Thursday, July 14, 2016

Two Months in...

I stand in awe of all the progress that's transpired around here in just one month since my last Lulu update. As I reflect upon my initial post about Lulu's transition...just WOW...she's come so far! I'm not saying that things are perfect in our home because Lord knows we have so many more mountains to climb, and we are still very much "in the trenches" at times, but I am acknowledging all the good. That's one of the blessings of transparently sharing "the hard," I believe, is being able to openly rejoice in God's goodness through the positive change that transpires in the lives of these children when given unconditional love and a lot of prayers from faithful friends.

Lulu's transition, overall, has improved so much. When we met our little girl in China, one of the ways she seemed to "cope" looked more like hyperactivity. She wouldn't get visibly upset, really, but her grief manifested in a spin-out-of-control fashion. While she still shows this behavior sometimes in unknown and unpredictable scenarios, Lulu has become a more relaxed and calm person. She's still a "busybody" by nature, but the difference is clear. I think Jimmy and I are much calmer now, too, having more of an idea what makes our daughter tick and a better understanding of her behavior patterns.

There are two "H" words that have made a big difference in our world. The first one is "Help." Once Lulu mastered this word and it's meaning, much of her frustration went by the wayside because she could cry out for something and see how we would quickly respond to assist her when she chooses to use her words. The other "H" word that's been a world-changer...HOME. Once Lulu learned that the word matches this familiar place where we land everyday--this place where we take comfort together, she can now give us the word "home" instead of being out somewhere and having a complete meltdown because she couldn't express the simple concept of wanting to go home. It's resulted in huge improvement.

Another tremendous blessing came from our sister-friend, Kerry, who teaches and specializes in communication for children with special needs. She came to our rescue one day with an arsenal of communication tools including a feelings chart, and "first/then" chart, and most importantly a daily schedule that can visually show Lulu what her day will look like. They've really served as a lifeline in tough times.

In just a month, Lulu's co-sleeping has already transitioned a bit. She now falls asleep on her twin-sized mattress by the foot of our bed and without the full-on battle that used to take place to get her understand it was bedtime. It was war, y'all. We kinda loosened the reigns in this area and tried not to be so rigid. Thankfully, summer has allowed us to be more flexible. Now Lulu willingly complies and knows that all of us are doing the same thing. Most of the time, she sleeps through the night on her bed, and then sometimes she makes her way up into our bed. That's just fine for now. We can see her independence growing!

And in some ways, she's regressed (temporarily). It's normal for adopted children to innately try to "redo" the baby-hood that they missed out on. We are completely indulging her in every aspect of this process knowing that it will only benefit her development and emotional attachment. She's a very big (and heavy) baby! Lulu bounces back and forth in calling me "Mama" and testing out "Mommy" since that's what the other kids call me. Whichever name it is, it can be heard ringing through our home about a thousand times a day.

As usual, we've assigned some affectionate nicknames to our newest family member. Since she has a bit of a lisp, she refers to herself as "Wu Wu." So, of course, we started calling her that, too, which then morphed into "Woozer." It might be a China thing (actually I think so because I vaguely remember Joseph doing this too) but she calls Madi "Madi-ah" and Charlie is "Charlie-ah," so Madi calls her sister, "Lulu-ah." Most recently, Lulu's been calling herself "Mei Mei," which means "Little Sister" in Chinese. I kinda like it so it might stick for Mama.

This girl is our prayer leader at meal time! She never forgets to say grace and will not be content until she knows everyone at the table is ready (especially the boys, lol) and participating. In fact, sometimes we'll say grace more than once at the table with her in charge! Lulu still has a hearty appetite and prefers good foods. When given the choice, she'll usually pick something healthy over something that's not. Kudos to her orphanage for that. I still believe nutrition has played a key part of her physical and mental development.

There's still some separation anxiety from Mama but that's to be expected, and we are addressing it in small doses. I have managed, in the past few weeks, to leave her in Jimmy's care for an errand or a short time away without any tears! I always give her plenty of warning that I'm leaving to prepare her. This is major since the first couple of times I left without her resulted in complete meltdowns, and in one case she cried for almost two hours until I got home...heartbreaking, but now she is slowly learning that "Mommy comes back," and it's very rewarding to watch her trust build. Just today she, by choice, stayed back at Bubba and Grandpa's house with the boys while I took Madi to a doctor's appointment. I was gone almost three hours and she didn't cry at all. She did ask for me, and Bubba did a little countdown for her, but no tears.

Lulu loves to play. She's rough and tumble one minute and playing dress-up the next. She's still super-helpful with everything and has a big cheerful personality. Lulu's not a pushover by any stretch, and she's not afraid to let you know it. But inside, she clearly has a beautiful loving heart. She'll kiss her siblings and look after them. She'll also tell on them in a hot second, especially if she's not getting her way. Stinker.

Lulu's still loves the camera and the camera loves her. She adores seeing her own pictures after I take them...she's funny. And her favorite activity is still swimming. She's becoming the little fishy that a Florida girl should, and loves to "hold court" at our community pool, as our friend Lisa would say.


So, thankfully, the family tree continues to blossom in glorious ways. I've had friends who've expressed an interest in adoption down the line and have also expressed concern in how it could negatively affect their family dynamics. I am not going to sit here and type that it's all unicorns and rainbows in our house. It is hard sometimes, and we dig deep. But I can tell you that there are moments of beauty that make it ALL worth it...every single bit of angst. The most beautiful testimony in our family is in the heart of our Madi. She was the most resistant of our children to the idea of another adoption. In fact, she was downright angry when it was first presented and grieved over our choice. It broke our hearts, and Jimmy and I prayed for our daughter's heart and prayed for God to be glorified over all this. And guess who's bonded the most with Lulu? Yep. Sister Madi and Lulu have an amazing relationship. I'm serious. I could cry over how good it is. She's always had a kind heart, but Madi has gained a sense of compassion that we didn't see before. She seems to understand (as best she can) what Lulu's been through and is aware of the obstacles she faces. She also sees what a fighter Lulu is, and she'll protect her little sis in a flash. There have been times that Madi's come to Lulu's aid in the midst of a full-on tantrum, and there have been instances where Madi has even stood up for Lulu and given me advice on how a behavioral situation should be handled in her opinion. Madi smiles a mile-wide when she sees Lulu enter a room, and she truly enjoys teaching her new things. Madi is patient, and she is loving.


So, has this fifth adoption messed up our family dynamic? Nope. Not at all. But it has changed us in ways that have made us all stretch ourselves beyond our comfort zones. And I believe it's brought us all closer to understanding how Jesus loves us unconditionally, even through the hard times, and how we must do the same. To witness true transformation in a person is such a blessing. There's a whole list of "firsts" happening here on a weekly basis, but I'll save those for another post. To God be the Glory.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Bible Camp 2016

I struggle to find the words to explain what a blessing our Bible Camp at St. Vincent Ferrer is to our family each year. The timing, and theme, are ALWAYS so apropos and heavenly. I love it more than words can say.

First of all, I cannot believe that one of our kids just aged out as a camper. I started volunteering for bible camp in 2007 when Madi was only two years old. And next year, at eleven, she'll no longer be a camper. But I do, thankfully, have high hopes to have her as a helper in my group, which will be an exciting new mother/daughter chapter for us and certainly something to look forward to! 

This year's theme was Angels, and it was a privilege to be a group leader for the littles (Charlie, Joey, and Lulu). All the kids totally embraced the camp each day, but seeing Lulu in bible camp for the first time was such an extra-special blessing, and I am thankful that I got a front-row seat at watching her partake in every bit of it. She played the games and thoroughly enjoyed them so much. I credit one of the games in teaching her how to count to ten!

Lulu, of course, cleaned her snack plate like a champ. Charlie got a taste of marshmallow fluff for the first time, and let's just say our son was smitten.

The kids made such fun crafts, and our friend Jules was there as a helper in our group which made it even better. One of our favorite crafts was when the theme was about Daniel and his Protector Angel. They made a lion mask that day, and Lulu ran into the bathroom four times to see herself in the mirror. She LOVED it. Another favorite craft of hers was a crown they decorated. Again, she ran into the bathroom numerous times to check herself out and tried to drag Charlie in there with her. So precious to see the joy of things through her eyes...

On Wednesday, our theme was Comforter angels. In Bible lesson the kids played a three-legged race game about being comforter angels to each other by showing support and walking together--the way our guardian angels walk beside us. Well, Charlie and Lulu were partnered up together. I was a little nervous about how Lulu would do with their legs tied together (her strong one, no less), but they did GREAT. And they worked together so well! Of course they did. Charlie's the sweetest, kindest boy in the world, so he didn't care less about going fast, and they made it back without tripping up once. It was a proud Mommy moment (as you can see in the background, lol).

To wrap up the week, the kids took a walk to the Adoration Chapel. One might think, "Really? Taking 18 six-year-olds to the Adoration Chapel...are you people CRAZY?" They were perfect angels, all of them. They were quiet as mice and showed amazing reverence as we spent a few minutes in the presence of Jesus. It was beautiful and we were so proud of them! When we returned, Mrs. Socha gave them each a miraculous medal and pin to keep. 

The following week, we joined friends at Son Life Lutheran Church Bible Camp, which was new to us, and it was also an amazing experience. Since their enrollment was age-based, Joseph ended up in a different group than Charlie and Lulu, and it was interesting that he was really happy about it. I think he simply embraced the feeling of being "the older brother" which doesn't happen often since they're kinda like twins. I pretty much tagged along with Lulu that week since it was all so new to her, and Madi was with one of her best buds which made her happy. It was yet another wonderful experience, and in addition to Lulu's love of singing songs, she also experienced her first petting zoo! I seriously can't love bible camps enough and adored seeing how the kids grew in their faith over those couple of weeks.

Monday, June 13, 2016

One Month In...almost...

I've gotta be real here. This transition's been hard...hard from a past of institutional trauma, hard from frustration, hard from loss. I struggle with how much to share publicly, because I don't want anyone in any way to misconstrue my honest transparency as disappointment. Adoption is beautiful and it is a blessing, but it's also messy and reveals many blemishes in our human nature. The saving grace is our Lord and Savior who's gone before us and loves us unconditionally despite those blemishes. These children are braver than most of us, God bless them. We know that Lulu needed a family...but she doesn't necessarily know what that means for her life, especially given her age. I can't begin to imagine how scary it must be to just walk away from everything you've ever a different country, with a different language, and different people, eating different food, trusting that you'll be five-years-old, no less. I know how trying it's been for us, and we're not the ones who gave it all up.

Lulu's doing so well, on the whole! She is such a sweet, loving child, and you can clearly see it in her beautiful, cheerful photographs. If you've met her already, you can tell that her personality shines in person. Her highs are extremely high, but sadly, her lows have been painfully low, and each day is different. We have to remember that children from orphanages are usually about half their age emotionally, which makes her like a 3 to 4 year-old. Lulu's struggled with very long and intense  meltdowns, and sometimes it's difficult to pinpoint the "why," much like with a baby who can't communicate. We believe some most of it is frustration from language. I mean, wouldn't things be so much easier if we totally understood each other?!? Of course! Lulu's very hard on herself if she does something wrong, it seems, so we have been very intentional about minimizing those mistakes and reassuring her that it's okay, until she realizes that it truly is okay. We also have reason to believe many of her extreme rages in "fight" or "flight" mode (which seem to have declined a bit, praise the Lord) stem from fear--fear of getting in trouble, fear of being given back, fear of being out of control, fear of questioning what tomorrow brings. This process truly leaves everyone exhausted at times (thus my lack of blogging), and patience and grace are virtues we cry out for regularly, but at the end of the day, we have faith that we're one step closer to a happier and more well-balanced who will trust us with all her heart and understand our pure desire to help her and to love her. 

Although I know it's not right to compare because each child is SO different, I did want some sort of reference point to lean on, so I felt compelled to go seek out this blog post from when Joseph came home, because I'd forgotten (thanks to adoption amnesia), in many ways, how trying the transition into a family can be for these children. They both came home at the same age, but Lulu's transition has been even more emotional than Joseph's We can't wait to look back on these tough times as merely "ancient history," as we do with his. A friend said lightly to me one day, "Be careful what you wish for," and I realized how much that saying just doesn't belong here when it comes to children's lives. God wishes so much more for them, and for all of us, than we ever could, and He doesn't always call us to the easy. And He will get us through the hard.

So, let's talk about the awesome happenings around here, because this beautiful little lady--God made her very special. Don't tell her she has any limitations, because she'll show you otherwise. This kid is strong as an ox. And she is so proud of everything she learns! I do believe Lulu will be a wonderful student based on how observant and determined she is.

Lulu can dress up like a girl, and she can fight like a boy. She was with many boys in the orphanage, and it's obvious that rough-housing isn't new to her. (or maybe they watched a lot of television?) I think Joseph and Charlie are afraid of her sometimes, lol! She seems to be very social and loves being around kids. It's hard to see sometimes, though, in an unfamiliar environment that's not fully predictable to her yet, and she'll tend to be safely clingy.

We are thankful that our daughter, like Joseph, didn't skip a beat when it came to her bedtime routine. It is so shocking how a two week departure from our time zone affects us as adults, yet her little body made the change almost seamlessly. Right now, Lulu is co-sleeping with Jimmy and me as we try to figure out permanent sleeping arrangements here. Even though her mattress is on our bedroom floor, our bed is her choice for comfort, so we'll keep at it until it seems she's adjusted better, and then we can move forward with next steps.  She made it clear that her daily nap was a thing of the past from day one, and since she'll be six this month, we were in full agreement with her plan.

Lulu loves the bath. I think back to China and the tears of fear that came with getting in those first few tubs. She's come SO far. And she LOVES to really loves to swim and went from being terrified the first time in a pool to jumping in (with floaties) and getting her head wet. Daddy's been handling pool duty = true fun. Her smile...need I say more?

Four weeks ago, this child had never even seen a carseat before and needed full assistance. Now, Lulu jumps in by herself and fastens her seat belt with help. She can get out all by herself and will always make sure the van doors are shut because she's very responsible like that.

The language is coming...maybe more slowly than Joseph's, we're not sure. It seems to early to tell. But I can say that, initially, Lulu found comfort in solely viewing Chinese cartoons, and now we see her seeking out YouTube Kids videos of the alphabet and numbers. I also play a DVD in the background that's designed for teaching English to babies and toddlers, so it's the perfect speed for her!

Lulu LOVES to help around the house--from getting the mail to loading the dishwasher. Of course, the help comes easier if it's her idea. Ahem...she's just like the rest of us!

This child eats! She came to us very well-fed, and we haven't found much that she doesn't like to eat. I do believe that her good appetite has helped her body and brain in more ways than we truly realize. Nutrition is such a key factor in brain development, so we are thankful for her love of food.

And last but certainly not least...Lulu adores her siblings and all day, while they were at school, she would say, "Madi, Charlie, Joey" in hopes that it was time to collect them. They are so, so good with her, and surprisingly patient through the hard times. Madi has even been such a huge blessing in times of grief and tries to console her little sister. We pray that our children, as they witness Lulu's struggles, will be formed into better people having watched their sister overcome them and transform into a beautiful butterfly, because we know she will...she already is! I think summertime will be the best medicine for her heart and learning how to live her new life with a family.

Thank you all for continuing to pray our family through this phase. They say that adoption really begins when your children get home, and it is so true. Those two weeks in China seem unreal, and in many ways they are. So now, we have begun the real work, and we will continue to march forward with angels at our sides. We are so eternally grateful to be the lucky parents to these beautiful children. It is such a blessing and a privilege to answer the call from above, and we thank you for helping us get Lulu HOME!

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Coming Home - Mother's Day 2016

One month ago, at this very time, we were on the last leg of our journey home. It all seems like such a blur now, yet it seems like yesterday that we were sitting in that hotel room in Guangzhou and received an email at around 9 p.m. that our flight to Beijing the next morning had been cancelled because of the bad weather that had been sitting over us all evening. I stared at the email in shock and horror. At the same time, we received word that my dad had been admitted to the hospital with bronchitis and serious dehydration. I felt so out of control and desperate to get home, so I contacted our guide, Kathy, on WeChat, asking for help. She was unsuccessful in finding out much over the phone and suggested we check out of our hotel room extra early the next morning and head to the airport in hopes of securing another morning flight out. I didn't sleep much that night, suffice it to say, and emailed/texted with friends back home to check on my dad through the night.

We left the hotel at 5:00 a.m. in a fog. Thankfully, Lulu had a decent night's sleep which was our biggest hope. She was in very good spirits for waking up so early, too. Traffic was crazy at that time in the morning, and it actually felt as if everyone in Guangzhou were racing to the same destination for the same reason we were--to reschedule their cancelled flight.  When we arrived at the airport, our guide went right to work at the counter trying to get some options for us. Our internet was a bust but Jimmy's phone was somehow able to get through to our travel agent who hadn't yet left for the day. He gave us the bad news that there wasn't anything he could do from their end and suggested we take it up directly with the airlines. Kathy finally delivered the news that the earliest they could get us out was on a 1:30 flight. It was that or stay another night in Guangzhou. I fell into a puddle of tears like a big 'ole baby and actually started crying out loud that I wanted to go home. I can laugh about it now, but phew...I missed our kids at home so much and felt like we'd just never get there. Let's just say I don't operate well without sleep. Jimmy helped me to pull it together, and Kathy gave us the strong advice to take the flight to Beijing. With the unpredictable weather, she worried that we'd only get stuck again, and at least in Beijing we'd be one step closer to home. We knew that we had missed our connecting flight to Houston, but our travel agent had--the night before--emailed me some solid options to present to the airline.

We (not so easily) killed eight hours in a really weird terminal of the airport, but at least there was a playroom, which kept Lulu's attention for a while even though the A/C wasn't working and it was ninety-nine degrees (felt like 199 with my hot flashes). We finally took off for Beijing at 1:30 p.m. The flight was uneventful compared to our prior, super turbulent-y China flights, and Lulu was awesome. Since it wasn't so long, we were able to keep her fairly entertained between the food service and the magazines in the seat pocket.  When we arrived in Beijing, an airline representative greeted us and walked us to baggage claim and then to the international counter so we could get to work, which meant getting home. It turned out we could either stay overnight in Beijing and leave the next morning, or we could catch a flight to Los Angeles that would leave in three hours at 9:00 p.m. I was exhausted and the hotel room sounded like heaven to my tired soul, but at the same time, I knew in my heart we needed to get on that plane. Jimmy talked me into it with the promise that he would care for Lulu on that flight so I could get the sleep I desperately needed.  A deal was struck, and my husband stayed true to his word. Thanks to a little help from a friend (Xanax) on the consistently bumpiest flight of my life, I slept at least eight hours of that eleven-hour flight and woke up feeling like a new person. Lulu and Jimmy slept well, too. We thanked God that we made the choice we did.

Lulu became an American citizen at LAX, and we were beyond THRILLED to be on American soil again! There's something about that trip that makes you so grateful for communication--gone with the VPN's and worries of getting on internet. We felt connected again, and it felt really good! I know...first world problems. I was able to confirm that my dad was doing well and would be released to go home the next day. Our amazing village at home had rallied to pick up our kids at school and made sure they were covered for the weekend with sleepovers and playdates. It's the stop-and-drop-everything situations like that--when you see friends pull through for you in the real desperate times--and you reflect upon how blessed you truly are with good friendships. I was thankful to tears.

We boarded the last glorious leg of the trip from LAX to Fort Lauderdale with our newest American citizen on a red-eye flight that departed at 10:00 p.m. (2 a.m. EST). It was another amazing flight for Miss Lulu. She truly was an angel, and I still can't believe she handled all that travel the way that she did. It had been over thirty-six hours. Phew. We landed just after 6 a.m. in Fort Lauderdale on Mother's Day and our trusty friend/photographer, Brooke, was there to capture the insanely happy looks on our faces. So, finally, a month later, I share with you our airport pictures. I cannot even begin to explain the relief. There's just no place like HOME on Mother's Day...or any day for that matter. Thank you, Jesus.




Friday, May 6, 2016

It all comes down to this...

9 months
Endless donations
Millions of prayers
112 Built Together shirts
278 MudLOVE bracelets
27 copies of my book
500 puzzle pieces
3 grants
 An interest-free loan
Fundraisers from friends
Mountains of hand-me-downs
ONE Forever Family
Lulu is coming HOME.
Thank you, Jesus.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

The Consulate

It always makes for an interesting experience going to the U. S. Consulate here in Guangzhou. While we walk through masses of people who yearn for their chance to come to the United States, we, as adoptive families, stroll right by them and march to the entrance for our children's visas. It makes you realize how many people just wish they could get that ticket to the land of the free. It's something we shouldn't take for granted.

The Murphy family was number one today, and Lulu's interview was the first to be given. We were sworn in as a group of eleven families all with varying agencies, and then we waited for them to complete her case. Tomorrow at 3:00 our guide will pick up Lulu's passport with visa and the brown envelope that holds the keys to her citizenship. When that plane touches down in Houston on Saturday, our daughter will become a U.S. Citizen. We have one last day to spend here in China and then we're on our way HOME bright and early Saturday morning. Just typing that feels good! Though it will be an excruciating day of travel, we can hardly wait to be home with our family. We miss everyone so much!!!

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

The Medical Exam

Yesterday we took Miss Lulu for an important step in the process--her medical exam. This is necessary in order to receive your child's visa for HOME. Our guide obviously has experience in shuffling families in and out pretty quickly and in an orderly fashion. Our first stop was ENT. They found some wax in her ears (I asked them to check closely because little one is LOUD). And they did not see any evidence of overly-enlarged tonsils, which was great news since that was something listed on her medical file. Perhaps moving away from coal country is helping her tender tissues already. 

The next step was the general exam. Lulu was examined carefully and it was determined that one leg and one arm (on her weak side) are shorter than the others. We'd already figured that out. She received an official diagnosis here in China of Cerebral Palsy...two words that years ago would've scared us. But not now. Those words don't define our daughter. She's just Lulu, and she needs some physical and occupational therapy...

Our next step was vision. They used a primitive hand chart initially and quickly concluded that Lulu needed further testing. There we discovered that Lulu's eyes are JUST like her Mama's! Go figure. She is near-sighted and she has an astigmatism in one eye.  She'll look darling in glasses, won't she?

Lastly, Lulu had her TB test. This is the one station all adoptive families dread, because they won't allow you in the room to console your children while they draw blood. Truly grueling. Lulu was gone for about five minutes, and I became alarmed when I heard a child crying. Thankfully it wasn't her, and when she tears (which isn't necessarily something to celebrate) but we consoled her anyways. She is such a tough little cookie.

And on that note, we JUST received the text from our guide saying that she passed her TB test! Next stop...U.S. Consulate tomorrow morning for our visa appointment. And we are in the final stretches to the finish line. Praise the Lord!