Sunday, January 26, 2014

Selah's First Snow!

This past week has been quite busy. I think I need to accept that it will be this way for a long time. We had an orthodontist appointment on Monday and that is when the snow began. By Tuesday morning there was a nice blanket of snow on the ground. I decided to brave the conditions and take Selah to her echo. Forgive the filter on this photo. Mariah confiscated my phone and I didn't realize the change until I tried to take a photo at this stop light.
It would be an understatement to say the roads were not clear. After I got off our hill I knew it would be silly to turn back. That hill is the worst part of my trip. 

Selah had her echo and the tech was so sweet. She realized how Selah has no "insulation" and she went and got her two blankets that had been warmed. She was in heaven!
The great news is they believe the suspicious murmur is nothing more than an extra tendon. I have since learned that yes, your heart has tendons. The valves operate using tendons. We still will have her EKG and other testing but it seems all is well.

We came home from this appointment after sliding all over the road and pulled in the garage. I watched Selah doing this.....
Writing her name in the snow! 

Enjoying the snow! 

Enjoying the cold!

I was thrilled that we convinced her to go out and sled ride. I think she also was happy with her decision.  
And a few more shots that we caught...
This just looks like trouble. 
We have some great neighbors. The house they are standing in front of has a pretty awesome hill in the back yard. This sweet neighbor told me that the kids never have to ask to sled ride in her yard. I still told them to ask but they had a blast!
While the kids were out sledding, I decided to decorate for Chinese New Year. I know Selah is fully aware of the date. So I surprised her with this....
She really did like it. She also laughed when I had to ask her if the banners were correct. I had no idea if they were right-side-up or not!

We have had a nice amount of snow this week. Personally I love it! Our neighborhood even still has snow covered roads even today. 
Mariah woke up Monday morning with a temp of 104.5......It certainly explained how she was acting for the past week. I let it go as she woke up Friday fever-free. However her disposition didn't change much.

I began to notice she was wheezing.
We got more snow then I decided she needed to go to urgent care on Sunday. She has bronchitis! I feel terrible and should have taken her sooner.

Saturday was my birthday. I removed it from Facebook but somehow people remembered and then it snowballed from there. Thank you all for your sweet words and wishes. I did have an awesome day!
Jeremy always makes this day special for me. He gets the kids all excited for me too.
While I was folding a load of clothes Selah pops around the corner and sat diagonal from me. Not only was she the first one of our kids to wish me a happy birthday, she handed me a bracelet she made.
Now let me share the significance of this bracelet. Notice my ring on my finger? It is my Mother's Ring. It is outdated and missing two stones. Honestly we just haven't spent the money on a new one. Selah took an interest in that ring this past week and I sat down and explained birthstones to her. Evidently China does not recognize birthstones. She wrote our birthdays on the white board in the basement and I now know that she got to work. 

She explained to me that the colors of the bracelet alternate the entire circumference. She said, "You see.......Red! January. Purple! February. Pink! June. and Blue! December." Those cover the birthstones for all six kids. I really did get tears in my eyes. This sweet girl is working so hard at being a family. I love her heart! I reached over to hug her and she wrapped her arms around me and quickly jumped up and left the room. 

That evening, since we were snowed in, Jeremy got the stuffed shells out of the freezer that Becca and I made then froze it before we left for China. Selah baked her first cake with my help. 

I was taken into the living room to open my gifts and Selah grabbed the video camera. Normally we only tape the kids but we let her have fun. She went around the room while taping and asked each person to say Happy Birthday. Then she said, "To who?" and they would respond...."To Mommy." 

Jeremy grabbed the camera from her and asked her the same questions. When he asked, "Whose birthday?" Selah simply responded, "Mommy's"!  Again......I'll take it!

She is doing great. We notice she struggles with eye contact. She is getting a little better but it certainly is not something she is comfortable doing.

Her English is phenomenal! She loves photos. I did get copies of some recent photos made for her and she seemed to like that.

I think she was shocked to hear/see me play the piano this week too. She just stood and stared at me then got Jeremy's iPad and video taped me playing. I am so rusty!!!!! 

I am a blessed wife to Jeremy and mom to six great kids! None of this is easy and the transition to our family is far from complete. Selah struggles every single day. But we also know she comes from a very broken past. We are trying to mend that heart and build trust. Honestly we don't even know if she understands the concept of the word trust. 

We are building a relationship with her and also being the parents to her at the same time. It is a tricky balance. We are being very patient as she figures things out. 

Still it has been such a blessing and we desperately pray for her heart. We pray for her salvation. We ask that you pray for us as well. Adopting is not easy. We don't adopt because it is trendy. We adopt because God planted that seed in our hearts many years ago. It is hard to be obedient. It is hard to bring a 14 year old into your home and try to create a new family. But she is worth every single tear,heartache, and penny.

Thank you all for reading and following our journey. Stay tuned as I can only imagine what God has planned next for our lives!

Monday, January 20, 2014

First Week Home!

Our first family photo as a family of eight!
As I type these very words I am reminded that three weeks ago in the Civil Affairs Office in Guangzhou, China a scared 14 year old was introduced to her parents. Parents was a word that Selah could never even imagine prior to that very day. She had no idea what that even meant.

We looked at her tiny frame and those very sad eyes and for the first time we were met with the stark reality of her past. She was so tiny, so scared, so alone in this world. She was given to us with all of her worldly belongings. She wore two jackets. Her shirt she wore was a pajama top. Her pants were knit leggings with an attached skirt. She wore boots that we now know were too small for her feet.  She had in her possession one child-size backpack. The contents of the pink back pack were unknown to us. She came with nothing else. 

Selah has done beautifully with our family. It really is quite amazing to see how she has come to accept us. That is not to say she understands how a family works. She is learning and fitting in beautifully. She has never experienced a true family before. She had a foster family for 18 months but that was only on the weekends and school holidays. She has not spoken of that family. We have been told that this is the first time in her life she has experienced true acceptance.....true safety........true love.

Fourteen years is far too long to live as an orphan. Fourteen years where no one was there to hold you when you were sick. Fourteen years without having a mommy's and daddy's bed to run to when there is a thunderstorm. Fourteen years where you don't have a mom to prepare your meals. Fourteen years where you don't have a best friend/sister to share special secrets. 

That is no longer her story. She has her own bed. She has her own clothes. Neither of which has she ever possessed before. She now can experience the same joys as our other children. She saw snow flakes for the first time this week. Honestly I thought she would be so excited. She was not! She said, "It is very cold!"  

While the hugs still are not all that welcome, we will be patient and try to understand the circumstances surrounding her beginning. We still wait for her to call us "Mama" and "Baba". Just yesterday Jeremy saw her in the schoolroom. She was writing on the white board. She asked Jeremy when his birthday was. Then she asked, "Mother?" I'll take it! She referred to me as her mother! 

Selah seemed to enjoy helping us take down the Christmas decorations this week. She is meticulous with how she organizes things. She is happy to help in any way. She offered to watch Mariah the other morning in case Jeremy wanted to go back to bed. Mariah is a handful so Jeremy declined the offer.

Here are some photos of her special very first Christmas.
This is her American Girl doll from my parents.
My mom spent many hours sewing clothes for this doll.
Reaching in her stocking for her chocolate.
And her electric scooter to match Rebecca's and Ben's.
We also began doctor appointments this week. Selah's heart is concerning a few medical professionals. So this week we are scheduled for an echo, EKG, and chest x-ray. Then she has an eye doctor appointment as we were told she is near-sighted. She tagged along to Mariah's first dental exam in preparation for hers. We already know she has a lot of dental work ahead. She has many cavities.
Mariah never shed a tear. I'm not sure she loved it but she endured. No cavities and good to go!

School started up in an abbreviated fashion last week too. Selah helped grade some of the math papers. Then she told Rebecca, "You are very smart, Rebecca!" 

Selah attended our church for the first time today. It was such a blessing to see her beside me in the pew. We certainly fill the pew! I was shocked when I heard her singing. She really amazes me! Every time someone came over to meet her she stood to her feet and shook their hands, smiled, and said, "hello." I hope you understand how incredibly difficult that was for her.

I took the girls shopping on Saturday. Selah needed clothes. We went to Old Navy and Selah conspired with Rebecca for this photo.
We found some great deals! She got four pair of pants, several tops, three sweaters, a couple of dresses, socks, and a pair of tights. She did great!

Since we took down all of the Christmas decorations on Friday we also treated Selah to Chinese for lunch. She really enjoyed it. We got a chuckle out of her "fortune" from her cookie.
Saturday was spent shopping then completing the unpacking that began six days prior. Yes, I put that off for six days. But this is what I was up against.
Keep in mind, that was not everything.

I did want to share what we came home to a 3am Sunday after being gone for 17 days.........
I still cannot believe everything that was purchased for our family. We were given:

*2 gal milk                                 *jar of peanut butter
*4 boxes cereal                           *jar of jelly
*roll of paper towels                    *box of spaghetti
*package of toilet paper               *jar of pasta sauce
*10 lbs potatoes                          *large container of butter
*2 bags apples                            *celery
*1 bag oranges                            *2 bags baby carrots
*4 loaves bread                           *1 gallon of orange juice
*1/2 gallon orange juice                *2 pkg 18 count eggs
*24 bottles of water                      *cinnamon rolls
*several bunches of bananas          *large bag of frozen french fries
*4 boxes toaster strudel

I have a feeling I know who so graciously gave to our family. Please know how overwhelmed we were again. This was a life-saver for our family. The last thing I wanted to do was go shopping. This was better than perfect. Thank you so much. Please know that our family was so blessed by your huge hearts!

Then we had our sweet friends Caleb and Danae make dinner for us. All we had to do was pop it in the oven to bake the yummy pasta. 

Another friend, Karen, made us a delicious pot roast with potatoes and carrots. she included a cake, cookies, gallon of milk, fruit, and a few other goodies. 

We are so surprised at the sheer amount of people that are following our journey. This is an example of the numbers we have seen reading my blog.
Thank you all so much for your support. It may seem easy but it is not. We are living the reality of blindly following the leading of the Holy Spirit. 

Our hearts are full of joy!

I Peter 1:8     Whom having not seen, ye love; in whom, though now ye see him not, yet believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory:

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Finally Home........with Jet Lag!

Here are the girls the morning we were leaving China. We got up around 4am and waited for the breakfast room to open at 6am to get breakfast. We had only 20 minutes to eat before our driver was taking us to the airport.

Selah seemed fine. Then we got to the airport and checked our baggage and got our boarding passes to Korea. Selah shut down. It could have had something to do with the fact that the China police at the airport would not let her through. Poor thing. I went first and had no problem. I handed Becca her passport and she also made it through fine. Then Selah came. The police officer would not let her through. Since Becca and I had already gone through we were not allowed back. I watched as Selah was confused. Jeremy was not allowed up to accompany her. I admit I was a little afraid something was really wrong.

Finally, Jeremy went up to the next window and tried to explain what was going on. They did let Selah over with him. I guess they wanted to see her next boarding pass from Korea. Jeremy had those with him so crisis averted! 

We got to our gate and Selah just shut down. She refused to even respond to any of us. I think it was her way of just coping with the reality of what was taking place. She refused to look at Jeremy.
This sign was our ticket home!
We boarded our flight. Jeremy sat with Selah and I sat with Becca. We each had a stranger beside us. My stranger was super nice! He was Korean and spoke Korean, English, Japanese, and Mandarin. He sort of took care of us and gave me a brief lesson in the Chinese characters. He would ask for drinks etc for us. Great guy! He even gave me his business card and said if we were ever in Korea we were welcome to stay with him.
The flight began to take off and Selah took out her container of gum. By the time we were in the air she had about 9 pieces in her mouth. Jeremy reached over and put his hand on her lap. She asked, "What are you doing?" He said, "Hold my hand!" She did! Then she hung on for dear life. She held his hand for a very long time. For the first time in her life she had a daddy to protect her. And she must have felt secure.

We landed in Korea after almost 4 hours and went through security. She was much better after this.
We boarded our longest flight and she seemed great. Originally we were 20 rows away from Jeremy. However, Korean Air is so great. They were working to get us together. Then the man who was sitting in Jeremy's row asked the three people behind him if they would mind switching. Those three young people were on a missions trip with him and they were happy to move and allow us to sit together. This man was an orthopedic surgeon. He was returning from Thailand from a medical missions trip that he does every year. 

Knowing we had a doctor right there put my mind at ease. With this new heart issue and Selah, I felt good knowing there was a medical professional so close. We were surrounded with a terrific flight crew and a great group of new friends.

We landed in LAX and it got a little hairy there. Selah became a citizen when our plane touched US soil. We had immigration to get through. Our sealed brown envelope was ready to go. Then we saw the officer we were about to encounter. He just looked mean. And he was! Poor Selah. He yelled at her asking if she spoke English about three or four times. Any time Selah is in a large crowd she shuts life out. She was silent. I finally spoke up and told him she spoke very little to no English. I wasn't really lying. She had not spoken much to us. And at that point we could tell by her body language it was not happening.

He then refused to allow me and Becca to go with Jeremy and Selah to the immigration area. He insisted we go downstairs to get the baggage and Jeremy would stay with Selah for her paperwork. Do you have any idea how heavy our bags were? And how tired we were? I have to admit.....I was very angry. I did not hide that either. I made sure that officer knew how unfair that was. I told him it was ridiculous and we were a family. Finally another officer realized we were being separated and he said there was no reason for that and we could go back with Jeremy and Selah. Her paperwork took a long time but finally we were done.

We then got our baggage and walked for what seemed like every bit of 10 miles to the US Airways terminal. We checked in and got our boarding passes for the last three flights. Yes, I said three! 

Baggage checked.

Security checkpoint was uneventful. 

We were on our way home! a couple of hours.

We landed in Phoenix and mom texted me that she saw our flight was delayed. We checked in and waited, and waited. 

Here is how Jeremy and the girls spent their time.
And here......
And here......
Finally we were boarding an hour later.

That was a four hour flight. I was absolutely exhausted! We had already been up and traveling for over 24 hours.

We took off and both girls fell right to sleep and slept the entire flight. Jeremy again was separated from us a few rows back. 

We landed in Pittsburgh around 11pm. It was so good to be "home"! We got our stuff and got off that plane! We rode the train at the airport for the last time.
Our family was anxiously waiting in baggage claim.

I was so happy to have my other kids in my arms again! I think the feeling was mutual.
My sweet little one did not want me to put her down.
Selah had no idea what to do.
My dad and mom and my sister came to see us too! Jeremy's mom and dad, Jeremy's Aunt Mary, and brother also came. How sweet! 
She stepped back when the family came near but she dealt with it okay. I told her on the plane she had family that came to meet her. She agreed.

We finally got in our jam-packed van and drove three hours. This was only after our luggage was temporarily missing. We walked in the door at 3am. That was 37 hours after we started our journey! We were tired but happy to be home. Selah really was happy but this photo doesn't show.
Mariah was a bit grumpy. Can you tell?
While Jeremy and I were unloading luggage from the van I saw Selah sitting on the floor in the living room just touching and looking at the ornaments on the tree. There is so much I never even considered. We finally sent everyone to bed.
I know this isn't what everyone wanted to hear about but if I didn't write this down now I knew I'd forget. I'll get to another post soon. I am really fighting jet lag. 

We praise God for our new daughter. She is our newest blessing. Just as special as any of our other children. Please pray for her as she slowly adjusts to her new life.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

The Consulate, the Circus, and the Garden

We had our Consulate Appointment this morning. We met our guide, Miko, in the lobby at 7:45am and our driver took us over to the medical clinic for her to get our medical paperwork. From there we walked across the street to the US Consulate. 

It is in a new building since our last visit to China but the lines were no different. It is a surreal feeling to know that just because we carry a US Passport we are escorted to the front of the line.
The lines wrapped around the building. My guess is a couple hundred Chinese citizens wanting to get their visa to travel to the US. Absolutely no cameras allowed inside. So our sweet & wonderful guide, Miko, used my phone and took our photo. Then she held on to my phone so that it was not confiscated!
It was a brief visit. We probably spent only 30 minutes inside the building. We went up to the second floor, and we were the only ones in a rather large waiting room. Finally another family came. That was it! 

We handed over our documents once called up to the window. The super nice guy spoke in Mandarin to Selah and she offered her fingerprints as signature. For the first time she seemed excited to say yes in agreement to coming to the US. The man was so nice to her. Jeremy and I took an oath that everything we presented was true and accurate. We were given a few documents to keep then left the building.

The elevator is all glass and when we got on and began to go down, Selah let out a huge sigh. It is obvious that she is afraid of heights. We all laughed.
Today Jeremy took the girls down to the gardens surrounding our hotel and took their photos while I went to the Business Office to confirm our flights. The girls are not thrilled with so many photos! But.....too bad for them! 

It is rather chilly today. I am not complaining especially since many of our American friends have been dealing with the Polar Vortex. Selah brought it to our attention that the news here was showing the weather in the United States. Then she shivered!

Our Selah.
One of the hotel staff offered to take their photo. And I was not there!
More of the gardens.
It really is so pretty here.
The lobby is pretty spectacular as well.
We are longing for home at this point. I cannot wait to wrap my arms around our other four kids at home. A couple have been sick and when Mariah spoke with me via FaceTime the other night and said, "I want mommy!" I admit it hurt and I had tears in my eyes. She was sick and running a fever. It was the first time she told me that. 

We are trying to make lasting memories for Selah. Our guide suggested the circus for us since last year we took the boat ride/dinner cruise. It is a cross between the Cirque du Soleil and a traditional circus only on steroids!
We were not sure what to expect.
The acrobatics were phenomenal!
The animals were also terrific!
There was a diving show, a human cannonball, the Wheel of Death (motorcyles inside a steel cage), and animals. We saw elephants, a white tiger, a white lion, monkeys on bicycles, a hippo, giraffes, ducks, pigs, birds or many kind, horses, deer, flamingos, and probably a few I'm forgetting. 

Sometimes we forget what it must be like for Selah to suddenly join our family. Just the other night she was talking with us then asked, "What is your name?" It hit me like a ton of bricks. This poor child was taken from her school, foster home, and city. She was handed over to us an a very sterile civil affairs office and suddenly became our daughter. I never even thought of the fact that she doesn't know our first names. She knows her siblings but not ours. She has missed out on so much.

We are reminded daily how much of her childhood was stolen from her. She is very independent. She is not trying to disobey but her nature is to just go and do without thought of others. Just last night she wanted to cross the street alone. We were all walking down the sidewalk from dinner and she just hopped onto the street and began walking.

Jeremy quickly called to her and told her to come back with us. She did and even smiled. I think she just doesn't understand how families work. We care for her and it is our job to watch for her. She no longer has to have that burden. But she also has to learn that. It is just ingrained into her being.......for now!

We take such joy in the small things. She asked us the other day how to correctly pronounce her American name. She definitely is on her way to accepting us as her family. We noticed on her QQ account (Chinese Facebook) that she changed her screen name to Selah. We had no idea! That is a pretty huge deal!

She really is such a joy to have. We love hearing her broken English! It really is endearing to us. Because she is from southern China, Cantonese is her native tongue but Mandarin is the recognized language of China. There are two pronunciations of her name. If we say it just right she answers us in Cantonese and it sounds like "way". It is adorable! 

We have had quite a few laughs with the inconsistencies of the translators Jeremy has on his iPad. We asked her what the name of one of the programs on television was and she spoke into the translator. It translated,"I love you!" Obviously that was not correct and Selah knew it immediately and said, "No! No! No!" We all laughed. Jeremy now brags that she told him first that she loved him. 

But then last night Jeremy was speaking to her again with the translator and when Selah said something it translated, "You are stupid!" We all died laughing! Selah felt bad and knew it was really wrong but we laughed. Laughter really is great medicine!

Just this afternoon I take so much joy in the fact that while I was shopping online for clothes for her, she came over to my chair and sat on the arm. She leaned into me for a few minutes. We have to let her do this in her time. It is unbelievably hard.

We are definitely winding down our time here. She is aware that we leave soon and is fine with that. We are praying that her heart is ready for this. Only God can prepare that sweet heart of hers. I know she is afraid. She would never admit that though. 

Thank you all for your prayers as we are here. We have needed them and definitely felt God's hand in this through your prayers. Our daughter is loved by so many. One day I pray she understands how many lives she has touched. I cannot wait for you all to meet her. She will be very shy so please be patient. Keep in mind that we still have yet to hear her call us "Mama" and "Baba".  We are richly blessed as a result of this child. We needed her just as much as she needed us. We will never be the same and for that I am thankful.