Saturday, July 28, 2007

Reflections on China

In the short time I've been blog hopping it seems that the common protocol for one that returns from vacation (is that what we were on?) is to create a Top Ten List or at least a Highlights post featuring the location traveled. As this is my first attempt, a top ten list seems far too ambitious. Remember, writing does not come easily to me. I could see myself worrying about having to come up with seven more topics to discuss all while keying item number three. Therefore, I've decided to do a Highlights and Observations post for our trip to China.

My Observations

The People
They say there are 1.3 Billion people in China. I think we saw about 1.2 billion of them. People are absolutely everywhere in China. The people we came in contact with on the street did not seem particularly warm, nor were they unpleasant. For example, the norm here in the U.S. is to wait until everyone is off the elevator before entering. The Chinese do not subscribe to this policy. Additionally, people often stared at us, especially after we had Lily with us. We were warned that this would happen. Several Chinese people approached my mother and asked if they could take her picture. That was quite interesting. The people we met that worked in service, such as waiters, waitresses, hotel attendants, store workers, etc., were all extremely polite. Most showed a special interest in Lily. Some showed a bit too much interest for Julianne's liking. Several waitresses picked up Lily and began walking around with her. One waiter unlocked the wheels of Lily's stroller and began wheeling her around the restaurant showing her off to his coworkers.

The Food
Don't order chicken in China. You WILL be disappointed. You'd think I would have figured that out but I never gave up. I ordered chicken everywhere we went and in most occasions, it was not good. Their chickens have very little meat, lots of fat, and usually had uncooked, flaccid looking skin. Even the chicken in the Grilled Chicken Sandwich at McDonald's (Yes, we broke down and went there, but just once) didn't taste like chicken. We were able to enjoy quite a few meals in China though. It just took a while to learn what to order and what to stay away from. Besides, I've been working at losing weight and I managed to lose ten more pounds while in China without starving myself.

Julianne and I have had the opportunity to travel quite a bit in our ten years of marriage. I can honestly say that I've still never had anything better than we can get here at home in the Los Angeles vicinity (perhaps with the exception of Mama's Fish House in Maui, HI and The Whaling Station in Monterrey, CA). But we still have not been to Italy. I hope to revise my previous statement after a trip there sometime in my lifetime.

The Traffic
Craziness. Chaos. Lines in the roads mean absolutely NOTHING in China. Everyone is merging, changing lanes, driving between two lanes for miles, and driving on the wrong side of the street. Some friends we met from our travel group said they took a cab and the driver did not feel like waiting behind the stopped cars and actually began driving on the sidewalk! Pedestrians DO NOT have the right of way. Ever.

Amongst all the craziness, no one seemed to mind. There were no arms flying out of the windows with certain gestures like here at home. Although everyone honks their horns at each other, it seemed to be as a way of saying, "Watch out, I'm passing you." And through all the chaos, I didn't see one accident.

The Smell
We spent time in three provinces, Beijing, Jiangxi, and Guangzhou. There was a smell that was evident in all three provinces. It was not horrible but it definitely was not pleasant. It didn't seem to be quite as bad in Guangzhou. Maybe I just got more used to it by then. I've heard the smell might be due to the poor air quality. But I'm from Los Angeles. You'd think I'd be used to that. I wonder if visitors to L.A. think we have a smell.

The Shopping
The shopping tours our agency had arranged for us were quite interesting. Upon arrival to the pearl factory, the jade factory, the silk factory, and the tea factory, we were herded past the main selling area into room set aside for groups such as ours. I felt as if we were wearing signs around us that said, "TOURIST" or "RICH AMERICANS" or "SUCKERS." We were given the inside secrets on how to know the good stuff from the junk. I couldn't help wonder why they sold the "junk" as well. Upon completion of our education, we were released to the waiting vultures - salespeople swooping in from all angles to get our American dollars. Every time we bargained for a better price, I walked away with my purchase feeling as if they burst into laughter as soon as I was gone alla Daniel Miller, Albert Brooks' character in Defending Your Life, after a used car purchase.

Two Highlights
July 9, 2007, at about 3:30 p.m. About half an hour before we got Lily, Julianne and I took the opportunity to pray together. Humbled and broken before our Lord, we poured out our hearts to Him, thanking Him and praising Him for the opportunity to be Lily's parents, seeking wisdom in shepherding her heart, and petitioning for her salvation at an early age. We acknowledged that she is not ours, but rather, His. It was a precious moment that I will always treasure.

And now for the obvious: The whole reason for the trip was Lily Grace. China is a country I never had a desire to visit. I am glad I went though. I enjoyed the site seeing, some of the food, the people we met, and the hotels. But for the gift of Lily, I will be forever grateful. How painful it must have been for Lily's birth mother to leave her at the gate of the Civil Affairs Bureau. But in doing so, I'm sure she must have known that she would end up in a home such as ours. And that she will be forever loved in her forever family.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

At first I was thinking, "Now that I'm back, I'll sum up this whole entering into parenthood thing." But then I realized that's all I'll be doing from here on in...constantly assessing, second guessing, etc. But I will say this: I am surprised at my reactions thus far. Pleasantly so. On the outside I come across as patient. At least that's what I'm often told. Those of you that know me well know that this does not run deep and got a good laugh at that. My gosh, just ask anyone that was around me in the early days of my learning to play tennis. I think I still owe some apologies for those days. I've learned over the years to control it on the outside, but I still lose it on the inside.

One of my greatest concerns heading into parenthood has been what my response would be to persistent crying. Granted Lily is not really a difficult baby thus far. She, like any child, has her bouts of cries, screams, and tantrums. Sure I've felt the uneasiness of it, but my response has been far better than I preconceived. I'm not so naive as to not realize, and I can already hear some of you saying, "Just wait. You've only been a dad for two and a half weeks." I KNOW I'll have my moments when I utterly and completely lose it. I'm just pleased to see how I've changed over time on the inside. And it's a change I completely attribute to the grace of God. When I hear people question the existence of God, it's fun to see Him at work in your own life. This change in me is completely outside of me. I could fool others on the outside but to see it on the inside is wonderful.

I pray it continues.

I hate to have a pictureless post. I wanted to find something that captured the mood while I'm writing. The image above quickly popped into mind. This was taken in the garden of our last hotel in China, the Dongfang Hotel in Guangzhou.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Settling In

We've been home from China since Friday and things are settling in nicely. Lily has been such a joy. When she is happy, she IS HAPPY. When she's not, oh my gosh, watch out. She lets the world know! We have all these cute little games we play now. When trying to show her how to clap, she responded by grabbing her forearm and shaking both arms up and down. She likes to shake one hand up and down with her index finger extended. She also loves rocking back in forth and watching me do the same. Her newest game with me is making scrunchy faces.

After two nights of fits of crying, she was back to sleeping through the night last night. We are getting a comfortable routine going. Naps are still an issue: how much, how little to give her or how much she will allow. We are also working through areas of insecure attachment/separation anxiety. She has been going into tantrums when we set her down. Touching is not enough for her. She demands to be held and usually by her mommy.
I can't keep myself from smiling as I write these things.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Home at Last - Now What?

I remember a conversation I had many years ago with my father. I must have been in my late teens or very early twenties. Among the things we were discussing, the topic of parenthood came up. He was telling me about when he first came home from the hospital when my sister was born. All the preparation brought him to the place of getting ready for her birth. I wish I could remember his exact words so I'll have to paraphrase here. He expressed how scared he was. As soon as they came home with her, he thought, "Now what am I supposed to do?"

I'll have to admit, now that I'm home in California, for about a second I thought the same thing. After all, everything I have done for the past three years has been preparing me for the adoption itself. But that was when I was alone this morning before Lily woke up. As the day got rolling, I had no concern of what to do next. Everything just fell into place. But please don't read too far into this. This "falling into place" has nothing to do with me. It's 100% my wife. She was born to be Lily's mom. Those of you that know her, tell me if I'm wrong here. Even if you don't know her, look at the pictures of Mommy and Lily and you'll see what I'm talking about.

I'll use the words of Robin, one of our new friends we met in China. Arriving at breakfast the other morning in our hotel, I paused at Robin's table to greet her and children before getting to my table. Robin said in her southern drawl that "Julianne just looks different. From the beginning of the trip (we met in Beijing before we got our daughters) to now, she's just different. You can see it in her face. She's just glowing." I couldn't have agreed more.

A few days ago at the clinic when we had to listen to Lily's first doctor generalize about Lily's condition, "all these adopted babies are very severe; they are all malnourished." Then he got specific to Lily. "She does not look good. We'll have to run some tests and she might not be able to go home Friday." As I put walls up to not hear him, Julianne's heart just poured out for Lily.

More examples are not needed to make my point. Seeing how she and Lily are so connected is simply beautiful. Am I a blessed husband and father or what???

The very last picture I took in China.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Cheerios & Watermelon

Dear Lily,

As I glance over at you sleeping, seeing you dimly lit by the light of my computer monitor, I send up silent prayers. Your sleep is frequently disturbed by your coughing. The little cold we thought you had was diagnosed today as pneumonia. In the eight days that we've had you I've never seen you cry as much as you did today. And yet I don't think I've seen you laugh as much either. After your second of three nebulization treatments today, in which you cried throughout, you gave me the sweetest smile and giggle. Here we were trying to console you, and there you were smiling at me, melting my heart. You were so uncomfortable all day. Your Mommy, laying inches from your crib right now listening to you breathe, would have given anything to take this illness from you. It is humbling to know there is nothing we can do. Some would call it hopelessness, but not when there is hope from above.

Professionally, I'm a teacher. But these past eight days, you my dear girl, have been my teacher. God has been using you in amazing ways to penetrate my heart. We have been blessed to become your parents. Many trials and tribulations like this first major one will line our future path together. And oh how I will long for days like these, when we can bring comfort to you and a smile to your face as easily as we can now with a Cheerio and a taste of watermelon.

Sleep well baby girl. Your mommy and daddy love you and will be here when you wake.



Lily getting a Cheerio as comfort after her treatment at the clinic.

Monday, July 16, 2007

God Continues to Work on Me, Part 2

The bonding attempts between Lily me continue. We take a few steps forward and then one backwards. Again, as to be expected. I've mentioned before how God has used the music of MercyMe lately to work on my heart. What I didn't realize was how he was preparing me for what was to come. There is a reoccurring theme in the Coming Up to Breathe album that deals with self. Or rather the problem of focus on self. I've come to realize that I was looking forward to having a daughter that would love me more than I was looking forward to being a father. In case thatdoesn't make sense, I’ll steal an illustration I saw Bruce Wilkinson give years ago that has always stuck with me. I believe his was an example of marriage but it works in parenting as well. In defining the “agape” type of love (the unconditional type of love mentioned in scripture) he extended his arm with his hand held open. Within the open hand lies your heart. Whenever someone such as a spouse, child, or friend abuses or hurts you intentionally or otherwise, the tendency is to retract your arm and protect your heart. But the agape type of love refuses to do this. The arm stays extended. Agape love chooses to continue to love in spite of what comes our way. When I stormed out of my hotel the other day to take a walk after feeling rejection from Lily, I retracted my arm. I took back my heart. I focused on that one incident and took my eye off of my role as a father. Since then, we've had many amazing moments. We play together. We make noises together. We laugh together. We still have a long way to go, and I look forward to every moment of it. Soon my baby will want me to hold her…and I’ll have a whole new set of issues to deal with! Even though this is hard, I’m loving how God is working on me.

F.Y.I.- I’m adding lots of pictures from the trip and of Lily to my photo website. Please feel free to visit.


Also, we are only able to post to our blogs from here. We cannot view our actual blog pages. I can tell I have some comments but I am unable to view them while here in China. I look forward to getting home so I can view them. Heck, I just look forward to getting home period!

Update: My luggage arrived today. YIPPPPEEEEE!!!!

Julianne is doing a far better job with all the details of the trip so be sure to check her blog.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

God Continues to Work on Me

First I'll do all my complaining. If you'd rather not hear me vent, kindly move on past the following list.

  1. I've been in a foreign, non-English speaking country for one week without my luggage. United Airlines has done nothing except route my calls to India where someone whom I can barely understand reads a script that says how sorry they are. Other than that, they have done nothing. But they assured me that I could be reimbursed from 0% to 50% for any purchases I make to cover what has been lost. Very comforting for a man that's been in the same pair of pants for eight days straight.
  2. I went online to confirm that my direct deposit went through for my paycheck. It didn't. But I was reassured that I'm not the only one this has happened to. Very comforting to a man in a foreign country that is quickly running out of Chinese Yuan.
  3. My daughter whom I met for the first time on Monday is terrified of me.

OK. I got it out of my system. Now for the good stuff.

  1. The package our friends back home sent arrived today. My old t-shirts, socks, underwear, sweatpants, and dirty tennis shoes never looked so good. I promptly put on my sweats and headed down to the hotel gym and used the treadmill. That was just what I needed.
  2. I was able to email someone back home who has someone working on fixing the payroll problem. I have enough in savings to carry us through. Praise God our airline tickets home are already paid for!
  3. Today I made excellent progress with Lily. Julianne went and hid in the next room and gave me some alone time with Lily. It is beginning to work. She let me hold her and feed her with no screaming. We then played with her toys for about twenty minutes. She smiled and giggled with me. She mimicked my noises and I hers. It was such an improvement from the previous forty eight hours. We still have quite a ways to go, but today was absolutely wonderful.

Our God truly is an awesome God. And those are not just words...He's proving it to me over and over. You can't help but notice in all my above complaints that the focus is TOTALLY on me. But our Lord refuses to give up on us. Philippians 1:6 reminds us that "...He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus."

This whole experience with Lily has given me a glimpse of what God must experience from us. It shows me even more clearly what love is. It's not a mere feeling. And it's not always reciprocal. And I don't mean to imply that I don't have feelings of love for Lily. I do and they are overflowing. But I can see that they are not conditional. My love for her is not determined by what she gives to me in return. Sure, returned affections is greatly desired, yet it is not the condition for loving her.

A verse I had been meditating on (apparently not enough) prior to leaving for China is 1 Peter 5:7-8 which says, "Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time, casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you." What a powerful verse that is. He will willingly take upon Himself our anxiety, not because He is some unknowable, invisible force. Nor because it's His job. But rather, because He cares for us. Wow. Indeed our God IS an awesome God.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Lily, Day 2

Today was just plain busy. Three appointments to make official Lily's adoption. First, it was back to the 26th floor of the Civil Affairs office. There we were interviewed by the social worker. Such questions as, "Why do you want a Chinese baby? What is your occupation? Are you satisfied with your baby?" and, "Do you promise to never abandon or abuse your baby?" were posed to us. Then we went down the hall to pay our "donation" to the orphanage. I felt bad for the guy counting the money. He was locked inside a room the size of a bedroom closet behind about 4 inches of bullet proof glass. At least he had a fan blowing on him. He had to examine each and every hundred dollar bill from every family. All bills had to be unmarked, no folds or tears...something that was not easy to come by at the bank back at home. Once those two steps were done, Lily became officially ours. Our daughter forever. At least in China. We still have the legal end to follow through with on the U.S. end. From there we moved on to two other locations. One was another interview with the same questions as asked of us on the 26th floor of our previous stop. Then it was off to the police station to have Lily photographed for her passport which should be ready Friday. Finally, we headed to the local Wal-Mart for some shopping.

Since both Lily's suitcase as well as my own suitcase have vanished into the abyss of United Airlines lost baggage, we had to replace some of her belongings. As for me, I've had my share of challenges. NOTHING in the country fits me. Even with all the weight I've lost thus far, I'm off their charts. I can't even find a shoe larger than size 9 here. With the use of a few borrowed t-shirts, hand washing in the bathroom sink, and using an iron to dry my clothes, I'm getting by. Fortunately our dear friends back home went to our house and packed up more of our belongings and Fed-ex'd them to us here in China. They should arrive Thursday.Lily seems to be doing just fine. She has been a bit more fussy today, but the bonding has begun. Bonding with Mommy that is. She wants to be in Mommy's arms constantly today. She screams when put down. She SCREAMS when in my arms. This is all very normal we are told. I'm just glad she is bonding with Mommy first. My time will come.

Tomorrow we are off for a local tour of Nanchang. This will be followed up with dining at a local restaurant for lunch. We are told we will experience the "local flavor." With some of the things I've been seeing in the hotel restaurant, this could be scary. One I found most interesting last night, which I DID NOT try was "Sauteed duck tongue with chicken feet and hearts." I'm usually somewhat of an adventurous eater, but the was pushing the envelope a bit for me. I was proud of myself though; Today at lunch I sampled the four-inch long squid on my seafood skewer.

Back to the room we got Lily less than 24 hours earlier.

The happy family!

Lily and Mommy playing

Monday, July 9, 2007

She's Perfect

I can't believe she's here. Today was such a whirlwind. Even an hour before we got her, it didn't seem real yet. There we were loading the bus, passports and baby toys in hand, on our way to change our lives forever. Our group of 42 families in Beijing went different directions this morning, each to the province of their waiting child. We were now ten families, all arriving at the Civil Affairs office of Adoption here in Jiangxi. Twenty six floors up, in a muggy, unairconditioned room we gathered. People were everywhere. Babies were crying. Within minutes of our arrival, they were rolling off the names of the babies. It seemed like seconds before they called us, family number eight. Three years of waiting and now they were calling us. They placed our beautiful baby girl in the arms of my wife while I handed the officials our passports for verification. In an instant, the agony of the wait was relieved. She is now sleeping like an angel ten feet away from me while I write this in our hotel room. Amazing. And she is perfect. Runny nose, heat rash, and all...just perfect. Within several hours I got what I had been longing for-seeing my daughter smile. And hearing her laugh. My heart melted. Again. I'll let the pictures speak for themselves.

Lily Grace just moments after we got her.

Mommy and Lily

Daddy and Lily

Our first family photo

What I've longed to see

Monday, July 2, 2007

The Path

My quantified forty years have delivered me to this place; the forefront of this latest path. The end of the course is not clear and obstacles are as of yet, unforeseen. But it’s a course I welcome with such joy. In two days we leave for China. Two days. One week from today, I will meet my daughter for the very first time. I will be a daddy. My wife will be a mommy. Our mothers, who will be accompanying us, will become grandmothers.

So as I prepare to set forth on this new course, I find myself reflecting on the previous course that brought me to this place. A path filled with joys, laughter, pain, regrets, hopes, dreams, adventure, etc. I’m no different than anyone else. My experiences are unique to me, however, in the grand scheme of things, quite common.

Every new parent assesses (hopefully) past experiences to prepare for assuming the role. Again, I’m no different. As I've mentioned before, mine was not the happiest of childhoods. Nor was it the worst. What positives can I take from what I've learned from my parents and transfer to Lily? Two things come to mind right away: 1) My parents had clear expectations of me. I did not get in much trouble (early on) because I knew what was expected of me and I knew there would be consequences issued. 2) Along with the clear expectations was a clear sense of right and wrong. True, these things are written on our hearts by God Himself, (see Romans 1:20 & 2:15) but He used my parents to reinforce this. Although I later rebelled, I knew right from wrong.

But I grew up in a non-religious household. We celebrated Christmas and Easter but the holidays were void of any true meaning. Christmas was Santa, gifts, fudge, and peanut butter kiss cookies (YUMMMMM)…but Jesus was nowhere to be seen. Likewise, Easter was ALL about the giant See’s Candy eggs. You can imagine my let down when I found out Santa and the Easter Bunny did not exist. What’s even sadder is the reason I had trouble accepting this fact was because I so-did-not-believe that my parents would actually buy me all that stuff.

So where does all this reflecting take me? Of course I want Lily to be happy. What parent doesn't want that? But first and foremost, I want my daughter to know Jesus. I want her to come to the saving faith in our Lord and savior, Jesus Christ. We will do all we can do to guide her, but ultimately it is the work of God Himself. We will do our best to lead her in His ways (this is easy to say now!) and teach her His truth.

In one week this new journey begins. It started long ago in my heart, but next week it becomes real. God grant me the wisdom and patience to be the father you would have me be. May I put You above all else.