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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.

How’s Everyone Adjusting?

3 October 2018

If you ask me this question in person I can’t say what kind of answer you will get.

I might smile and say something like, “We’re actually doing really well. Better than we had any right to expect.” And I would mean it, because we’re having a good day and I remember that things could very easily be much worse.



I might sigh and say something about having good days and bad days, and then try to laugh it off and change the subject. Or laugh it off and enforce an awkward silence until you either change the subject or ask a more specific question because my brain is fried. And I would mean it, because we really are having good days—when the boys play together and I get work done and homeschooling is super cool and Timothy comes home after a good, full day of work and I know what dinner is going to be—and bad days—when one boy doesn’t want the other one to look at him and road construction messes up our entire neighborhood and a medical appointment goes badly so I get yet another referral to yet another pediatric specialist and nap time is tearful and I get punched in the eye and potty training is still very much in progress and homeschooling is purgatory and I get very little work done and don’t know what I’m doing for dinner. (That’s not a random list from the past three weeks; that was yesterday.)

I might just cry.

So here are some actual updates.


He’s stellar. It really is a miracle.

We’ve been praying for him for over a year now, and God has heard.



There is grieving and sorrow and loss. It happens mostly at bedtime, and sometimes at nap time. We hold him (and it’s a miracle that he lets us hold him) and kiss him and whisper promises and prayers until it passes. The truth is, he will always have some sorrow and he will always hold that loss somewhere in his heart. But it will not overpower him and it will not define him.

There are also some insecurities and some trauma we are discovering and dealing with, which we expected. Food insecurity is a big one, and that’s okay. It will take time for him to feel confident and secure in the fact that he does not need to fight for food, so we just plan for longer meal times and always bring snacks.

He adores his big brother, and he seems to like Ba and me as well, so it’s easy to think we can deal with the rest.


All things considered—and I have to constantly remind myself to consider all the things—Niah is doing well too. It is hard to do what he is doing.  Read more…

Gotcha Day, Part 2

25 September 2018

[Part 1 is here.]

We got down to the lobby and our guide was waiting. She asked about our passports. Yes. And “all” of our paperwork. Yes. I hope.

“Okay. Then we go.”

We followed her to the SUV parked on the sidewalk outside the hotel and I wondered at the two totally different experiences we were having. To her, we were this week’s family; next week there would be another. Business as usual. To us, the entire world was about to change. We piled into the vehicle and I crawled into the back bench seat to sit with my man cub.



You don’t drive anywhere quickly in Guiyang.

“This neighborhood, by this intersection, about 40,000 people.”

And they were all out driving.

We tried to play it cool. We chatted about the moment, and then about the woman selling noodles from a cart, and then about a sculpture or building we were forced to stare at. I honestly don’t remember if the drive took two minutes or 20, but at one point, during a pause in the nervous chatter, Niah stared out the window and quietly said, “I’m glad it’s Gotcha Day.” And I held my breath so I wouldn’t burst into tears.

We pulled up beside a sunken plaza outside a huge office building. Down the steps, up the elevator, down the hall. I braced myself for the madness.

We stood outside the Children’s Welfare office doors as our guide knocked on the glass and motioned at a man standing inside. In the dark.

He tapped out his cigarette, hurried over to unlock the door, and flipped on a light. The automatic door slid open and we stepped inside.

It was silent.

We were alone.

Our guide directed us to dusty, black leather couches in the waiting area just inside the door. We sat down and just stared at each other.

The four or five workstations behind the front counter were empty. The hallway that seemed to snake around to the left was dark. The only sound came from traffic and construction far below the window that had been left open.

“Is it just us?”

“Ah … yes. No other family today.”

Curve ball.

I was prepared, at least I had tried to be prepared, for noise and chaos and distractions. It never occured to me that we might be alone. Just our family, the foster family, and an official or two whom I guessed would have to turn up at some point. I was prepared for madness. I was not prepared for awkward.

We were 15 minutes early. The foster family was on their way.

How do you pass that time? Do you try to prepare yourself? Try to distract yourself? My stomach was in knots and had I been alone I probably would have been writhing on the couch. We watched high-rise construction out the window and tried not to think about the fact that our son, whom we have never met, could walk through the door at any moment.

And every time the elevator down the hall rang, or the sliding doors opened to admit an employee, or our guide got a text message, we jumped. We grabbed for phone cameras and toy cars. We sat up. We smiled awkwardly. We looked for each other.

The man who runs the foster program arrived and, after a few minutes, told our guide that the family was stuck in traffic. They would be about 10 minutes late.

The man cub was bored and energetic. Husband was tired and tense. There was a little more life in the office as employees prepared paperwork, but it was all done in low voices and soft movements as though someone in the next room were dying.

Fifteen minutes came and went and there was another text message. They missed a turn, and were turning around. Turning around in that traffic is no simple task.

Our guide ushered us back into a conference room, “We do some paperwork while we wait.”

Yes please. Please give me a task to do right now.

The room was bigger and set up for business meetings. Couches and chairs lined three walls and a projector screen was pulled down over the fourth. Eight long tables formed a rectangle in the middle, surrounded by black, plastic chairs. There was another door opposite the one we came through.

The man cub explored the room. Husband kept the phone camera ready and positioned himself with a view of both doors. We didn’t know where they would come in. Our guide set a stack of paperwork and a fingerprint ink pad on a table and said we could do one parent at a time. I was first.

We sat and went over paperwork. She translated. I checked passport numbers and addresses and name spellings. Everything had to be signed and then stamped with a red fingerprint.

Doors occasionally popped open, causing us all to spring to life, but it was always just an employee bringing in paperwork or asking our guide a question.

Then, as we signed and stamped there was movement outside that other door. It was frosted glass and stopped a few inches short of the floor. One set of feet walked by, then another, then a third very small set. There was shuffling in the hallway outside, the first set of feet reappeared, and the door pushed open.

And there they were. Faces I knew well from WeChat and from pictures I’d gotten from our Ohio fam were suddenly smiling in front of me, and there he was. Holding grandma’s hand, looking about how I was feeling—a little solemn, only slightly scared, mostly nervous.

I remember feeling a little relieved at seeing him, because it really was him. He looked exactly the same as the pictures and video. I hadn’t been worried that it wouldn’t be him, necessarily, but it was, in a weird way, a relief to feel like I knew him—at least a little bit, or in a small way.

We talked and exchanged gifts. Man cub gave his new brother the race car picked out for the occasion and the two quickly fell into driving it off tables and crashing it into a bobble head doll they found in a corner. The giggles were heavenly.

The foster family had a long drive home, so after they’d answered all our questions about nap times and potty training and favorite foods—and official pictures had been taken—they asked if they could quietly sneak out while the boys played. It seemed cruel, in a way, to expect them to just slip away after four years, and I almost insisted on goodbyes …



But then I realized they had probably done their goodbyes, and they would be the last people who would want to create a scene, and the boys were having a fine time. So they left quietly. And then it was just us—our family of four—and our guide finishing paperwork.

When it was time to go, we got our things together and Husband turned to Jude. He held his hands out, but close to his body, smiled, and said, “You wanna come with me?” Jude looked at each of us, let me help him put on his little backpack, and raised his arms up to his new daddy.

Husband picked him up, and we left. Together. No screaming. No crying. No clinging. We went down the elevator, out to the van, and back to the hotel. (Where the crying came later, but that’s another story.)



We left that morning with one son (and one in our hearts) and we came back with two. This little boy whose picture caught our attention in an email so many months ago, whom we ran through downtown Chicago for, whom we worked and fought and trained and fundraised for, whom we prayed and prayed and prayed for … was here in our arms.

We knew it was only the beginning, and that “the adoption” was still far from “over” (if it ever really ends), but … what a beginning.


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 alleys 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…