Red bags, donations, and Lasts

I found this unpublished blog post from right before we picked up Leo.  Hard to believe that this was over 7 months ago now…

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We are now in China but as I pondered on the final few days right before travel, three things pop out; notably red bags, donations/helpers, and lasts.

Red bags: Leaving our children for over two weeks to go pick up Leo is one of the very toughest parts of this journey. I am going to miss them so much that it truly feels painful. All of the sweet smiles, giggles, cuddles, shared jokes, new accomplishments and lessons learned; all of it – missing from my view. Going is necessary and worth it of course, but hard nonetheless.

In order to give them something to look forward to each day and something to help them keep tabs on how long it is until we are all together again, I purchased red bags (red is a symbol of joy, love and happiness in China) for each day. I labeled each bag with the date and a description of what mommy, daddy and Leo would be doing that day. There is very little that rivals opening up a new present at our house so I knew that this daily activity would be a big hit for our kids. Inside each bag, I put small things such as stickers, candy, play foam, water colors, modeling clay, etc., and a few bigger items that were put into a basket nearby with a number on them corresponding to the number found inside of the red bag (board game of Guess Who?, canvases for painting, bubble wands, etc.)

img_8806So far this activity has been a hit and I’m thankful that they have something little to look forward to each day and a way to hear about what we’re doing over here so they can feel more connected to this journey.

Donations & Helpers: The cry for help went out for items needed in the Chinese orphanages four days before we left. That is a short time frame but our friends are AMAZING!!

The last two days before we left, the UPS driver must have driven up our driveway 15 times, dropping off package, after package. Friends from all chapters of our lives contacted me telling me that items were on the way. It was seriously overwhelming to be contacted by people that you haven’t seen in YEARS, telling you that they are joining you, partnering with you in the journey ; gah! heart overload! The packages just kept coming!

Sweet local friends were passing me bags in person and dropping off donations, in addition to meals for my family and hot coffee for my tired mind while I packed. This, on top of the awesome family and dear friends who have volunteered to care for our children or make meals for our family while we are gone – our cups seriously runneth over. We really could not feel more joyful!

So many hands and hearts are with us here in China as we bring 1 large suitcase and 2 large duffle bags, all stuffed to the absolute max – every pocket filled, to the orphanages here which so need these supplies. What a wonderful blessing you are to these children and their caretakers, and such a source of encouragement to us as well. Thank you!!!

Lasts: The last day was marked by series of lasts. The last time I will put Noah down for a nap as my youngest baby. The last time we will gather at the table as a family of 6. The last time we will all smush onto the couch together before another little bottom is vying for a comfortable spot too. The last time I will look back in my rearview mirror and see only 4 sweet faces. And on and on …..

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Our last day-time family picture as a family of 6 taken a few days before departure for China.

The lasts are always bittersweet as change innately is. (Did I cry as I looked at Noah’s sweet face before naptime – call him my baby and smooch his cheeks 100 times? Yes!)

Anytime a new addition comes into the family, the dynamic is forever shifted. A new season is upon our family now; one that is very familiar to us in one sense and yet due to the circumstances, so very new.

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Pj pic the night before we left.  Smiley kids and super exhausted parents; the norm!

As much as we cherish and will always hold so dear the memories of the past, our family’s story will be forever changed, our lives indelibly marked by adoption, and we could not be more excited!

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Said No One Ever…

The other day I sat in a parking lot waiting for my daughter to finish ballet practice and my view was crisscrossing telephone wires tangled up with budding tree branches.  Many of the branches had been removed in seemingly haphazard ways causing the tree’s form to appear odd; eye-catching in its disfigurement.  As I sat staring at those trees with their misshapen branches amidst the slinking wires, windows down hearing a chorus of serenading birds, this poem came to mind.

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How beautifully our wires stretch, weaving through air;

How well they run amongst the leaves and with the branches bare.

Their lovely hue and long straight lines pique my interest so;

I long to see them stretching far and wonder where they’ll go.

Yet time to time an irksome branch distracts my well-trained mind;

Its imposition vexing to my tunnel vision eye.

How furtively this branch may stretch across the blackened road;

For every branch must know its place: fall back, or off it goes!

And once a bird of tiny form, audacious in its gall;

Did sit upon our wires and proceed to preen and call.

Its presence so unnerving and its song so deafening;

To shoot it down our only choice — what peace our actions bring.

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There have been many surprises over the past five months – since the day he toddled into my arms.

One of the most poignant to me is how often I think of his mother.

I am his mama.  I am smooching his face, drying his tears, changing his diapers, teaching him to share, cuddling him, smoothing his hair/his heart, and showing him how we love.

But before me, for two and a half years, there were a few nannies.

And before then, for three days and nine months before that, there was a mother who intimately knew him – her sacred position, fixed.  Another woman who felt him growing inside her, who felt her son roll, hiccup, and come forth into our light.

As I touched his belly button this morning, as I often do, I could not help but ponder over the woman who once was his everything.

Does he resemble her?  Do her lips peak into a little cupid’s bow like his?  How is the curvature of her face?  Are her ear lobes petite like his?   Does she have his calm spirit?  Does she love books, animals, and being outside like him?  Does she have a contagious joy about her as he does?

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This is normal really.  A brief mention of someone wondering about their past, or a medical professional asking me about Leo’s medical history, will send me down a rabbit trail of thoughts and possibilities as to his story before me.

The questions that dance in my mind will remain unanswered, which lends itself to imagining possible scenarios.  I think I have visualized Leo’s mother in every possible social construct, wanting to connect with her situation and her decision (or lack thereof as she may not have had a choice at all).

I know I’ll always wonder and imagine.  

And if I feel this way, if I do; I cannot presume to grasp the thoughts that will one day play in Leo’s mind.

Thoughts, thoughts for years to come but for now – his belly button – a smooth, round, perfect reminder of a life that predicated his and made his possible.

…A life that we will forever Honor and hold high in Gratitude.

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On one side of the road

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On one side of the road there is

A maple tree full-grown;

Its branches wide, a canopy

Where nests are being sewn.

Containing and concealing, life

Abundant found within;

It stretches out in radiance,

Sweet shade for foe and friend.

It heralds to both eye and ear,

The seasons as they change;

From spring’s first bud to fall’s bright hues,

To winter’s empty range.

Acknowledging its usefulness

And glorious display;

It nonetheless casts its eyes toward

The tree across the way.

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The faithful pine, its color fixed,

One season its domain;

Most of the year is overlooked,

Its shape and foliage plain.

Yet by and by as winter blows

Across the narrow road;

The beauty of the evergreen

Is on display and lo;

The swollen tree laden with white,

The green just peeking through;

Holds its head high, in stoic form,

Now basking in its due.

How silly of the maple tree

Who reigns the forest floor;

To covet praise reserved for those

Of frosty winter lore.

There is a lesson found within

This tree analogy;

“Let others shine when it’s their time,”

Therein lies harmony.

New Traditions: Chinese New Year

Gong xi fa cai! 

Learning about and celebrating other cultures weaves threads of unity for our family with others across the globe, and is hugely powerful in its ability to open our hearts to people we may never met.

It is by studying what other people groups deem important, knowing the reasons behind their observance, and how they commemorate their special days/events that we can enjoy each group’s uniqueness and delight in new thoughts, images and ideas as well.  After all…

“Variety’s the very spice of life, That gives it all its flavor.” – William Cowper

With Leo’s arrival into our family, new traditions and celebrations have been woven into the fabric of our family and our celebratory life.  We recently celebrated the extremely important Chinese holiday, Chinese New Year.

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My mother in law bought the kids a fantastic book that was extremely helpful and fun to read as we readied for the New Year.

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Caroline (ever the list maker and box checker) read each page’s advice on necessary steps to take and made me a list to follow.   She was in the zone, making sure all steps were properly executed, loving the process and feeling tightly connected to Chinese culture.

After getting into their traditional Chinese outfits, Caroline and Leo swept the floors, carrying the dirt out the side door in order to sweep out the bad luck.  (Sweeping dirt out the front door means that a family member will leave.)  (Side note:  we don’t believe in luck but it was neat to learn the whys behind each tradition)

I looked up at one point and saw that Leo was branching out, sweeping and tossing the dirt outside all by himself.

Next on the list was window washing so that good luck can flow in.  This is a chore that all of the kids like to do anyway (anything that sprays is cool in their world), so this one was a hit.

Sword fighting is not a Chinese New Year tradition but the sword was from our trip to China so it was incorporated into the day, as it is almost every day of the week.  #lifewithboys

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The day began with a shopping trip to our first ever Asian market.  Upon entering, the kids remarked on the unique smell as it is distinctly different than a typical American market.  Our sense of smell is so powerful in its ability to whisk one back to a previous time/event, and I immediately felt comfortable and yet excited at the newness of this experience all at once. We walked up and down the aisles checking out the unfamiliar packages, the brightly colored candies, and once in the seafood/meat area, the fish with heads and tails still attached (popular at New Year so as to have a good beginning and good ending, and to make wishes come true).  

While shopping, I pointed out that the mandarin oranges still had their stems and leaves attached and Caroline (our walking info source) told us that they’re given out for happiness and wealth, and that when given to a married couple, it means they will have a long marriage.  Later that night she gave Mike and I two that were connected to one another “in honor of your love.”  This girl is big on celebrations and sentiments.

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For dinner that night, we had rice, egg rolls, dumplings, and Chinese green onion pancakes; followed by Chinese cookies.  We all worked on our chopstick skills with moderate success – we need much work on this!

After dinner the kids were riled up, and they picked up drums and marched around the house singing “Gong xi fa cai, Gong xi fa cai now!”  while Leo ran up and down the hearth, giggling.

 

The final celebratory component for us was giving the children lai see; red envelopes with (what is supposed to be) crisp brand-new dollars inside.  (Ours were not brand-new because we didn’t have time to run to the bank before the celebration and we were just happy that we actually had 5 $1 bills in our wallets that night – hurray!- as we never seem to carry cash anymore.)

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A close-up of a lai see

This crew loves to celebrate and we are grateful that our family now has a new tradition that they are intimately connected to.

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Happy Year of the Rooster!!

 

Fog

How solemnly the fog rolls in,

Opening as a scroll;

Unfurling over maple heads,

Covering things of old.

The forest takes a ghostly hue,

When tangled in that shroud;

How tragic to the tempting touch,

To find mere spectral cloud.

Weaving through ethereally,

The fog it sidles by;

Then lifts its head and bids adieu,

Revealing open sky.

The Dance

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I am the last, there are no more,

farewell obscurity;

Before they fell, my friends the leaves,

a mass of color we.

But now I have the centerstage,

Though numbered are my days;

So dance we shall, the wind and I,

Whilst I am on display.

The wind she pulls me with both hands,

My form caught in her hair;

The ice and snow my winter garb,

Until she whirls me bare.

Though stiff and brown and without flair,

No eye should I entice;

Her movements so majestic they,

Draw me to your sight.

Her perfect feet, they fluff the ground,

My winter bed she lays;

My time has come, the curtain calls,

No longer may I stay.

Her dance card full, the wind, she leaves,

Spinning me in her gown;

Our pas de deux, my grand swan song,

The earth swallows my bow.

Awaiting Leo & the Great Wall

Worked on the blog a bit tonight and I discovered a few posts that I had written in China but never published for various reasons. I completed this one tonight. xoxo! 

We woke up Saturday morning (our first morning in China) bright and early and eagerly went down to the hotel lobby for breakfast.  The buffet was quite large, a mostly Chinese buffet (rice, seafood, congee, tropical fruit, boiled eggs, etc.) but also a few American buffet staples such as waffles and yogurt.  I stumbled upon a self serve cappuccino machine and proceeded to drink at least three cups before willing myself to stop (gah, I love cappuccinos!)

We left the hotel right after breakfast and got onto the bus.  I usually get motion sick on buses (actually on all things that move) and, in typical Sarah style, I left my motion sickness medicine up in the hotel room.  Thankfully, the views around me and the stories from our guide were so engaging that my stomach stayed calm.

About 30 minutes outside the hustle and bustle of Beijing, we began to see the city backdrop give way to hazy mountains.  The smog was still around us, draped like a blanket over the mountains, obscuring much from view, but nonetheless, you could tell you were entering into a different landscape.

Gone were the skyscrapers, the concrete sidewalks, and the endless honking of taxis and cars.  Homes now lay low, scattered all together, dark shapes punctuating the hazy smog as we drove past.

When our bus neared the entrance of the Great Wall (Juyongguan Pass, I believe), the juxtaposition of the ancient wall crawling above our modern roads, our signs, our cars, was quite poignant.  The ever present smog obscured our view but nonetheless, the mystic of the wall was unharmed.

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The fact that this wall is man-made astounds the mind.   Its construction began in 770-476 BC, and it served as a fortification for Beijing against northern invaders (Mongols).

At the entrance to the wall, we snapped a picture like good little tourists and made the requisite restroom stop before embarking on our journey.

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In case you have never experienced a squatty potty, let me introduce you to it.  You walk into a stall per normal, however in a squatty potty, there is no potty on which to sit, just a hole in the ground.  Oh, and no toilet paper either.  You get used to it but there is a definite learning curve involved.

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Our group broke up once we entered the gates, and we began the journey.   The Pass begins with a smooth bridged area and from there ascends.

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On the bridge with our guide George before we began to climb.

We climbed and climbed the uneven stairs which rose steeply up, snaking up the mountain.

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The air was thick and warm, and sweat inevitable.  I felt every bit my age as I wanted to touch the side as I climbed, a bit scared of falling and taking down others like a bowling ball down its lane.

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The ascent, though arduous at times since I am quite out of shape, was incredible.  The stones were largely smooth and cool to the touch, and one could not help but imagine whose hands placed them there.  As we toiled to summit as much as we could in our time limit, stealing glances at the magnificent view (despite the smog), one could not help but marvel at the Wall’s history and at the wonder that we were there at all.

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On our return to the entrance area, we found a little detour that took us to a quiet temple.  A woman dutifully sweeping the stones with a rustic broom, which fanned out at the bottom into a large cascade of what appeared to be bunches of dried palm fronds tied together, was the only sound.

As we neared the exit and waited for the rest of our group, a little girl in ubiquitous squeaky shoes played nearby.  I considered getting a pair of these shoes for Leo but thought perhaps it might make me crazy in due time.

The anticipation of meeting Leo hung in every moment of our first two days in China.  Knowing that it would likely be such a long time before we made a trip back, and that we bore the responsibility to import details to him about this trip, that it would be a critical part of his story, I tried to engage my mind and feel the experiences as wholly as I could.

Smoggy haze, cascading green,

gray stones ascend the land,

our feet clamber on ancient work,

toil of human hand.

Smiling faces turn towards us,

we climb in unity,

cognizant of the work below,

and its rich history.

Where windows cut into the wall,

imaginative souls must dally,

to play the scene in their mind’s eye,

the storming, fights and rallies.

Hopeful invaders surging forth,

yet easy targets they,

for soldiers perched on towering walls,

for centuries, held at bay.

The clock ticked on and now we walk,

our sneakers on their bones,

Our minds aware, we forget not,

the breadth of walls of stone.

That night we walked through a bit of Beijing, stopping at a bustling market looking for dinner.  The entrance was brightly decorated and led to a long hallway of sorts, with vendors on both sides, packed to the gills with people.

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Shoulder to shoulder, we pressed on through the crush of people as they ordered from tiny stands.  The first several vendors sold delicacies unfamiliar to myself; scorpions, sea stars, and sea horses.  I was surprised to see some of the speared food still moving.  Only a few adventurous friends tried the food here, largely because of the cautionary tales from our guides playing in our minds about avoiding street food.

We were escorted back to our hotel by the pulse of Beijing; glowing streets of neon lights, throngs of people, and the clamor of bustling shops.

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Being in a foreign place is always exciting for me, but nothing can compare to the anticipation and excitement of receiving a child for whom you have waited for, prayed for, cried over, and now are about to actually hold in your own arms.

The wait was almost over – only one day stood between us and our little boy.

The Reeds

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How crisp and stalwart stand the reeds among the hills of white,

Practicing their dégagés and piqués through the night.

Their graceful heads, bowed and curved as ballerina’s arms,

Their feathered caps in corporate dance, an audience to charm.

Yet who enjoys their lissome dance?  And who seeks shelter there?

I, for one, know not of course, I’m much to old to dare

To slip outside ‘neath the moon’s pale gleam, to watch the reeds at play,

Unfettered by the ambivalence and callousness of day.

 

“I have called on you”

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The carnage builds before us,

Their silence a deafening sound,

I pray and wait for God to reveal

His plan here on the ground.

He grasps my heart and pulls me close

To whisper in my ear,

“It’s you my love, pull the alarm,

Rise up!  The battle’s here.

Lay down your trinkets, your plans, your joy,

There is suffering to relieve,

Your race for more has run its course,

Through ashes you will see.

While scores of children lie on the ground,

Entangled in death’s snare,

There is no rest, your world’s undone,

This is your cross to bare.

The battle for your heart has waged,

And you will not be free

From passion for the hurting world

As long as you’re in me.

Your heart is crafted as my own,

You feel what I know true,

That suffering can be relieved,

and I have called on you.”

* Photo from Unicef – http://childrenofsyria.info

*Want to help? There is a great map on this site (https://www.whitehouse.gov/aidrefugees) where you can put in your zipcode and find organizations to partner with in your area.

A little Christmas message

Hello sweet friends and family!

Many are the times that I think about updating the blog with my scattered thoughts, but few are the moments that are necessary to make that happen.

Last week, I was honored to share a Christmas message at my former church’s Ladies Christmas Night.  The topic was to be about Adoption, Christmas, and the Gospel.   It was my pure joy to prepare for it and to speak to such a wonderful group of women.

In case you’d like to hear it, just click on the following link.  Once you’ve been redirected to the Resources Page, you will see a bolded heading saying 2016 Ladies Christmas Night.  You can just click on the link right below it and listen away if you would like to!

2016 Ladies Christmas Night

I would be remiss if I didn’t include a recent pic of sweet Leo, aka. “walking joy,” for you.  As it turns out, he is quite a little ham and he loves getting his picture taken, hurray!

Merry Christmas!! 

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Blanket of White

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Soaked in mud, her hair in spent patches,

the earth pulls on her blanket of white.

Layered beneath her, her ancestors lie,

singing her sweet songs goodnight.

Reclined in her bed, thoughts of work in her head,

memories creep forth and abide.

Visions of all those she fed, on her back they did tread,

through her hair they did nestle and hide.

She sustained and she toiled, with arms of sweet soil,

and now it is time for a goodbye.

“Until then” whispers she, resting under the trees,

snuggled deep in her blanket of white.