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Our Impossible Adoption Story

If you're looking for the unbelievable account of how "impossible" became "done" in 5 business days, start here.

Gotcha Day, Part 1

24 September 2018

It’s one of those rare things that you prepare yourself so much for, even though you know nothing can really prepare you.

Sunday, August 26, we flew from Beijing to Guiyang (gwee-YANG). Our city guide met us at the airport, got us checked into the hotel, made sure we had everything we needed, scanned my WeChat QR code so we could be in touch, pointed out some places for food, and said she would be back around 12:30 the next day to take us to the Children’s Center.

“To meet your baby.”

Our appointment was for 1:30.

This hotel was nicer than the one in Beijing, which was a relief. We connected VPNs, unpacked a few things, and went out for a walk to get our bearings and scout food options.



Guiyang is a big city and, like most of the China that we saw, very densely populated. Most of that evening is a blur. We noted a couple of dumpling stands, stepped over small streams of sewer water flushed up onto the sidewalk, studied pictures of noodle bowls on restaurant walls, and peered down long allies that were probably gateways to other realms.



I think we eventually found the sidewalk stand that we would come to (affectionately) refer to as, “the dumpling guys,” and managed to communicate an order and answer some, “Where are you from?”-type questions that one of the men translated on his phone.

At some point I’m sure the five year old got a bath and paperwork was triple checked and we eventually went to bed.

Monday, August 27, was to be “Gotcha Day.”

It was also the first day of our trip with no morning appointment (our previous weekend in Beijing had been culturally amazing, but very, very busy), so I was looking forward to sleeping in a little bit.

But that was not meant to be.



I accepted that sleep was over and laid there in the stillness. Thinking.

Thinking about everything that I had read and been told about this day.

“Just plan on it being a very crazy, unpredictable, stressful day.”

Neither of the other families in our travel group, from our adoption agency, were adopting from the same province, so they would not be there. But we knew there would likely be other families from other agencies.

There would be other kids meeting forever families for the first time. It was impossible to say how many. Along with nannies and orphanage workers, possibly foster families and other children who were not yet being adopted. It would likely be noisy. I’ve seen pictures and videos of the madness.

“Every first meeting is different, because every situation is different.”

Some kids smile easily at an offered toy or gift. Some are compliant but obviously awkward. Some kick and scream and cling to nannies or other familiar faces.

We had been prepped. We had a new race car ready to go, because we knew he likes cars. We had talked Niah through being the one to gently offer it when we told him to go ahead. We knew another child would likely be a more welcome first contact.

If he clings to a caregiver, we were supposed to ask an employee or our guide to be the one to peel him away so that it would not be us. I prayed they wouldn’t try to make him hug us.

There would also be more paperwork. Did I have all the copies ready? Did I have the list of documents to collect today and tomorrow? And which ones are supposed to have his English name on them? And what about the gifts we brought? When do we give those, and how do we know?

I stared at the dark ceiling in the hotel and recalled all the photos and videos I had seen of other Gotcha Days—as though I might still find a clue in the background that would unlock all the mystery for me—until the boys started to stir.

As we got up I tried to pretend that my morning routine was the same as every other day. Then I tried to distract myself with being amazed at the enormous breakfast buffet that the hotel offered.

But then there was nothing left to do but check paperwork (again) and wait. The boys eventually went out for a walk, and I flipped open my Kindle to find worship music.

I knelt on the floor between the beds and quietly sang, “It Is Well” until I believed it again.

Grander earth has quaked before
Moved by the sound of His voice

Are we doing the right thing? What if he just hates us? Do we eventually just carry him out of the building screaming? Am I really ready for that?

Seas that are shaken and stirred
Can be calmed and broken for my regard

Is Niah ready for this? Did we prepare him enough? What if they never get along? What if they’re bitter at each other for their entire lives?

And through it all, through it all
My eyes are on You
And it is well
With me

Are we good enough parents for this? Are we good enough people for this? Can we really help him heal? Can we really pull off being a multi-ethnic family?

So let go my soul and trust in Him
The waves and wind still know His name

Eventually I had to choose a voice to listen to, and I chose to remember the miracles that had brought us that far. I played the song again.

The boys came back and we went to get dumplings.



We ate (as best I could with a stomach in knots), prayed, and took the elevator down to the lobby to meet our guide.

Part 2 

Captain’s Log: Day 354 – Over and Out

20 August 2018

The crew and I are finalizing preparations to leave this location and embark on the next leg of our journey. It has been almost a year since we landed here, and the crew has made some outstanding progress. We did not originally anticipate leaving this area so soon, but the situation has progressed and it’s time to move.

Preparations are nearly complete. The crew is cautious, but energetic and optimistic about the journey ahead. No one is under any illusions that the journey will be easy, but the crew is determined and I am confident we will be successful.


We are not sure how much access we will have from China. I’ve gotten conflicting reports, but we’re not super worried about it. We’ll see when we get there. Here are the best options if you want to check in:



If we can post any updates or pics, they will probably be on my Insta. If you’re interested, make sure you’re following me @estherproject. If you’re not on Instagram, you can always check online too.



Additionally, my mom will be updating the Facebook page periodically. We have a more reliable communication channel with her, so even if we can’t post updates directly, we can send some to her. She will post what/when she can on the page, so follow that or check in!


Some things people have been asking.

Q: Can I help with anything while you’re gone?

A: I think we’re all set. A friend will be house sitting, so we’re not worried about anything at home.


Q: When will you get Jude?

A: Monday, August 27 (which will be Sunday evening here at home)


Q: What do you need when you get back?

A: Time. There’s no telling how this transition is going to go, because every kid is different. Please don’t be offended if we miss events or tell you No for days or weeks (or months). Being safe and loved is not enough for a child who has experienced what Jude is about to go through, he needs to feel safe and loved before we can move forward. And you can’t schedule that. When he’s ready for people and crowds and playdates and parties, we will let you know.


Q: What are you going to do about the language barrier?

A: Translation apps and baby sign language


The one thing we really do need is prayer.

  • For Jude — He is about to experience a really, really hard thing. Yes it’s for the best. Yes God’s hand is all over it. Yes it’s going to work out in the end. But his little heart is going to hurt worse than any little heart should ever have to. Please pray for peace and comfort. Pray that he cries when he needs to cry, despite what anyone may have told him about “being good.”
  • For Niah — First (really, really long) plane ride, new place, new food, lots of activity, lots of waiting, only-child-gets-new-brother … It’s not going to be easy on him either.
  • For Husband and I — Patience, grace, and strength. There’s a lot to do, a lot to remember, and a lot at stake. We have a lot of help on the ground, but still. There are also going to be a lot of feels and a lot of stress.
  • For logistics and safety — Catching all the flights, getting all the paperwork right, packing all the right documents, avoiding illness and food poisoning …

Your prayer support has gotten us this far, I have no doubt, so I know it will get us over the finish line.

Here we go!


Letters to My Sons, Part 2: The Didi

9 August 2018

My sweet Jude.

I am so, so sorry.

It feels like I shouldn’t say that. Like some standard or some text book or some unspoken expectation is standing in the shadows, just out of frame, gesturing at me with wide, angry eyes to keep quiet about it. To smile and say the safe, happy things. To point at the future when we’re all healed and happy and whole and together.

But I can’t.



I am standing on stage, after almost a year of rehearsal, in front of a room full of empty chairs except one—except yours—and I am terrified. Because my heart is breaking. Because I see you smiling at me, but there are tears in your eyes. And it draws out the tears in mine, and I choke on the words I want desperately to say:

I am so, so sorry.

I am sorry for what I’m about to put you through.

You will spend your fourth birthday in a government office, being signed into the care of strangers. On the one hand, I can see Providence at work in that, and I hope that someday you will too, but in a couple weeks I don’t think it will feel like destiny. I think it will feel like a kind of death.  Read more…

Adoption Update: Travel Plans, Timelines, and Panic

6 August 2018

I owe you an update.

Everything We Were Waiting on is … Done

True to form, everything went super duper fast.

Last time I updated, we were waiting for our “Article 5” approval, which could have come any time from then (the 17th) to July 25. It came the next day, on July 18.

Then, we had to wait for Travel Approval, which could take, “up to three weeks.” Three weeks from the 18th would have been August 8. It came in three business days, on July 23.

Our agency was already putting together two travel groups for China when we got the call. We could leave August 15 or August 22. I wanted so badly to say the 15th, but I knew we would need that week – to prepare things at home, to hopefully get another grant in, to try one more fundraiser, to get myself responsibilities at work handed off well, etc.

Travel Arrangements



Next we had to book airfare, which, of course, is more complicated than just booking airfare. I’ve purchased plane tickets before, but nothing is that easy.

We needed to arrange airfare, send the itinerary to the adoption agency so they could review and approve, and then book/confirm. Our coordinator recommended a couple travel agents that they frequently work with, and while I’m not generally one to use a third party for something I can do myself, I thought it was worth investigating.

I looked up both agencies and Adoption Airfare has a big “Get a Quote” button at the top of their homepage. (Excellent UI, guys.) I filled out the short form and in a few hours was talking to one of the most helpful, communicative individuals I’ve ever met in my life.

He found us an itinerary. I sent it to the agency. Our travel coordinator pointed out that we would be landing just before our first day of sightseeing. “You could go straight to your travel group, or you could miss your first day of sightseeing.” I didn’t want to do either of those things, so the travel agent moved some things around and we got all the thumbs ups.

We leave for China Tuesday, August 21 and we’ll be back Friday, September 7.  Read more…

Letters to My Sons, Part 1: The Gege

2 August 2018

My meatball. Man Cub. Baby Therst. Kid Therst. My “merciful gift from God.”

You are five-and-a-half years old and for the last (almost) year of your life we have been talking a lot about “brother.” One of my favorite parts of this whole crazy adventure has been watching you own China and then slowly fall in love with your “didi.”



Since we saw his face and read his file a few months ago, we’ve been talking about him even more. We’ve been telling people about him and getting excited about him and planning for him, and you have been right there with us.

But I know there’s something else happening in your heart too. Something you’re probably not fully aware of yet, although you will be in the coming months. I wish there was a way to prevent it, or even to establish a step-by-step plan for dealing with it, but I don’t think there is.

It started when we first got Jude’s file. I’ll never forget the moment. We sat around the table and I read the list of his developmental milestones off the computer. “Can recognize and count numbers. Can recognize basic shapes and colors. Can read some characters …”

We were excited—not because these were somehow outstanding achievements, but because they were normal. We hadn’t dared hope for “normal.”

But you made a calm, unaffected comment that shattered my heart:

“Huh. He’s better than me.

Daddy and I protested and explained and encouraged and hugged, although you didn’t seem too upset about it at the time.

Still, I saw it.

Several passing comments since then have reared their ugly faces, as though just to let me know they are still around.

And then the other night you laid in bed and asked me how I could still love you the same and also love Jude. Read more…