her Chinese name was Mao, so between that and her birthday being in May, we decided on Mae. And of course May is in the Spring!
The first picture we saw of "Betty"

We accepted her file that day. It was as if a weight had been lifted. Betty was our Ayla Mae. Since that day, we have been longing to hold her and bring her home. Praise the Lord, we now have a date. We received travel approval on February 6. We leave for China on the 29th of this month, and Lord willing, we will hold Ayla on March 5...just three weeks away! It is so amazing to look back at all God has done throughout our journey. He has not only worked in our circumstances, but He has worked in our hearts. This process has changed me personally. In our pursuit of Ayla, I have seen my heavenly Father's pursuit of me in a fresh way.

There is a good chance that this will be my last big post before we go to China. All these milestones throughout this adoption journey are a part of Ayla's story. She has already experienced such loss in her little life, but my prayer is that she will see how God's hand was on her, even before we ever met her. I pray her adoption story draws her to the Author of it...the one who wants to adopt her eternally.

Picture we received shortly after being matched,
16 months old
Updated picture, 18 months old
Pigtails! 20 months old

Sunday, January 1, 2012

what a difference a day makes

Happy New Year! It feels so good to be able to say that we are going to China THIS year, and it feels even better to be able to say that we will hold our daughter NEXT month, Lord willing! This has been such a long process, but we are getting so close now!

We have 2 short steps left. Right now, we are waiting on our Article 5. What's that you ask? Honestly, I'm not totally sure...but we really want it! Actually, it is a letter issued by the US Consolate in China, stating that Ayla's immigrant visa and all other paperwork is in order for our adoption. It takes 2 weeks to get this letter issued. Then the Article 5 will be picked up and delivered to the CCCWA (China's Center for Children's Welfare and Adoption), where we will be waiting for the very last step- Travel Approval, or TA!! Once we get it, we book tickets and get on a plane within 2 weeks. TA generally takes 2 weeks as well, but New Year's is apparently a much bigger deal in China. The CCCWA will close for Chinese New Year (January 23) for a whole week...right in the middle of our countdown to TA.

We are praying that somehow our TA will be issued before offices close that week. It won't necessarily mean we will travel any sooner, but it would be nice to have an extra week to book tickets. Ultimately, we know that God is in control, and we rest in knowing that everything will work out in His timing. He will provide for what He has called us to do.

As I look back over the past year, one of the greatest blessings of 2011 was gaining some amazing friends through the "Red Thread" coffee group. We are all in the adoption process, and almost all of us are adopting little girls from China. It has been amazing to be on this journey together. We have celebrated together and cried together. Most of all, we have seen God's hand directing each one of our stories in ways that only He could do! A couple moms have now brought their precious daughters home, and most of us are still waiting. When we all met, we were all in different places in the process. You always had someone ahead of you that could answer questions, and someone behind you who needed to ask them. As the process has moved forward though, several of us are now in the same place and may even travel together! To say I am thankful for these ladies would be a huge understatement! I can't imagine being on this journey without them. I know we are all excited for 2012...when our coffee group will become a play group!

So, please be in prayer for us as we wait just a little longer. Scooping up Ayla may be the end of this process, but really, it's just the beginning. Ayla will have a mom and dad, and we will have a daughter. We will get to know each other, and her story will merge with ours. Her life won't suddenly get perfect, but we will go through the good and the bad times together as a family. Life is about to change, and the sweetest moments are yet to come!

This makes me think about my own salvation. So often, I think we look at our salvation as our ultimate moment with God...the climax. Yes, it was a miraculous day when God adopted us into His family. But, it too was just the beginning. It would be ridiculous to imagine going to China, meeting our daughter and then completely ignoring her after that. If that was our plan, why on earth would we have even bothered? It wouldn't make sense. In an infinitely bigger way, we have a Father, a perfect one, who continues to pursue us and wants to spend time with us. Our life story belongs to Him. Adoption doesn't mean life becomes perfect; it means we have a Father who never leaves us even when it's not. Becoming a part of God's family changes everything, and while it is miraculous, the sweetest moments are yet to come.

May this New Year be full of sweet moments with our Father, so we can love others well for God's glory!