The Pre-K Congratulation

Oh, sweet girl. You were suddenly stricken with a 102 temperature. When I told you that you were indeed sick, you immediately burst into tears.

“But it is my congratulation (graduation) tomorrow!” you wailed, tears streaming down your face. “Cake…present!” was all I could make out between the sobs.

I was stricken with this same virus, as was your brother and baba this week and in all of that craziness, I thought your congratulation was next week, not tomorrow.

And in some way, you willed yourself better. We decided one hour before your congratulation that you were indeed well enough and fever free long enough to go.

And when they lined you up outside that sanctuary for your congratulation, your daddy could see you waiting outside. “They are lining her up,” he whispered.

We waited each excruciating moment to delight in your presence. Those two minutes seemed like thirty waiting to see your smiling face walk down that aisle in your perfect pink dress and cowboy boots.

You picked the outfit, and we compromised on the pigtails. I wanted pigtails, knowing that my days with those sweetly positioned tails are fading.

As you came through the doors, I heard your daddy say, “She is looking for us.” When you found us in the sea of proud parents, your face immediately communicated delight. Those are my people, it said. Your eyes widened and your wave was so big, as if you were there solely to find us. But we were there to celebrate you.

You. Sweet girl from Yongfeng, Jiangxi, China. In three years, you have come so incredibly far.

You told the crowd that you wanted to be a cowgirl when you grow up.

After the congratulation, you asked me with concern, “Am I growing up?”

“You are!” we said.

That answer seemed to trouble you. Just as much as I long to keep you in pig tails, you long to forever be our little girl. We both seem to recognize the days of pigtails and childhood are fleeting.

“But when I grow up, will I still be your baby? Will you still be my family?”

With a firmness in our voices, we assured you, “You will always be our baby and we will always be your family.” We assured ourselves too.

 

 

Holding Hands

This morning, they were cracking up because they went to hold hands and realized there were no fingers on that side. And in true Lucky Fin fashion, they adapted and held elbows, which only brought them closer together.

Three Years

At this exact moment, three years ago, Bryson and I met our daughter Yong Feng Qi aka Lydia.

Saying yes to being her mama has been my most meaningful yes. Hard but so good and transforming.

I just cannot even describe to you the joy it brings my heart to see her understand what it means to have a mama and a baba, family, a safe home, and security.

It wasn’t rainbows and unicorns. It was hard work. It was walking away from a successful career. It was dealing with our own garbage. It was putting up firm boundaries with others so she could grow and blossom.

She has.

And even if not, He is still good.

The Kitchen Counter

The week I found out that we had a zero percent chance of having a biological child, I had a dream where our Asian daughter sat on the kitchen counter. And here she is. There was lots of loss involved for each one of us, but thankful that we found each other and that our bond is what it is.

I Hated Valentine’s Day. She Changed That.

I’m not going to lie. I usually hate Valentine’s Day. Bryson and I have never celebrated it.

However, several days ago, I told him that I wanted to make the kids a candlelit dinner. I really wanted to demonstrate what loving pursuit and hospitality looks like. Lydia adores special meals and Valentine’s Day is her favorite because as she says, “it is all about love.” She is an old soul in a little body. 

It made me think why I have an aversion to this holiday, and why she loves it. So much of our culture wants instant gratification, it’s about me me me, consumerism, and often love is equated with feelings. Truth is, when I was very young, I dated an unkind person who overwhelmed me with gifts on Valentine’s Day. I always said to Bryson, “It is what we do all of the other days of the year that counts.”

But knowing my little girl’s true adoration of this holiday, I wanted her to relish in it, and feel our adoration. I wanted her to feel pursued.

Her love for Valentine’s Day made me think about what love means to her.

There was a time when I did not know if she could love us back, and I had to be content with that, and keep pursuing anyways. As I was making chocolate covered strawberries tonight, I thought long and hard about those tear-filled prayers. I begged that she would know love and be able to love in return. Not for me. Not because of me. Because of life. Life is about connection. I didn’t want more hard for her.

For a minute, I thought “I wish I could tell that Mandy, ‘it’ll be okay.'” But then I realized, “Nope. I am glad I didn’t know. So much of our culture wants instant love, they want to know that they’ll be loved in return, they don’t want risk. I am so glad I learned a different kind of love. I am glad I didn’t know and pursued during hard, hard moments.”

Tonight, as we sat down for dinner, Lydia sighed and sincerely said, “Mommy and Daddy, I love happy endings.”

“You love happy endings?” I expected to hear about her new favorite movie, Moana.

“Yes, mommy. Every kid should have a kind family like my family. I am so glad I don’t live at the orphanage. I wanted a mommy and daddy, and now I have you. I love happy endings.”

And I stopped myself from explaining loss. I stopped myself from explaining that we are dysfunctional and that our story is no fairytale. I stopped myself from saying we did not rescue her, this time. I have said it before. I bit my lip this time and simply said, “I wish every kid could have a family too. You add joy to our family.” I do wish that.

We are not a perfect family. I am far from a perfect mom. Bryson is not a perfect dad. Sometimes, I am a connected parent, and sometimes a dysfunctional one.

But this Valentine’s Day, we celebrate a type of love that is not based on DNA, feelings, consumption, religion, gifts, instant gratification, skin color, geographic boundaries, or reciprocation. We celebrate a kind of love that has taken time, patience, risk, courage, commitment, and sacrifice.

We have learned so much from our little Valentine.

I am thankful for the way she has helped me embrace a holiday that I once detested. I am thankful for the ways she taught me to pursue hearts, especially her heart and little Barrett’s. And I realized that tonight’s dinner did not demonstrate what loving pursuit and hospitality looks like, but we demonstrated it–with plenty of mistakes–the past three years.

Oh my goodness Mandy, what love for these two little people.

 

She closed her eyes while we set the table. She had no idea what we were doing.

Bryson gave Lydia and Barrett roses. They both insisted that mommy receives the roses.

Lydia gave me her rose and her new slinky toy.

She was so happy. And Barrett was too. He declared, “I like baba. I like mama. I like Lydia.” And though physical affection weirds him out, little love kissed my hand.

1 Corinthians 13The Message (MSG)

The Way of Love

13 If I speak with human eloquence and angelic ecstasy but don’t love, I’m nothing but the creaking of a rusty gate.

If I speak God’s Word with power, revealing all his mysteries and making everything plain as day, and if I have faith that says to a mountain, “Jump,” and it jumps, but I don’t love, I’m nothing.

3-7 If I give everything I own to the poor and even go to the stake to be burned as a martyr, but I don’t love, I’ve gotten nowhere. So, no matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I’m bankrupt without love.

Love never gives up.
Love cares more for others than for self.
Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have.
Love doesn’t strut,
Doesn’t have a swelled head,
Doesn’t force itself on others,
Isn’t always “me first,”
Doesn’t fly off the handle,
Doesn’t keep score of the sins of others,
Doesn’t revel when others grovel,
Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth,
Puts up with anything,
Trusts God always,
Always looks for the best,
Never looks back,
But keeps going to the end.

8-10 Love never dies. Inspired speech will be over some day; praying in tongues will end; understanding will reach its limit. We know only a portion of the truth, and what we say about God is always incomplete. But when the Complete arrives, our incompletes will be canceled.

11 When I was an infant at my mother’s breast, I gurgled and cooed like any infant. When I grew up, I left those infant ways for good.

12 We don’t yet see things clearly. We’re squinting in a fog, peering through a mist. But it won’t be long before the weather clears and the sun shines bright! We’ll see it all then, see it all as clearly as God sees us, knowing him directly just as he knows us!

13 But for right now, until that completeness, we have three things to do to lead us toward that consummation: Trust steadily in God, hope unswervingly, love extravagantly. And the best of the three is love.

My Daughter, The Teacher

My January post for No Hands But Ours is up today. I would be humbled if you took a moment to read it and share your thoughts with me.

“One of the lessons I often repeat to my daughter and son is that sometimes little people and big people are scared of differences, and that they might be the first to teach someone that even though we are different, we can still be friends.”

 

Take In This Moment

This morning, the kids and I were ahead of schedule. This was quite the accomplishment because Bryson was out of town. Y’all. We were way ahead of schedule and I had time to fix my hair. We were going to get to school early even if we had bad traffic. But y’all. My kids turned into the slowest sloths of all the precious earth when I asked them to put their shoes on. Sloths.

I was frustrated. Though we had enough time to encounter bad traffic on our commute, apparently my kids turning into sloths takes even more time than bad traffic on Yale.

I had another migraine headache and was sighing.

And then it hit me.

Mandy. This time last year, you weren’t rushing to get to preschool on time. You were rushing to China to adopt your son. Breathe. Take in this moment. He is here with YOU – he is no longer in an orphanage. They are more precious than time. Be patient.  

So we were late.

But I stopped them, told them to smile, took the moment in, snapped a photo, and apologized.

I let them stomp all through the leaves.

Cutest sloths on the planet earth.

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Love,

The World’s Okayest Mom

Prayers for Lydia – Surgery at Shriners Hospital

“Making the decision to have a child – it is momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body. ”  – Elizabeth Stone

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On Tuesday morning, at 8am, the biggest piece of my heart — Miss Lydia — will undergo hand surgery on her lucky fin at the wonderful Shriners Hospital in St. Louis.

The idea of placing her entire well-being in strangers’ hands is gut wrenching. But, Dr. Goldfarb is an amazing surgeon and compassionate. As Lydia always tells me, “I love my Dr. Goldfarb.” She notices any change in his facial hair or haircut, and always makes sure to mention it when she sees him.

Lydia is having web-deepening surgery on her lucky fin in an attempt to give her more of a “thumb” (not really a typical thumb, but to give her more space between her thumb nubbin and pointer nubbin so that the thumb nubbin might function more as a helper). The thumb accounts for 40-50% of a person’s hand function, so this could absolutely help her have more function. She often tries to pick things up with her lucky fin, but has no space for that pinching function. She is also having a nail removed from her thumb nubbin. Many kids with symbrachydactyly grow nails that get irritated and quite painful on their nubbins. Lydia has one like this, and will have it surgically removed.

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I have been asked if the surgery will make her hand look more typical, and the answer is no. Surgery may make her lucky fin look less typical. For us, functionality is key.

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I would love for you to storm heaven for our bright light.

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Please pray for a safe and effective surgery. Pray for Dr. Goldfarb, the anesthesiologist, and all of the nurses. Pray they provide excellent care and are compassionate. Pray for Lydia’s heart, mind, and body – pray for God’s angels to be surrounding her and protecting her. Pray for protection against harm. Pray for healing and pain management. I will need to share Lydia’s history with those who will care for Lydia, and pray for ears and hearts that will listen and advocate for her.

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Lydia has requested that we come right home after she is discharged on Tuesday, so we will do our best to do that. Pray for traveling protection and no vomiting. We have a 6-7 hour drive each way.

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So grateful for the way so many of you love our family.

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Lydia is our bright light, our treasure.

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Day 11, Friday (12/11) – Nanning to Guangzhou

Lydia and Kristen spent time together playing and doing a session (Kristen is Lydia’s attachment therapist). I took FanFan on a trip up and down the escalators at the mall–it is his favorite thing in the world.

On our way to the escalators at the mallOn our way to the escalators at the mall

Both Barrett FanFan and Lydia were “off” today, given my long day away in Wuzhou. However, I know that in the long run, every thing Kristen and I learned in Wuzhou is the best thing.

Bryson and I packed up our room and were eager to see the familiarity of Guangzhou, but sad to be leaving Nanning. We were also nervous about getting all of our luggage on the train with two littles in tow. We typically pack light, but this trip, we did not. I had a visit to the ER the weekend before we left, and was left confined to the couch until the day we left for Tulsa to China. We also packed lots of comforts from home for Lydia.

We were to check out and meet our guide in the lobby of the Marriott. From there, we would pick up Barrett FanFan’s Chinese passport and get on the train to Guangzhou. (Domestic air travel in China can be awful and is plagued with delays, so we chose the bullet train from Nanning to Guangzhou).

Once in the van, our guide handed us our paperwork from the Notary in Nanning. We noticed there was an error in our address. It said we lived in Arizona–and though the warm climate sounds lovely right about now–we actually live in Arkansas. This mistake was not good, and meant that with little time to spare and lots of traffic, we had to go back to the notary to have Barrett FanFan’s paperwork redone.

I gave Kristen the look, the look that said “I cannot deal.” She nodded.

If you know Bryson and me, you know one thing. When traveling, we get everywhere VERY early because we always have margin for Murphy’s Law in a foreign country. When traveling with a guide, they don’t always have the same buffer.  In this case, we did not and it proved to be such a stressor.

mandy and barrett

Our guide looked at us and said, “You might miss your train to Guangzhou. If there is any traffic, we will not make it.” Not the words any of us wanted to hear. Oh, there was traffic. Lots.

Bryson and our guide got our paperwork redone and our guide made some frantic calls asking the person to meet us in the parking lot with Barrett FanFan’s Chinese passport. Our guide was sweating, and not because of the heat. When we got to the parking lot, the person had his passport in hand. Our guide then serenaded us on the way to the train station.  Lovely touch, but not the time.

Thankfully, our driver was driving in illegal lanes (not something I would typically celebrate) so that we were able to get to the train station. It was like a movie, except not. It was my life.

The train station was very different and much older than the one Kristen and I went to yesterday.  There were several flights of stairs, many suitcases and carry-ons, one hysterical toddler, and a mom, dad, guide, and therapist running as fast as we could to make our train.

Literally, within a couple of minutes of getting on the train (not seated yet), our train was on its way to Guangzhou. The three adults were in awe that we made it, and Lydia hated that we had to run so frantically to the train. But we made it.

Bryson and I were drenched in sweat. We had both been wearing babies, carrying big backpacks and suitcases in our sprint to the train. And so, once seated, we drank the only very cold beverage available on the train: a Tsingtao (if you have been to China, you know I am not kidding about cold beverages. They are hard to come by). Truly, I should’ve had two.

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The train was an easy four hour ride to Guangzhou, and though not bad at all, Barrett FanFan was sick of it about an hour before Guangzhou. It probably had more to do with the entire day and that it was bed time than the actual train ride.

Entertaining FanFan with selfies.

Entertaining FanFan with selfies.

 

After awhile, Elmo wasn't cutting it. Introducing FanFan to Adele and Jimmy. He is a FanFan.

After awhile, Elmo wasn’t cutting it. Introducing FanFan to Adele and Jimmy. He is a FanFan.

Our bags were in various locations on the train because we were literally the last people to board. It took all three adults splitting up to locate the bags and remove them quickly once we arrived in Guangzhou. Lydia is not a fan of us splitting up, but we had to.

We were the last ones on the train in Nanning, and also the last ones off in Guangzhou.

Kristen and Bryson carried all of our luggage down flights of stairs while I had a crying toddler – which one, I cannot remember. Tears and trains, baby, tears and trains.

We were relieved to see our Guangzhou guide waiting for us in a waiting area and she took us to our van.

Guangzhou, we made it.

Lydia was tired of traveling. Who could blame her? Qe all were and it was 9:30 PM and we were still in disbelief that we made the train.

This time, we decided to stay at the China Hotel in Guangzhou instead of The Garden. I’ll post more about that later.

We got checked in to our amazing executive suite and ordered room service since it was around 11 PM. Barrett FanFan was so tired, he fell asleep on our bed momentarily, just like Lydia had when we arrived in Guangzhou with her nearly two years ago. It was truly deja vu.

Barrett FanFan asleep

Barrett FanFan asleep

 

Lydia asleep in the bed upon arrival in Guangzhou two years ago.

Lydia asleep in the bed upon arrival in Guangzhou two years ago.

 

Proud big sister looking at her little brother as he sleeps

Proud big sister looking at her little brother as he sleeps

 

She is Kind: Becoming a Big Sister

Seriously. What a hard thing to instantly have a toddler brother you don’t know to share with, instantly.

We’ve all had moments where we’ve made ugly mistakes in the process of learning to love each other and embrace each person.

But this girl is so kind to her brother. She’s providing lots of help at craft time. And seeing the two of them together – wow – I’ve had a front row seat at her transformation over the past two years and despite the messy moments, it is truly remarkable.

Craft time