2015 In Review

2015. What a Year!


I started writing for No Hands But Ours with some of the kindest people who love Jesus and are passionate about adoption.

In January, Miss Lydia finished seeing one of the best and nicest physicians I have ever met in my life. When he placed the stethoscope on her chest, Lydia said, “You gonna take dat stethoscope and wisten to my boobies?” He told me the fact that she can say stethoscope at two years old means she’s going to be a physician. I am so thankful Lydia has access to excellent medical care in the US. 

We have had the best treatment at Arkansas Children's.

We have had the best treatment at Arkansas Children’s.

We also saw how Lydia was beginning to relax and trust more. We went to the grocery store one night in January and I couldn’t help but compare that night to every shopping experience just a few months ago. She trusted that no one was stealing our food when we put it on the conveyer belt and that it was coming home with us. That doesn’t sound huge to you? In our lives it was HUGE. “Dis all my food,” she said with a smile.
Lydia started to refer to herself as the Princess Daughter.
We saw Barrett FanFan’s face for the first time and submitted paperwork in a rush to say we wanted to adopt him. This is Lydia’s face the first time she saw him in a video. We will be forever thankful to Celeste for telling us about FanFan.
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Lydia also helped me move out of my office at JBU ending my full-time career. Mommy and daddy cried when I closed that office door one last time.
We made the announcement online that Lydia was getting a promotion.
We received PA from China in early February saying we could adopt Barrett FanFan. We decided to name him Barrett after some precious people in our lives. And his smile. Look at that smile.
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Twenty minutes after getting PA, we found out our business was getting audited. Awesome.
We celebrated Chinese New Year with some of our friends. Lydia was pumped.
Lydia enjoyed her first time playing in the snow.
I was in some serious need of self-care. I took my first trip away – and left Lydia in the capable hands of Bryson. I got to spend time with some of the best people I know.
When I got home, someone was happy to see me and mad. Someone said she was so mad that her mama went bye bye. “I so mad at you. I miss you and you still didn’t come home to Wydia.” I told her it was definitely okay to be mad, but that mama comes home. She kissed me.
Lydia and I ate lots of ice cream.
I taught her how to catch raindrops with her mouth.
We shipped off tons of adoption paperwork.
We celebrated Lydia’s third birthday. Precious girl and such a gift to the world.
I turned 34. We celebrated by touring a local museum which happens to be one of the best in the US.
After lots of PT and OT, Lydia was able to pedal a bicycle on her own.
We went to Washington, DC and met Nina – Lydia’s best friend from her orphanage. What a precious, life-changing visit.
“Once upon a time in China there was a baby girl who lived in a big room with lots of other babies. The girls shared cribs with one another and became great friends. The girls had nannies to take care of them, but each was missing something — a mommy.” from the book “I Love You Like Crazy Cakes”

Lydia, Nina, and Leah at the orphanage.


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It was like seeing sisters reunited.


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We spent a lot of time at her favorite creek, in princess dresses.


Lydia learned to SWIM!


We sent a birthday party to China for Barrett FanFan.



Lydia passed her ISR Winter Clothes test for swim lessons.


Bryson worked hard to finish our documentary, The Making of a Family. It currently has 13,000 views on YouTube. Insane.



We spent lots of time with some of our favorite people.



Lydia started preschool. It is unlikely she would’ve been allowed to go to school in China, due to her special need. I was overwhelmed with the fact that my incredibly bright daughter gets to go to school.


We went to Atlanta and spent some time with precious friends.



Lydia rode on her first roller coaster and loved it.


We took lots of lovely fall walks.


We went trick or treating with Stella.



Lydia and I went to Shriner’s to see her amazing ortho hand specialist, Dr. Goldfarb. He will do surgery on her lucky fin sometime in 2016.



We took Lydia back to China…


we became a family of four…


and journeyed safely home.


The LORD has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy.

We look forward to sharing more memories with you in 2016.

Barrett FanFan

Yes, both of these are Barrett FanFan and they are taken approximately one month apart. Little chunky man. What a gift the orphanage director gave me.

Little Barrett FanFan, what I would have given to have held you in these moments. I am so thankful for the One who placed so many kind and loving women in your life to care for you before I could.


Day 10, Thursday (12/10) – The Day I Went to Wuzhou

Today, Kristen and I jumped on the bullet train and went to Wuzhou. The train station we departed from was like 50 Tulsa International Airports – very, very modern and clean. It was a beautiful and easy train ride through some of the most incredible terrain I have seen. Guangxi province is just stunning, and My God is an incredible Creator. I absolutely cannot wait to go back to this province with my children when they are a tad bit older.

And why don’t we have bullet trains in the USA? They are amazing.

The bullet trains in China are so much smoother and more comfortable than the high speed trains I have traveled through Europe. Kristen and I were both worried about nausea, but neither of us experienced any.

I told my agency that even if I could not tour the orphanage or visit Barrett FanFan’s foster family, I HAD to go to Wuzhou. With Lydia’s adoption, I regretted so much that I was not allowed to at least visit her town in Jinagxi province.

Bryson stayed back at the hotel with Barrett FanFan and Lydia. Lord bless that man. Barrett FanFan has been forming his trauma bond with mama up until this point, and was hysterical when I left the hotel. It was hard for me to leave, but I knew for the long run, I needed to go to Wuzhou and see the city where Barrett FanFan spent his first two years of life and was found.

Though there are many things I share about our family, there are things that I will never blog about or share publicly or even with friends…like where and how my children were found.

But today, I was able to go to the spot Barrett FanFan was found. Kristen had to remind me to take photos and videos of the spot so that I could show Barrett FanFan someday, because I was altogether too overwhelmed by the ordinariness of the location and yet the significance of it for our child. I tried to imagine why, I tried to imagine who, I tried to imagine all of those moments leading up to that decision. I tried to think through how I am going to explain this to each of my children. “Mandy, take more pictures,” Kristen said. Yes, today, I will focus on taking more pictures. Today, I can do that.

This is the restaurant Kristen and I ate at in Wuzhou

This is the restaurant Kristen and I ate at in Wuzhou

Kristen and I ate an authentic meal in Wuzhou. Though I love spicy food, I ate some of the spiciest dishes I have had outside of Thailand. We dined on hotpot and lots of local dishes. Our favorite dish was a pork tenderloin dish that tasted like it was encrusted in peanut brittle. Sounds odd but it was delicious. I would love to find a recipe for it.

After eating and going to the finding spot, a bunch of local school girls could not stop giggling at Kristen and me. We could tell that in Wuzhou, we stuck out a little.

A tree lined street in Wuzhou.

A tree lined street in Wuzhou.

I asked if I could be taken to key parts of Wuzhou.

A market area in Wuzhou.

A market area in Wuzhou.

We went to see The Dragon Mother Temple. I could see The Dragon Mother shrine at the top of a large hill as we were driving through Wuzhou and told our guide I’d like to see it up close.

Dragon Mother from the city

Dragon Mother from the city

Our guide told me it was some important holiday for the Dragon Mother and that we were lucky we were visiting on this day. It was very crowded and people were setting off hoards of fireworks in honor of this holiday. There were many tourist buses from Guangzhou there for the occasion.

These are the casings for fireworks that have been set off. Thousands and thousands of fireworks.

These are the casings for fireworks that have been set off. Thousands and thousands of fireworks.

I took this photo as someone set off hundreds of fireworks immediately behind me and jumped for my life.

I took this photo as someone set off hundreds of fireworks immediately behind me and jumped for my life, hence the blurriness.



Dragon Mother sits atop of a large hill and overlooks the river and port

Dragon Mother sits atop of a large hill and overlooks the river and port

From the temple, overlooking Wuzhou

From the temple, overlooking Wuzhou

The tree was covered in prayers or wishes

The tree was covered in prayers or wishes

The river from the temple

The river from the temple

Much of what I experienced on this day won’t be blogged about, but it was truly one of the most special and important days of my life. I loved having the opportunity to see the city where Barrett FanFan lived. Such a beautiful place.

It was close to 8:00 PM by the time I got back to the hotel room. When I opened the door, Bryson declared it was the hardest dad moment his life and that precious Barrett FanFan had cried for me nearly all day… I hurt for Bryson and Barrett FanFan, but knew going to Wuzhou was the best decision for the longterm.

We all went to sleep knowing that tomorrow would be our last day in Nanning before heading to Guangzhou.


Day 9, Wednesday (12/9) – Chill and Wait

Lydia and Barrett FanFan in matching shirts

Lydia and Barrett FanFan in matching shirts



Last night (Tuesday night), I kinda reached that point where I was maxed out. I was exhausted. It was pouring, so food options with two toddlers was limited. We had spent most of that morning finalizing the adoption, and FanFan was grieving hard.

Our hotel is wonderful  for many reasons, but one of the reasons is because it is connected to a large mall with a Walmart on the first floor. We decided to eat at one of the places connected to the hotel because of the rain. Bryson thought I had a place in mind, I thought he had a place in mind, and after walking for quite awhile, I asked, “Where is the restaurant you want to eat at?” And he said, “I thought you had one in mind. I am just following you.” And my facial expression must’ve been AWESOME. Communication 101 – we nailed it.

Bryson took charge and said he saw a place near the Walmart that was packed with locals at lunch, so we followed him. Once there, Bryson tried to order, but all was lost in translation, and we could not order because of the language difference. So off we went. And so we ate at Pizza Hut and Kristen, Bryson, and I all laughed at how mama was about to lose her mind and how we were eating at Pizza Hut in China. There aren’t many times when I just get to that point, but I was there. And we wanted pepperoni pizza, but when we tried to order that, we realized it wasn’t happening. So we just pointed at a picture of a different kind of pizza. Baba carried Lydia and Barrett FanFan all of the way back to the hotel and just as he was about to put them down, Lydia said, “Oh baba, you are as strong as a super hero.” I laughed and laughed and said he had no choice but to carry the both of them back to the hotel now.


This morning, Barrett FanFan woke up, looked at us and smiled. Though he is grieving, his smile was a welcomed “I am going to be okay.” I can tell he was very well prepared for his adoption. He knows we are his mama and baba, though he is clearly grieving.

He slept on the floor again, and I decided to sleep on the floor with him, within a distance he was comfortable with. Tonight, he slept further away from the door and closer to our bed. Baby steps, and we have lots of time.

Though he smiled, he was cranky and frustrated this morning. We decided to cancel our plans to go to the mountain park, and instead relaxed at the hotel.

Like Lydia was, FanFan is protective of his coat that he came with, and wants to always wear his shoes. We absolutely let him, as the scents of his clothes are familiar and comforting. We let him sleep in these items. Though yesterday, he surprised us when he wanted to wear a matching t-shirt like Lydia’s that said “play like a boss.”

Today, Barrett FanFan felt comfortable enough to change his shirt to SuperMan.

A breakfast photo by Lydia. She nailed it.

A breakfast photo by Lydia. She nailed it.

He also wanted to go swimming at the hotel pool, but hated the cool temperature, I suspected. He was happy to put his feet in the hot tub. His foster mom later confirmed that it is the temperature he doesn’t like in a cool pool.

Lydia is not so sure about wearing the required swim caps, though we are pretty sure she is all things adorable.

Working hard to get that cap on

Working hard to get that cap on

How cute is she?!

How cute is she?!

That night, we finally went to the mall that is a 10-15 minute walk away for dinner. The mall is a very high end mall. Bryson wanted to shop at this store.

Bryson's favorite clothing store

Bryson’s favorite clothing store

We ate a seriously delicious meal at a Szechuan restaurant. FanFan put the food down like a boss. He loves spicy food. All kinds of food.

It was a beautiful walk back to our hotel.

Bryson, Lydia, and Kristen

Bryson, Lydia, and Kristen

We absolutely love Nanning, and cannot wait to return soon.

FanFan fell asleep on my lap and slept closer to the foot of our bed on the floor.



Day 8, Tuesday. Adoption Day

We officially became a family of four yesterday.

We all awoke at 4 am to Fan Fan’s crying. He started to cheer up once we started playing. We asked Kristen to go with us to breakfast just to have an extra set of hands.

Fan fell asleep in the carrier during most of the appointments. First we went to the notary, then to the bank to pay the notary. Then we drove to civil affairs office where we had to meet with lots of people. His orphanage director and teacher were there.

Fan woke up at the end of the meeting when the orphanage director said his name. He was mad and started crying. His teacher tried to get him to go to her, but he roared at her and ran back into my arms and then gave me a good whack like he was saying, “this entire thing makes me mad. I am mad at both of you!” Again, I cannot blame him.

After many forms were signed and forms were stamped with our thumb print, we officially became a family of four. We pledged to never harm him or to abandon him.

After Fan Fan woke up - our adoption had just been finalized.

After Fan Fan woke up – our adoption had just been finalized.

Mandy and Barrett Fan Fan at civil affairs

Mandy and Barrett Fan Fan at civil affairs

The official at civil affairs congratulating us and handing us our adoption decree.

The official at civil affairs congratulating us and handing us our adoption decree.

Bryson stamping his red thumb print.

Bryson stamping his red thumb print.

Signing my name on a form that would later also include my red thumb print.

Signing my name on a form that would later also include my red thumb print.

This is at civil affairs before Barrett Fan Fan woke up. My facial expression is saying, "PLEASE, please let's get back to the hotel so he can grieve in a more private place." Poor little guy just shut down. Even though I've done this before and knew what to expect, it was stressful and exhausting.

Bryson says he loves this photo of me. This is at civil affairs before Barrett Fan Fan woke up. My facial expression is saying, “PLEASE, please let’s get back to the hotel so he can grieve in a more private place.” Poor little guy just shut down. It was all too much. Even though I’ve done this before and knew what to expect, it was stressful and exhausting.

Monday, Day 7 – Barrett Fan Day

Today was the day we met our son. I always try to remind people that adoption is not a fairy tale.

I was surprised by how calm I was compared to Lydia’s Day. It was nice to have the day to play with Lydia to distract us. First thing that morning, she drew our family picture.

Lydia, Barrett, Mama, and Baba

Lydia, Barrett, Mama, and Baba

Lydia and I had a precious conversation when we woke up.

M: Lydia, do you know what today is?
L: Pretty school?
M: nope. Who do we get to see today?
L: China?
M: Barrett!
L: What?! Oh my goodness. We have been waiting a long, long, long time to meet him.
M: yes we have! What are you going to say to him?
L: I’m going to say “Hi Fan, thank you so much for my Anna dress. I love it.” I HAVE TO WEAR MY ANNA DRESS.

And then she ran over to her baba’s side of the bed and said, “WAKE UP! We get to meet Barrett!”

Early Monday, Bryson and I went to the bank to exchange all of our US cash for Chinese currency for our various adoption payments in China. It was so nerve wracking. While we were at the bank, Kristen did a therapy session with Lydia.

I was mentioning to the guide how beautiful the area was where we were walking and he mentioned that NONE of the skyscrapers were in this particular section three years ago. Everywhere we go, there are cranes and construction. Outside of our hotel, we can see construction crews working 24 hours a day. For real.

After the bank, Bryson came back to take Lydia for a swim and I went to Walmart to buy a few items for Barrett. I found him the cutest little bear backpack at Walmart, but the cashier kept yelling at me, and after three minutes, I figured out the tag/UPC code had somehow been removed. So I left without his bag.

We were relieved that LG was able to nap before our appointment at civil affairs.

Bryson and I took time to pray for our family just the two of us while Lydia slept. There were lots of tears, praying that the Lord would protect Lydia’s growth, that the Lord would make up for our deficits as parents, and that no matter what was ahead of us, that the Lord would give us the empathy to stay connected and attuned. We prayed for Fan, his foster family, and our attachment.

I tried to eat, but was too nervous.

When LG woke, I could tell she was stressed (probably sensing our nervous energy), so instead of running around our hotel room like a crazy woman, I made myself take 20 minutes to do a puzzle with her. It helped calm her down a lot (and me too), and then it was go time.

We met our guide in the lobby.

Mandy whispering to Lydia that there is always room on mommy's lap for her.

Mandy whispering to Lydia that there is always room on mommy’s lap for her.

Our strategy was that Kristen, Lydia’s attachment/play therapist, would be there with Lydia to help her. “Gotcha” days are overwhelming, and Lydia is so bright and aware of things that are happening, that we knew Kristen might need to help her more than we could while meeting Fan.

When we arrived, we saw lots of families who had already met their children. I have never been to civil affairs for an adoption, and it was completely overwhelming. Adoption begins with loss, and on this day, each child was leaving everything familiar. I looked at Kristen and whispered, “this is heartbreaking.” So much change for such little people. Adoption can absolutely be beautiful, but on this day, it is overwhelming to see so many children grieve in a variety of ways. Adoption involves so much loss.

I remember saying, “No children are screaming.” Foreshadowing.

There was an issue with our paperwork and Bryson and I were telling the guide the correct information. Suddenly, a little boy walks up to our table and it is Barrett “Fan Fan.” I think I said, “Oh my goodness, there he is. It is him.” It caught us all off guard. Our guide was taken aback too, and I remember him saying, “Wow, he is so handsome.” He is so handsome.

I bent down to his level, but could read that he was scared, so I kept my distance to try to help him. He recognized us from the photos we sent, but he still did not know us. He backed up to his teacher and the orphanage director – his secure base – and I kept my distance and tried my best to respond to his cues. When they told him I was “mama,” he cried and ran away. Lydia was right by my side, and though we talked at length about how he would most likely react to meeting us, she thought he was running away because he did not like her.

Lydia was so compassionate and comforting to him. I am just so impressed with her maturity in such a profoundly stressful moment.

The nanny and the orphanage director kept pushing Fan Fan over to me and saying “mama” and pointing to me. It broke my heart for him. He was scared. I didn’t push myself on him, and kept my distance. At one point, I turned to Kristen and looked to her for reassurance.

“Am I doing this right? Is it okay that I am keeping my distance?” I asked.

“Yes, you are. At some point, you are going to have to pick him up, but you don’t have to right now.”

Barrett ran away from me. So knowing what I know about Theraplay, I turned it into playful engagement and made it like a game of tag.

The orphanage director handing Barrett "Fan Fan" to Mandy

The orphanage director handing Barrett “Fan Fan” to Mandy

At some point, I did have to pick him up, and it was so difficult with all of his layers of clothing. Although it was 60 degrees, he was in three layers of clothing and a winter coat. I couldn’t quite hold him, and was secretly terrified that I might drop him. He was squirming, trying to go to the people who were familiar…I was dripping in sweat.

Some might wonder if this hurt or if I felt rejected. I only hurt for him, truly. I saw him continue to go back to his secure base, appropriately. I took this as a very good and encouraging sign for attachment.

Barrett was screaming and crying, but, I held him like a baby and he locked eyes with me. He started to calm down.

Mandy and the orphanage director try to comfort Fan Fan

Mandy and the orphanage director try to comfort Fan Fan

Once we left civil affairs, he started crying such a sad, heartbreaking cry and screams. I went ahead and showed him some Chinese nursery rhymes on my cell phone, and that calmed him down. I wanted to give him a break from the intensity of it all, even if just for a moment. It calmed him immediately. If you want to download the apps, search for 兔宝宝爱听歌. Thanks Kelly for the recommendation.

Mandy showing Fan Fan popular Chinese children's songs.

Mandy showing Fan Fan popular Chinese children’s songs.

Once we got to our hotel room, he was happy, and played with Lydia a ton. Lydia was so amazing. I am just so proud of her.

They begged to take a bath together, and what ensued was hysterical. Bubbles flying everywhere. Fan would cover my face in bubbles, and then gently say “mama” and wipe my face clean. Though I was not in the tub, I was soaked from head to toe.

His beautiful smile.

His beautiful smile.

He fell right asleep at 7:45, but woke around 8:45 with a profound, grieving cry. Bryson and I did every technique we have learned, but after 45 minutes, we called Kristen. He was inconsolable. She came down, and we brainstormed things to best help comfort Fan. Fan and I slept by the door last night. There was very little sleep.

Mandy trying to calm Barrett overnight and looking out over Nanning

Mandy trying to calm Barrett overnight and looking out over Nanning

I am so incredibly thankful that Kristen is here. And I know she has said she has learned so much to help international adoptive families in her practice by joining our family. I think it has been such a win-win. Experiencing this in real life is altogether overwhelming – and cannot be adequately described, even for the person simply walking alongside us. It is hard y’all.

Fan is hilarious. He jumps everywhere, loves to dance, and hum. He loves cars that make noises. He crashes into things, is rough, and likes to stomp his feet like he is a dinosaur.

This Nalgene toddler bottle is great because it can be used like a bottle

This Nalgene toddler bottle is great because it can be used like a bottle

As Lydia and Barrett were playing side by side, it was a reminder that it is a privilege to be the one to help a child grieve, though it is not easy to witness. And the grief is so real.


The guides were all cracking up yesterday saying Lydia looks like the Chinese version of me. Today, they were laughing and saying that Fan has my dimples and Bryson’s looks. The guide said there must be a greater power matching our family.

When Barrett realized both he and Lydia have limb differences.

When Barrett realized both he and Lydia have limb differences.

Sunday, Day 6 – Beijing to Nanning

We got up very early Sunday to head to Nanning via a China Southern flight out of Beijing. Nanning is very far south, nearing Vietnam. Our flight was over four hours.

LG did great on the flight playing with her LeadPad2.

By the time we got to Nanning, she had been awake for 9 hours…and was at the point where she just could not listen and obey…she was just too exhausted. At one point, she ran off and I had to chase after her, and I found myself on the ground with plumber’s crack hanging out for all to see trying to get her to stand up…and I had a large crowd of locals watching. It was awesome. I had to tell myself to stay calm and basically lie to myself that no one was watching. Oh Lydia, I love you.

We made it to our hotel, and are so glad we chose the Marriott in Nanning. There is so much around it. It is VERY kid friendly. It is attached to a mall that has a Walmart on the bottom floor. The employees at the hotel are very kind. This is my fourth trip to China, and Nanning might be my new favorite city in China.

10 years ago, most of the city was sugar cane farms, and today, it is bustling with skyscrapers and two million mopeds.