Thursday, August 19, 2010

imperfect people ~ so, who adopts?

our first night in china we sat in a room with several other families also there to adopt. we had just flown from the other side of the world and we were all off schedule. most of us had entirely missed at least one night's worth of sleep. sitting around a big conference table with our guide, simon, we listened as he briefed us on what to expect in the next couple of weeks. simon went over paperwork. he went over what "gotcha day" would look like the next morning. he went over several checklists. everyone had the same glazed-over-half-awake look on their face. before we got up to leave he asked us to briefly introduce ourselves and our stories. one by one each couple or family took the time to quickly tell a little bit about themselves and the child they had come to adopt. no one said much. i mean it was just a snipit...just a taste. being a person who is very interested in stories, it left me wanting more. i exited that room with very little information. but i was exhausted from our trip and our flip-flopping of time zones. and i was overwhelmed with all the other details. i was even more overwhelmed with the knowledge that the very next morning we would meet our daughter for the first time. so names didn't stick. specifics didn't quite settle in. but, i did leave that conference room knowing the people we had sat with had stories. big stories. deep stories. we had only glanced across the very surface. in the next two weeks we spent great amounts of time with these people...and this became my chance to peer more closely into their lives.

these families were in china, like us, to adopt. so, who adopts? it is true that most people would agree it is such a "cool/neat/great/fantastic" kind of thing to do. i really have never had anyone come up to me and say, "why would you adopt? that is so crazy. what in the world are you thinking?" i know at times our adoption of bella has caused people to question us just a bit. but not really about the adoption thing ....i think it was more about the particulars of our story. (i.e. big, busy family...special needs child...that sort of thing). but for the most part everyone seems to agree adoption is great. i would also gather to say most people believe it is great...but great for someone else to do. it is great for those special kinds of people. have you ever watched mythbusters on discovery channel? are you familiar with how they set up a myth type scenario and attempt to bust it wide open? i won't be able to be quite so dramatic or creative in my writing...but friends, i'd love to bust wide open the myth only special kinds of people adopt. this is one of those little bitty half-truths which cause paralysis and total inactivity in our christian communities. it is so easy to sit back and pause on this half-truth: it is for someone else to do. i have a quote at the bottom of this blog, it reads: "the truth: 34% of christian families consider adoption but...only 1% of christian families actually do." have you ever considered it? what is it which moves us from consideration to calling? i'd love to know. there are things in my life which i considered. to which i almost felt called. i walked away from some of those things. i gave up on them. why? what was the difference? i can tell you in the case of bella, this was about God just pushing us all the way. He was driving this vehicle and we knew it from the start. it was His perfect and punctual orchestration. it is evident even in the way He used my very faulty wiring. my parents will tell you i was their most strong willed child. i wanted what i wanted and i wanted it My Way. that became clear before i was 18 months. they would never have described me as a sweet natured, easy going girl. nope, not at all. the more they told me "no"...the more i was determined to have that "no." now, i can tell you for a fact this hasn't always been a character trait which has brought me great success or easy traveling. it hasn't always been used for God's greater glory and my greater good. no mam - not at all. it has gotten me into a mess of trouble at times. BUT...could it be God used it just a bit in our pursuit of bella? when i heard she had been passed over by a few families...when i learned her case was somewhat desperate....when i spoke with the cardiologist from vanderbilt and she told me she would "not recommend we pursue this child...her health was too much a risk" all of those things brought out that determined-My-Way-wiring...that strong will. could God be using my ugly and sinful nature for something good? sure He could! He is God! He uses us despite ourselves. He isn't looking for perfect angels and perfect people to do His answer His exact His show His love. God uses us in the middle of our weak and imperfect state. i am always completely amazed by this fact. so often we think we have to be well equipped and ready for His calling. you've heard the phrase, "God doesn't call the equipped, He equips the called." that's it! let's face it, very few of us are equipped. and if we ever believe ourselves to be prepared and out! the truth is, we are all messy and messed up. let me remind you we pursued a girl with big medical needs...this wasn't anywhere close to my comfort level. just before leaving for china, tyler had surgery on his ear. i had to change the dressing on it a few days afterward. when my stomach did flipflops and my knees grew weak...i was more assured than ever i had not missed my calling as a nurse. i even thought to myself..."i have to do this with assurance and poise...i have to prove i can stare something medically challenging in the face and conquer it." oh foolish i was. how foolish i am. the truth was i was about 5 seconds away from gagging.
anyway, back to my mythbusting....
so...who adopts? (i realize i asked that same question an entire paragraph ago..sorry). in our two weeks in china we spent time with 12 other families in our specific travel group from our hotel. there were probably about 50-60 families in guangzhou city, however, adopting children. we know this because we sort of all followed each other around from appointment to appointment. we are all doing the same kinds of things and going to the same kinds of places. we were are own little rainbow community. we were pretty easy to spot. guanzhou is a huge city. 12 million people....but the adoptive families kind of stuck out. we got to know many of these other families in our two weeks.
pretty much every family was there to adopt a special needs child. special needs has taken over the world of international adoption in china. in china, waiting for a healthy child could take up to 8-10 years now. so truly most of the adoptions are of children with special needs. that is a phrase we aren't always comfortable with as americans. it makes some of us squirm and feel slightly unsure of ourselves. special needs in china though can be just about anything that is slightly off perfect. every one of the children adopted in our travel group had some kind of special need. these needs ranged from bella's heart condition to cleft palates. some of the needs were easily correctable with surgery. some of the needs might be longer term in therapy and care. there was no one category. none of these children were the same...but they were all beautiful. as bella runs around my house this morning all i can come up with is yes, she is absolutely special! without a doubt.

we got to know the phelps family while in china. they were adopting sam david. sam david is a 2 1/2 year old with spina bifida. he is their second child with s.b. we watched sam david go from being timid and tearful to secure and smiling while we were with this family. rebecca and mike phelps were so patient and loving with this little guy. he was their 4th child, their 2nd adopted child. they told us they had decided to go back to china and adopt another child with sb because "they knew the ropes." they had the right doctors lined up and they knew their stuff. why not? this time they brought their 7 year old, bennett, with them. bennett quickly connected with his new brother. it was magical to watch.
the thomas family was also there for their second adoption - child number 5. this trip they were in china to bring home chaning. chaning is a beautiful 4 year old girl who had been born with an anal atresia. she also just blossomed under the love and care of her family. when chaning was first placed into her mother's arms on gotcha day, she was a big old mess. crying and carrying on. she was old enough to sort of understand what was going on and it was tremendously hard. but within days, maybe hours, chaning had her arms around her mother's neck and the sweetest smile on her face. a rocky first hour turned into a deep and sweet connection. a forever connection.
the second week a family from arkansas joined our group. they brought with them all of their children: two children in their child in their late teens... and one daughter from china adopted 4 years ago... they were there to adopt a fifth child. they had children in college and high school and yet God had layed on their heart there was room and energy and excitement for two more young daughters from china.
there was a couple from hawaii adopting their first...
there was a couple from new jersey adopting their third...
there was a couple from alabama adopting their fourth...
i could write on and on about these amazing families coming to adopt children with special needs. each one of these kids had something different going on. each one of these kids had little hope remaining in a chinese orphanage. each one of these children blossomed in the days and weeks we were with them. i will never forget the faces of these children. i will never forget how i watched as the anxiety and fear literally melted right off of their little bodies. it is miraculous. who adopts children from halfway around the world? who adopts children from orphanages? who adopts children labeled as special needs? everyday people like you and me. everyday people who are ready to watch God do something miraculous in their lives.
friends, we live too much in a climate of that-is-for-someone-else-to-do. i know not everyone is called to adopt. i know some of you are called to support those who do, pray for those who do, cook for those who do. all of these areas are vital ministries to adoptive families. out of all the things we have ever been involved in, this is the one thing for which we have most needed our community. i can assure you, there is just no way we could have done this without the hundreds of people who have been praying and caring for us. we have had friends fundraise for us, plan events, make dinners, clean our house, buy us a year long supply of toilet paper and paper towels (loved that surprise), watch our children, do research, grocery shop. we have had friends who have written us notes, sent us emails, prayed with us, left checks taped to our door. we have had friends who have cried with us, dreamed with us, hoped with us. all of it. all of it was part of the amazing journey to bella. all of it was answering God's call to care for the least and for the lost. all of it was done out of a love and desire to rescue orphans.
we had talked about adoption for a long time before actually taking the step. i think that is true of most families. we spent a very long time swimming around in the WHAT IFS. what if we actually did this? what if it actually worked? what if we added to our family? if you've spent any time reading through this blog you know i have used it to work through some of these what ifs. early on in our adoption i came across a quote by turgenev. "if we wait for the moment when everything, absolutely everything, is perfect we shall never begin." nothing could be more true. we spend a lot of our life sometimes waiting for the Perfect Time. the Perfect Time to do a lot of things in life.  we wait for everything to slow down and everyone to be on board....we wait for signs and signals and something. we wait and we wait and we wait. and sometimes there is a time to wait. but so often we get stuck in our waiting...and our wanting...and our wishing.
i have heard myself say out loud, at some point things will slow down and i will _______________. go ahead and fill in the blank. i've said it so many times about so many things it is almost laughable. things don't settle down or slow least not in our home. sometimes perfect timing is very often found in the imperfect time. and sometimes God's perfect plan is carried out by imperfect people.

Friday, August 13, 2010

the new puppy syndrome

most of you have probably not adopted.  but perhaps many of you have experienced a new puppy at some point in your life.  do you remember the first few weeks? if you had children or if you were a child at the you remember the sense of  I Will Never Again Leave The Side Of This Dog, My Best Friend.  there is something magical which happens when a new puppy enters the scene.  kids get up early to play with it, walk it, feed it.  children race through chores to make sure they are first in line to pet it, wash it, water it.  new puppies can shake up even the most sedate and well ordered homes.  but then a few weeks go by....and mothers are left facing mutts in their kitchens.  mothers go eyeball to eyeball with these furry, family friends.  mothers are left picking off fleas and putting on leashes. mothers are found scooping food into bowls and wondering if the dog has been appropriately hydrated.  i know this feeling.  we usually hover somewhere around the 7 pet mark at any given time.  we've had more, we've had less...but 7 seems to be the lucky or looney number in our home on average.  i am certain if something ever happened to me the pets would all go into kidney failure within the first week.  no one in our home thinks to give them water.  no one.  so just for the record, i am not comparing bella to a puppy.  not at all.  but...bringing home a new sibling, baby or toddler, can sort of mirror the new puppy syndrome.  perhaps i am reaching a bit.  regardless, the kids are All About Baby least for the moment.
it was just two weeks ago today we left china. as we walked out of the hotel i thought to myself, "well, it will never again be quite the same."  it is hard to put words behind what those two weeks with bella looked like.  it was intense.  it was emotional.  it was special.  we had two full and somewhat uninterrupted weeks to bond with our new little girl.  as a mom of multiple children, i knew things would look very different when we arrived home and became an official family of seven.  it would still be, very much, intense, emotional and special...but different.  we were so ready to head home though.  so ready to see our other four felt like we had been gone much too long.  i truly felt almost desperate to see their faces. and so we came home. and, yes, it has been different.

i've already written about how quickly bella has transitioned into our family.  she immediately seemed to connect with each one of the children.  it has been amazing to watch.  i felt like our "gotcha day" happened all over again the day we arrived in atlanta.   i was ready to burst watching our four kids welcome their new sister.  these past two weeks have been filled with the good, the challenging and the wonderful. like with any major change,  there has been much to work out, work through and work around.   we were so jet lagged coming home that the first few days seemed a bit hazy.  for me, it felt a little like that sleep-deprived state of new motherhood.  around the 3rd night home i realized no one was sleeping in their own bed....everyone seemed to have shifted.  the four kids had all been sleeping in different rooms while we were in china...younger kids with older siblings, etc... i was trying to get bella to sleep peacefully through the night. her little internal clock was set on china time and so she kept waking up.  finally things have seemed to iron out a bit this second week.  but there have been other adjustments as we've added to our family.

once we got home, the kids began this great and fantastic outdoing of one another.  each one wanted to figure out bella's every need...her every want..her every wish.   so, all of a sudden she no longer felt the need to walk or even talk.  she just started pointing to things and saying, "uugghhh!" she figured out pretty quickly she would have at least 3 or 4 kids running to meet her demands.  i could see her wheels turning, "hey, this is pretty cool, i kind of like it here!"   a couple of days ago i overheard a conversation in the backseat of the car.  bella was whining for something and each child was certain they held that magic something.  each child was convinced they alone possessed the key to bella's complete and everlasting happiness.  i sat and listened to them all begin to bicker and argue.  as their debate grew louder, so did bella's whining.  i finally had to stop the car and say in my most emphatic mommy voice, "children! THIS is not why God brought bella to our home!"  everyone got kind of quiet...even bella.  (my emphatic voice can on (rare) occasion be successful).  i didn't want to shame my children.  i am rejoicing in the depth and breadth of their love for their little sister.  but i began to realize i had to teach them a little bit about what love looks like.  love is not spoiling and giving in and constantly pacifying little ones.   the past couple of days the logical part of my brain has reconnected and my veteran mother synapses have once again fired back up. i began to realize things might have to change a little bit.  i muddled through the dusty shelves of my parenting vocabulary and came up with the greatly tattered, but important, word:  boundaries.  it is time to set some boundaries. boundaries about bella and boundaries for bella.  rick and i have always been firm believers in them. they are necessary with kids of all ages.   but i have to tell you, at first it felt a little different with bella.  she has spent two years living in an orphanage. we don't know for sure what needs were met or ignored.  we have no idea how often her cries were answered.  so, initially, i struggled with this.  i just wasn't comfortable leaving her in her bed to "cry it out."   boundary setting may always feel a little different with bella.  i don't know.  but i do know She Needs Them.  all kids do.  actually all of us do.  the funny thing is, boundaries give freedom.  boundaries bring security.  i know this.   but i just had to let these two weeks be sort of a free for all.  but now it is time for miss-princess-pants to realize she is part of a family.  we are thrilled and delighted with her arrival...but she is Part of a Family.
in just a couple of days the kids return to school.  it is time.  i have allowed them to smother their new baby sister with loads of love.  they have bickered over who can sit next to her, talk to her, stand near her, feed her, hold her, rock her....even change her diaper!  i am so not kidding.  i know all this focus, attention and help will eventually die down.  remember my earlier discussion on the new puppy.    i know very well i will be the half crazed mother in about 6 months saying, "hey...can SOMEone pleeeaaaase come get bella, i need to make dinner or vacuum or trim my fingernails or SOMEthing."  i know this.  it happened with the 3rd child, the 4th will happen with the doubt.

in the meantime, it is time to add a little structure.  i have such mixed feelings about this.  we can't hardly look at her and not want to make sure her world is  pic-ture -per-fect.  i mean...we are all willing to bend over backwards for her smile and laughter.   i've personally witnessed six people act remarkably goofy all for a giggle.   we'll stop at nothing to see her big black eyes light up.  this is love.  this is adoration.  but, teaching her to fit be part of a do her share...well, this is also a kind of love.  and though some of you may disagree, 2 and 1/2 is not too young to understand this.  we are giving bella more than just a name and a welcome home party...we are giving her a family.  we are giving her the chance to be a  part of something bigger than she is.  now i assure you i am not adding her name to the chore chart this week. i have no expectations for her to take her turn at the dishes or plans for her to go out and get a paper route.  (does such a thing even exist anymore?)  i am just writing the time has come for her to understand we love her unconditionally.  we love her so much we won't allow her to grunt and stomp and demand her way.  even this sweet, sweet, precious girl has a selfish nature. i know some of you bella fans just might consider egging my house after reading that...but trust me on this.   it is just how we come.  no one is exempt.  we all, even orphaned children, suffer from the disease of MeFirst-ism..  i have even seen evidence of it already.  gasp!  i know.  much of me has wanted to say, "sure baby...whatever you want darling girl... ice cream for breakfast?  finger painting on the sofa?  fine china in the bathtub?  a pony? a peacock? a panda bear?  sure!  your wish is my command!" 

hear me on this.  we LOVE her.  we ADORE her.  we are HEAD over HEELS crazy for her.  we love her so much we want her to grow and thrive and flourish.  we love her so much we know she needs the firmness of our "no",  the holding of our hand,  and the safety of our arms.  there are moments where she will run reckless across the lawn and other moments where she will need to sit buckled in her stroller.  we might have days where we picnic on the kitchen floor and other days where she will have to sit secured in her booster seat.  i have to tell you this is never easy.  it wasn't easy figuring this out with our first child and it isn't easy with our fifth.  i am more convinced with the fifth though because i have seen it work. i have also, by the way, seen what happens when it doesn't work.  oh my.

i can't possibly leave this post tonight though without telling you i have a child beginning high school in just a matter of days.  talk about boundaries!  it is sort of amusing to me as i write this post about a two year old.  i really should be spending my words and energy discussing the security and safety of boundaries with teenage daughters.  i'll save that topic for another night though...

Saturday, August 7, 2010

bella's heart

since hearing about bella's complex heart issues last summer we have waited (not at all patiently) for the day we would take her to a cardiologist here in atlanta.   i was an english major- a teacher.  rick is a businessman.  neither of us is exactly well versed in subjects of biology. anatomy.  the heart.  i might be able to recite a sonnet about the heart, but i sure as heck couldn't explain how the organ actually functions. again, we had to be a little puzzled about God choosing us to go chase down a baby girl with chronic heart disease.  throughout this year i have stopped several times and asked Him, "are you sure?   Lord, are you sure it is supposed to be us?"  i'll definitely read bella poetry about her heart...but she needs so much more than poetry.

august 6th was the day.  if you've read through my blog you know that appointment had to be changed three different times as we waited for bella.   but finally bella was here and the day was here and we were on our way to see the highly recommended specialist, dr. sabino, at sibley heart center.  as we left the house bella only knew we were "going bye-bye." 

during her EKG bella was not at all happy with the wires and stickers and "things"  (remember, i am not a medical person) they put on her.  i am sure there are some memories in her little head of these items and i can't imagine they are pleasant.  anyway, she was comforted with bubbles and stickers.  but when we went in to do the ECHO/ultrasound, the technician explained bella would have to lie pretty still and it might take about 30 minutes to get all the pictures the doctor would need.  i kind of looked at her and thought, "she's two.  since when does a two year old lie pretty still, anywhere?  let alone on a strange table with machines beeping and humming around her."   we had no choice.  this was what we were waiting for.  this would be the thing that would finally give us answers to our long list of questions regarding her health.  her future.  we laid her down and i crawled up on the table with her.  the lights dimmed and elmo came on the TV in the ceiling.  our technician was amazing.  she kept a big smile on her face and used a soothing voice the entire time.  within 5 minutes bella was fast asleep.  asleep.  10 am in the morning and bella had fallen asleep on a table. shirtless. cold gel on her body.  an ultrasound probe running up and down her little chest.  she was asleep.  none of us could believe it.  this wasn't bella's nap time and she certainly wasn't in a comfy and secure place.  but asleep she fell.  the technician finished her pictures and video. dr. sabino came in all smiles.  we liked him immediately.  he was able to review the pictures, speak at length with us, and compare everything to the notes and files we had with us (scant info at best).  then he decided to do his own ultrasound pictures.  it was a luxury.  bella was still sleeping soundly and he took advantage of her quiet, still body.  he took his time and studied everything on the screen, the entire time talking to rick and me about what he was seeing and explaining all of it in detail.  all in all, over 45 minutes had been spent studying bella's heart.   dr. sabino finished and sat back in his seat.  at this very moment bella opened her eyes.   i am sure if rick hadn't been in that room with me, i would question myself on whether this really had happened. as i sit here this morning and type out the day's story i realize how unbelievable this sounds.   i would have to question myself....had she REALLY been asleep the entire procedure.  really?  only one explanation:   i knew God was listening to the prayers of countless friends and family members. there is no doubt.  none. you prayed for a peaceful drs appointment and that is what we had.  what a blessing.

that was a cool, no, make that very cool moment.  but the best is yet to tell.  after studying everything carefully, dr. sabino looked up at us and said the surgery done last summer in china was a "complete repair."
i wondered if i heard him correctly. he went on to explain, her heart wasn't ever going to be normal and fully corrected, but what had been done had addressed all three areas. (pulmonary stenosis, transposition and the VSD).  we didn't expect that.  the surgical notes we had received did not lead us to believe this in any way. we very much expected to bring her home and find out she needed more surgery. she needed something.   but the REV surgery was a sophisticated, french surgery and the surgeon had been very bold.  he didn't put a bandaid on her situation, he went in all guns blazing.  there is no doubt this surgery saved her life.  she was blue, actually purple, when she went into the hospital last july.  she would not have made it very long without something major.  and something major is exactly what she got.  we still don't know who the surgeon was, or where the surgery was done...we don't know the details.  we are working on finding out this information.   i would love to give this man or woman a hug.  i'd love to give them a picture of bella with her new family.  i'd love to give them a glimpse of her running through our yard or giggling on our floor. i'd love to show them the life they had saved. the life of my little girl.  maybe someday. 

back to dr. sabino. he was amazing.  he took the time to draw the diagram of what bella's heart actually now looks like.  very different from yours or mine.  the plumbing is all quite unique to bella.   but the good news is it works.  her heart has two successfully pumping chambers and everything is doing what it needs to be doing. (i am still not fully understanding all of this "doing"...BUT i am learning).  she will need to have a valve replaced possibly in 5-7 years because of growth.  the valve won't grow with it will need to be changed.  but that's it. nothing right now.  dr. sabino sat us in his office.  he looked into our faces and said, "hear me on this.  don't treat this child as fragile.  don't cardiac cripple this little girl.  she can do all the things other two year olds can do."  he was clear:  no limitations.  no restrictions.  no medications.  "let her be normal.  she is healthy."    oh friends, i can't tell you.  i just can't tell you what those words mean to this mother.  we never expected words so bold.   words so good.  words sounding quite so beautiful.   we know bella's heart will always be monitored...she will always have chronic heart disease....but she has been restored to health. 

throughout this year we are aware of the thousands of prayers which have been said for bella's heart.  we have heard our children pray daily for healing and protection.  we have received your messages and notes and words telling us of your prayers...the prayers of your children.  i know of two little girls in our circle of friends who have prayed each and every night for our little girl.  we have had friends come to our home to pray.  friends pray with us on the the car....i've had friends type out their prayers in email and inbox messages. it has been an amazing gift to our family.  we want more than anything for bella's story to reflect our God.  a God who listens.  a God who hears.  a God who desires to repair...restore...heal.    this story is not about a little girl who now has cute clothes and too many pairs of shoes.  this is not about bella blowing bubbles or eating an ice cream cone for the first time.  this story is about the God who created her and who sustains her and who will be very much glorified in her.

the story of bella has been a little dramatic.  a little captivating. i am looking forward to the day where i will write to you simply about bella learning to tie her shoes or bella learning to ride a bike. i am looking forward to rejoicing in her mastery of the ABC's or her ability to skip rope.  we have spent so much time this year on big getting her wondering about her heart.  sometimes we go through big things in life.   we've often felt like we were swimming in the bigness of bella's story.  but we know it is not where we are designed to live.  we were at this place to reflect God.   i have shared this story and this blog because i knew even a year ago this was not my story to keep private. initially that was my intent.  i started this blog to just keep my own personal record of bella's story.  i realized soon after, it wasn't mine to keep to myself.  i started to share it with just a few friends and family members and then finally relinquished it.  it wasn't mine to keep.   my prayer is that some of you were blessed by bella's journey.  my prayer is that some of you were encouraged.  even that some of you were motivated.  

there is this little sign in the stairwell going down to our basement.  it reads:  "home is where your story begins."  in some ways bella's story began when a young woman gave birth to her 2 and 1/2 years ago.  in some ways her story began when she was found in a hospital stairwell 2 years ago.  in some ways her story began when she received a life-saving surgery last july. and in some ways her story began when she came home to her forever family.  we are not sure exactly what we should call "the beginning"....we only know it has, indeed, begun...and with every beat of our own hearts we are thankful.  so very thankful.

"arise, shine, for your light has come,
and the glory of the Lord rises upon you...
your sons come from afar,
and your daughters are carried on the arm.
then you will look and be radiant,
your heart will throb and swell with joy." 
~ isaiah 60:1 and 4, 5

Tuesday, August 3, 2010


coming home.  homecoming.   welcome home.  home sweet homethere's no place like home.  these words and phrases seem to imply home is a place to which we return.  we've been there, left, and now come back.  the prodigal son returned home...dorothy and her dog, toto, returned home...even ET returned home.  these are just a few of the joyful examples of homecoming.  but what if you are not returning...what if you are just coming. coming home for the first time.  can it still be coming home?  absolutely!  after this weekend, i can write with assurance it is just as much a type of homecoming.  and it is certainly just as much a celebration.  on saturday, july 31st 2010, bella grace came home.  there wasn't a parade or a marching band and we didn't slaughter a fatted calf.   ruby slippers weren't involved and neither was a spaceship.  bella's homecoming took one year and 24 days.  it took approximately 4000 pieces of paper and at least 500 approvals.  it took a series of official stamps and a series of official shots.  it required us to uncover every corner of our life and disclose every dollar in our account.  it took about 26 hours of travel on two different airplanes.  but bella grace xue mcnatt did finally come home.  and home has never felt sweeter.  

some friends and our children met us at the airport.  bella's name was spelled out in large letters.  there were balloons.  but it was the faces of my children i will always remember.  i am not sure i've ever seen smiles that big.  we couldn't hug each other tight enough. close enough. long enough.  in the last few days before leaving china i was really struggling.  i was missing them so much it seemed physical.  i longed for them.  i longed to see them with bella. i could feel that longing in my limbs, in my shoulders, in my back.   my hands almost ached for wanting to touch them.  as i write this, i think it sounds kind of weird...but that's just how it felt.  when i was able to finally have them in my arms i couldn't get enough of them.  there was one moment in the airport where i had all three girls in my arms and i felt the ache begin to loosen.  and then began the celebration of their union with bella.  unbelieveable joy. it was hardly containable.  after traveling for more than a day we were heavily draped in exhaustion but there was this crazy exhiliration which kept bubbling up all day as i would watch all five kids together.  it seemed like we were moving through a dream.  i had dreamt many times of this very day and so it was this strange deja vu kind of thing.  i was captivated by all of it.

bella fashion by emily
we came home to find something better than a parade and a marching band...we found a clean house!  the kids and some friends had worked the entire day before cleaning every corner of our home.  emily, our oldest, had made a list and assigned everyone a different chore.  sheets were washed, floors were mopped, cupboards organized, carpets swept and rooms picked up.  it was amazing.  the benefits of going to china for two weeks and adopting are endless!   my sweet friend, michelle, had spoken with emily about a grocery list and she and her husband, randy, had shopped for groceries filling our pantry and refrigerator full of staples.  we had meals in the freezer and flowers on the counter.  the kids had also been busy with a few surprises.  they had shopped for gifts for bella, all of which were precious.  while we were gone they had been working on a special scrapbook.  the two girls who stayed with them, holly and lauren stone, had helped them put together a welcome home scrapbook for bella.  each child had designed their own page and written a note to bella.  what a treasure.  it is absolutely beautiful.  again, i highly recommend traveling to china and adopting.  no telling of what your kids are capable!  emily had also taken the time to sew an outfit for bella.  completely little girl chic.  i would have bought this in a is that cute.  anyway, we were blown away by our children and our friends. sorry if i sound like i am bragging about our children, just know this is not typical behavior.  what was most important was not the clean house, but that they wanted to bless us as we came home. we felt loved and encouraged.  it was good to be home.

bella. bella came into our home like she had lived there forever.  she didn't seem shy or overwhelmed.  not even when she met our 150 pound golden retriever.  she was clearly excited by it all.  but not fearful or even hesitant.  she ran from thing to to room...but she seemed to just be at home with it all.  again, we were amazed.  how could she just plop down in the middle of our life and seem to have always been there.  she was coming home.  this was just further affirmation of the fact that this was exactly where she was meant to be.  not that we needed more convincing.  we kind of knew this back in china.  but what joy it was to see her just fit right in like a tiny puzzle piece that had been missing.  the picture was complete.  and our joy was complete.   she played and laughed and enjoyed everything and everybody. she knew immediately she had the attention of 6 individuals and it was clear she liked it.  i watched as my four children tripped over each other trying to meet her needs or accomodate her wants.  they each wanted her all to themselves.  they each were worried that the other kids had had more time with her.  i quickly realized we were in need of an egg timer and whistle.  it was time to put on my referee jersey...not necessarily my favorite role as mother,   but it was all priceless to be watching.  i didn't even mind the bickering so much...they were all there.  all together.  all home.   at the end of the day i came down the basement to find all 5 of them and rick watching a movie together.  this picture is worth a thousand of my blogging words. bella was home.