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 me...at 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 no...to 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! See...it 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 4...you 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|