Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Presentation of the Gifts

As our family walked into Mass Sunday morning, we were approached by an usher and asked to take up the gifts in preparation for Communion. Let me just say that our kids love taking up the gifts. It always feels like such a gift, in itself, to be asked!

My heart sang, during the homily, when the Priest spoke about using our God-given gifts and talents to help others and how we can all make a difference. I was humbled on so many levels...reflecting about how God has made a difference in our family through adoption...thinking about how many amazing people in that very church (and beyond) used their gifts and talents to help us get Joseph home. And wondering how our precious children will use their God-given gifts in their futures.

All grace. Then to be chosen to present the gifts to the altar that very morning? The Holy Spirit spoke to my heart!

This was the first time we've been asked since Joseph's been in our family, so we weren't exactly sure who would carry what for our special assignment. As I pondered the scenario, I pictured Madi carrying the Precious Blood of Jesus, as she always has in the past. But, instead of Charlie carrying the Precious Body (the "Holy Chips" as the kids call them) as he usually does, I envisioned Charlie and Joseph taking up the large collection basket together--one on each side. 

Well, when the time came, Charlie insisted on keeping his favorite task of carrying the Eucharist. He is a creature of habit--that we know. Joseph started to get a little squirmy--obviously concerned that he would be left without a job. When the usher walked over, we asked if Joseph could carry the collection basket by himself, and the usher said it would be fine.

Y'all, I wish you could've seen it... 

Joseph marched up, about five paces ahead of the rest of us, carrying that basket so proudly up to Monsignor Tom. It was almost as big as he is! I only wish I could've seen his face...I can totally imagine his facial expression, given such an important duty. A couple of friends confirmed that he did--indeed--look quite proud as he strutted forward to the altar. But the sight from behind was priceless and precious, too!

Of course, I had tears in my eyes. What a blessed and special morning at Mass for us. And what a beautiful surprise from the Holy Spirit.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Our family reunion...a little late.

Did I really space out on posting about coming home? Not quite, but time has definitely slipped away! Some of the details might have escaped me at this point, but let me see if my brain still knows how to back up...

First, I must say that Joseph--just like our other kids--was an amazing traveler. I cannot fathom how unsettling it must feel for a child to handle a 30+ hour travel day. Especially knowing how it affected us! I guess kids are just resilient like that.

The morning of September 25th, our bags were hauled outside our hotel room door at 5:30 a.m., as instructed, and our Holt China guide got us to the Guangzhou airport in plenty of time to check our baggage and walk us to security. We said our goodbyes there. At this point (familiar in the process) we just wanted to get another step closer to home! Thankfully, we were traveling the next two legs with wonderful new friends and their precious little daughter, so we felt comfort in sharing the confusion of the day!  

Our departing flight was delayed an hour, which only decreased our original five-hour layover in Shanghai to four hours. We were surprised how quickly that time passed! By the time we re-checked our luggage for international travel and went through security again, we really didn't have an excessive amount of time to waste. Add in grabbing a bite to eat and trying to spend those last RMB's in a gift shop, and we were boarding before we knew it.

The long flight was, well, a very long flight. We'd hoped Joseph would sleep a good part of that fourteen hour flight, but he only managed to get in about two hours.We were thankful for movies! I think Joseph was even more thankful for movies!  He watched Frozen three times! He also watched the Lego Movie and Bugs. It cracked me up that he didn't understand the language, but he still seemed to love the movies! Watching his face during Frozen was priceless. There is something so captivating about that movie!

Our son wasn't a big fan of the airplane food, nor were we. It was all pretty gross, really. We were able to pick and choose enough to get something into his belly, but not much. Poor little guy got sick on our descent into Detroit. We changed him into a patriotic red, white, and blue striped shirt to celebrate the fact that since both of us traveled to bring Joseph home, he was going to become a U.S. citizen when we landed on U.S. soil and entered the airport in Detroit!

Ah...Detroit. I scarcely want to think about that part of our trip...the part I knew would be the most hectic and stressful, and it was. I still don't know how it is that we've done this four times, and we still chose the same itty bitty connection when we know there is so much to be done! I'll take the blame. It was pure mayhem! First of all, we were in the very back of the plane, which seemed like a disadvantage to begin with. Customs was disorganized when we finally did de-plane. But thank God for immigration...they were great! They got us through pretty quickly. Honestly, had they not, we would not have made our flight to Fort Lauderdale.

The worst part of our Detroit leg, by far, was the fact that Jim's sister, Kathy, who had driven two hours to meet Joseph was unable to do so because of our shortage of time, coupled with the security process for international travel. She had planned for days to come and see us, if only to meet her nephew for a moment, and give him a big hug. When Jim and I rechecked our bags and made our way into the security checkpoint area, there was another huge line. We were unable to get cell reception in the airport to tell Kathy where we were, and we were clearly running out of time. We then realized that it was unlikely we would be able to see her at all. All of a sudden, an angel appeared in the form of an airport security person, and she asked if we were an adoptive family. When we confirmed, she pulled us out of the line and miraculously shuffled us through to an open station! Come to find out, she was sent by our friends, Monica and Jared, who were looking out for us and feared we'd miss our flight! We will always be thankful for their kindness to have her seek us out, because again...had we waited in that line, we would not have made our connection. 

But we did. Thank GOD, we did!

And at that point, we were smooth sailing with under three hours until we would see Madi and Charlie again! The thought brought tears to my eyes several times in that airplane. Joseph slept almost the entire flight, so we were so relieved that he had a couple more hours under his belt. It seemed like an eternity to get us off that plane, yet knowing who was waiting for us on the other side made that wait so bearable.

We could hardly wait to savor these precious moments. Many heartfelt thanks to our wonderful welcoming committee. We were greeted by our beautiful kids, Bubba, Grandpa Murphy, Ruby, Katie, Miss Marissa Tata and her friend, and there were actually four FCC (Families with Children from China) adoptive Mamas who we'd never even met (thank you, new friends Kathleen, Kimberly, Lisa, and Shari)...all flying mini American flags for Joseph and one of their children had sent him his first American teddy bear! Joseph was also welcomed with a huge sign that the neighborhood kids made. He loves the collage of his new friends, and it now hangs over his bed. Thank you, Marissa, for preserving our homecoming through photos and video!

We have now been home for almost a month. We've had ups and downs in the adjustment department, but everyday brings progress for Joseph's bonding and transition. He is such a sweet little boy, and we are so thankful that he is finally a part of our family. And for that, we praise the Lord.


"God sets the lonely in families"
 Psalm 68:6   

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Three Gifts.

Once upon a time, there were two sisters. As little girls, they each decided to start their own collection of pennies. And, like all little girls, they both dreamed of how they'd use their precious savings someday.

As the years went on, these two sisters shared their special tradition, and continued to collect pennies as they entered into adulthood.

Sixteen years ago, one of these sisters went to Heaven. When she lost her life on Earth, and gained her life in Heaven, the other sister inherited her treasured penny collection. She continued, all the while, to collect pennies for both of them, and vowed that she would use the money someday to honor her sister in Heaven, whom she loved and missed so much.

Sounds like a Fairy tale? 

Several days before we left China, our friend, Dawn, arrived at our door. She handed me an envelope, with a simple request...to please open the card before we left for Joseph.

Her beautiful, heartfelt note unveiled the beautiful story that I've written above. And it gets sweeter.

Dawn thought of her sister and decided that they--together--could help make our journey to Joseph even more special. One sister on Earth. One sister in Heaven. Guided by the Holy Spirit.

So, she cashed in all those pennies--many years worth--and it was her wish that, while back in China, we would buy each of our children a special gift from their homeland.

Three gifts.

For Joseph, we found a Chinese Gourd Flute Hulusi Woodwind. This musical instrument is made from a gourd, and even though we found this treasure in Guangzhou, we discovered that it was actually made in the capital city Kunming, of Yunnan province where we adopted Joseph! So meant to be... 

For Madi, we found the most beautiful treasure...an authentic fan made of genuine peacock feathers from Joseph's province! Gorgeous as the model holding it, right?

For Charlie, it was easy, really. Our boy loves a tea party. Honestly, he does! We found this spectacular china tea set in "handsome" colors. Charlie was so happy when he opened that box! A tea party took place promptly at 10:00 a.m. Saturday morning after they opened their gifts!

Dawn, we are so grateful for your generosity and for the beautiful legacy left by you and your sister. Thank you, thank you for blessing our children with your treasured pennies! These gifts will be long-lasting, and we all have very grateful hearts for such a meaningful gesture. Our family will always remember those pennies from Heaven, dear friend.

Friday, October 10, 2014


Things here have seemed to go one step forward and two steps back in the past weeks. And I'm learning that it's okay. We are just getting to know our son, and he's just getting to know us, too.

Last Saturday brought many tears for Joseph. I'm not gonna lie...it was our toughest day yet. The most difficult (and frustrating part) was trying to figure out just why. Was it because we took something away from him? Because we denied him of the food candy he wanted? Was he grieving at his new reality? Was he missing his friends and caretakers? Was he frustrated with his inability to understand and be understood?

Perhaps all of the above.

As parents, honestly, we struggle. Jim and I lose patience and fail sometimes. In our own frustration, we've handled some of the situations with a lack of grace, and we continuously promise to try harder...to be better for it. Thankfully, as we begin to know our son's personality better, we can now detect when his tears seem more real...and less. He's a good faker. But we don't underestimate his wounds. They are much deeper and more complex that we could ever even fathom.

Then, my wise friend (and experienced mom to ten kids through adoption), Becky, posted this on a Facebook thread last Sunday...

"It helped me SO much when someone reminded me that attachment is NOT a linear process. There is no finish line. Instead it's like peeling layers of dead skin away. I know that's gross to think about, but it's accurate. Sometimes, you peel too much, and a wound opens again, but you heal better and stronger because that layer is gone. Sometimes the wounds are so deep that they can't heal completely, but they get smaller and more manageable as time goes on. Once I wrapped my mind around that, I did better. All those wounds, for all our kids, are RIGHT at the surface now. Any little trigger opens them again. It will get better. I promise."

She had no idea just how much we needed to hear those words.  And amidst the turmoil, that evening  brought relief...our most beautiful mother and son moment to date. After I'd put the kids to bed, Joseph emerged from his bedroom about half an hour later. I met him in the hallway and quickly scooped him up to take him back to his bed. When I laid him down, I sensed that he really needed me. I put my open hand on his chest, and he clutched my arm, with both of his hands, so very tightly. So I sat down, on the floor, beside his bed...and we stared at each other. For ten minutes, we just stared at each other. A son soaking in the face of his new Mama, and a mom studying the expressions of her new son.

As I gazed into his deep little dark eyes, my own eyes flooded with tears. I didn't want him to be confused by my tears, but I couldn't stop it, so I softly began to whisper "Wo ai ni" (I love you) over and over to him. The look on his face was so priceless as his little brain absorbed it all...having his own Mama to love him. It was such a deep, and beautiful moment...the most special moment of bonding we've shared yet. 

Finally, a slight, peaceful smile came to his face, his hands relaxed, and I knew that his heart was fully content. I knew that I could leave that bedroom and leave our son with sweet dreams of his new future.

His facial expression--those eyes--are imprinted on my brain forever.

The moments like those are the true treasure...the gifts of grace that make the difficult times so much easier to bear. They are reminders of how God loves us and accepts us despite our brokenness...that we can be angry one minute, and forgiven the next. 

Every single day has brought difficult moments for our son since we've been home. Ones that have resulted in tearful tantrums, stemming mostly from disciplinary actions.  But even though this mother and son have already had our fill of struggles, we've also begun to share true love...one that grows stronger with each layer peeled.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

A milestone!

So yesterday I posted about cocooning, and today--it seems--we've temporarily busted out.

The kids and I have standing haircuts every six weeks with my hair dresser of twenty-five years, Debbie. Madi had an after school club today, so I decided (with no shortage of hesitation) to take the boys. Yes, it's a long drive. Yes, it defied the predictability factor. But, yes, at least one of these boys desperately needed a haircut.

Joseph wasn't thrilled about getting into the car, but it helped that Charlie was there, too. I thoroughly did not expect for Joseph to get his haircut, but only to be an onlooker to the scene, and to watch mom and Charlie have their locks tended to. He fell asleep in the car, so when we arrived, I carried him in. He was standoffish to pretty much everyone who wished to meet him--which I anticipated--but, generally, he seemed okay with it all.

I sat back and relaxed with my head in the sink for the usual routine of late...Debbie on one side massaging my head with shampoo, and Charlie on the other side trying to help, while rubbing shampoo all over my face. Joseph stood next to him carefully watching and taking notes.

Debbie took one look at Joseph and said she wanted to clean him up, too. I let out a sigh and told her that we could try, but I fully intended for him to only observe today. I really wasn't sure he was up for it.

The two stayed occupied playing with curler rods while Debbie chopped my mop first. And then it was Charlie's turn.  He, as usual, did great for his shampoo. Then, Debbie moved him into the chair, and within five minutes of her magic, Charlie began to dose off in the middle of his haircut! It was hilarious. He was sound asleep and his head was bouncing around like a bobble head doll...she is amazing to work in those conditions!


I finally put Joseph down in a chair so I could stabilize Charlie's head. After she was done, we moved him back to the sink (still fast asleep, lol).

And then this happened. 


Debbie called Joseph over, and he did not hesitate one bit and hopped right up into the chair! It was predictable. He'd watched Mama and Charlie get our haircuts, and he was totally okay with having his done, too. He's obviously had haircuts in China, that we knew. I just wanted him to be comfortable with it all...and he was!

Two suckers later, and Joseph's first haircut in the U.S.A., the three of us were headed for home, sweet home!

Monday, October 6, 2014


"The idea of cocooning is to allow life to settle down for the child and parents and to firmly cement in the child’s mind who are mom and dad. The general gist is to hang close to home for a while: simply life, reduce the number of toys and trips away from home, set up a predictable routine. Generally allow time and space to get to know each other, and to allow the child to learn to trust and rely on his/her parents. It is the first step in establishing attachment."           --Creatingafamily.org

As an adoptive parent, I've heard this term many a times, so I don't know how--just last week--I skipped over this imperative phase for our son's secure transition. I'll blame it on jet-lag. 

Before Joseph had even been home a week, I decided to venture out to try something new last Wednesday...story time at the library. What I ended up with, as we got into the car, was a kicking and screaming frantic and out of control child. I wasn't sure what the problem was, because I just "knew" that he'd love the goings-on at the library. Thank goodness, he did enjoy himself (slightly) but when he wouldn't leave my lap or partake in the activities, I started to get it.  And then, it was solidified later that afternoon when he kicked and screamed again as we got in the car to pick up the kids from school. Interesting that Beth from Holt called me that very day to check in (thank you, Holy Spirit), and we discussed a plan to simplify.

The bottom line is that this is a child who has never been shuffled "to and fro" before. To our knowledge, he's only been in a vehicle a handful of times. Specifically, to and from the hospital in China for foot surgery, and his five-hour ride to come to meet us. Those are the times that we know of. So, for a child who's been primarily restricted to the confines of a building for his first five years, I had to think of how he must feel. Even though his institutional life wasn't the "ideal" scenario to our standards, it was consistent and it was predictable. Added to that the fact that his brain chemistry might be well preparing to be dropped off (or "handed off") somewhere else at any given time. This child is longing for predictable right now. 

Hello cocooning.

We've now limited our outings, so for those who know how much I love to be a social butterfly, please forgive me for not being so right now. I am really feeling the need to by hyper-vigilant about this for our son's sake, and I am trying to pay very close attention to his body language. I'm sorry if I seem preoccupied with this transition...I am. This is temporary, and we will slowly break out of this cocoon...but we just need it to be all in good timing for Joseph. 

He has already shown great progress since Wednesday, as we have limited the number of times he gets into the car each day. On Friday, I needed some things at Target after we took Charlie to school, and Joseph was reluctant to leave the van. After some reassurance, he came into my arms and I was able to get him into a cart. It gave him a chance to trust me and to know that everything will be okay.

There are already some "predictable" favorites, like taking Charlie to school and going with the family to Bubba and Grandpa's house. We've walked in close proximity to the community pool, and this morning we walked to our nearby park to play.

I can see that if we take this slowly, it will give Joseph what he needs at the right pace he needs it to be, and I know each of these baby steps of progress and comfort are huge and completely necessary for his healthy adjustment. Each step is a new chance at earning his trust, and that's worth all the time in the world!