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Sunday, September 20, 2015


We are alive.  I swear we are.  Only we've been drowning in adjusting and bucket lists and now back to school.  All summer I drank the lie that once the big kids got back in school I'd have time to write, but there are still the smallest Smalls and now no one to else to entertain them, to answer the million queries they throw at me all day, until 3:15 when Grant's bus pulls up and I fall on him like an addict, craving anything akin to adult conversation, while the littles continue to chirp around me like drunken Mina birds.  I've never seen anything like it.  We play the quiet game in the car and no one lasts past Go.  I'm serious.  They are horrible at the quiet game.  And so we go to Target nearly every day because there is so much to see and other people to answer.  Except Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday mornings when they go to preschool.  All the first time moms are still waving and taking pictures when I throw my two into their classrooms and burn rubber out of the parking lot.  I am on the clock.  I have 140 minutes in which to remind myself that I can do this.  140 minutes in which to slow my breathing and not answer any questions.  Some days I just sit in my car and read.  Away is a beautiful place.  But so is together, which is why I'm nearly always ready to collect them again and hop back on the crazy bus, Maggie saying Mama every three seconds and Abe, with his two modes: asleep and loud.  They are my jam.
Back to school gets harder every year.  The forms!  The multiple checks written out for very small amounts, but never able to be added together in one convenient check!  Why is this?  The get to know you activities that involve brown paper bags and small object gleaned from around the house!  And, for Lulu, first grade means spending the first two weeks celebrating colors.  A different one each day.  Wear it, bring it.  By orange I've lost all will to live.  We.  Have.  No.  Orange.  This is not an accident.  There are certain colors I don't buy.  Orange is one of them.  Only 4 people in the world look good in orange and none of them lives here.  And orange is closely followed by brown.  I can't even.  Last week on green day I laid out no fewer than 7 possibilities for her show and tell.  It was a veritable buffet of green.  She wanted none of them.  Not even Peter's green LAX athletic supporter.  And so she went to school with a soft guy who had a bit of green marker on his fur.  This is no longer my problem.
Tessa has started the recorder.  Peter has started the trumpet.  Why do they hate me?  I missed all five curriculum nights.  If you miss one, you have to miss them all or they count it against you.  The kids, they count it against you.  Besides, with five different curriculum nights and Dan gone for 4 of them I either had to ditch or hire an au pair.  It will probably be on our permanent record along with dismal attendance and Lucy's altered Kindergarten schedule.  It'll probably mean my kids don't get into college, but we have attachment issues anyway, so college was always a long shot. And since college is a million years away, at least (shut up), I'm choosing not to think on it.  Especially on a day like today when the sun shone so bright and we hopped on bikes and ending up very far away and loved nearly every second of it.  And so I tucked 6 Smalls into bed tonight, sore legs and sweet smelling hair, gave them their blessings and said one of my own.  Because these days, they threaten to eat me right up, but I'll take em because they were never promised to me.  They are all grace given by a Father who sees our needs and fills us so full we nearly pop.  A Father who bids us sit still for a sec in the midst of the madness and give thanks for these full days.  A Father who meets us on the floor on those hard days when we've buckled under the weight and let our ugly leak out and who lays there with us while we have a good cry and then bids us back at it, to the work we've been called to.  As completely mad as this season is, I find myself so thankful.  Even if it is orange day tomorrow.
This is me being real.  And hoping an orange hair bow from halloween is good enough.

Saturday, May 16, 2015


They are lined up on the shelf, or will be as soon as I get around to doing Lucy's.  These albums with hard spines and shiny pages, chronicling their starts, my Smalls.  Filled with glossy pictures of the days following their births, first encounters with siblings, grandparents, family, friends.  My kids spend hours lying in sun puddles poring over these pictorial accounts of how it all went down and I never realized how precious those albums were until I had my China babies who lack them.  No birth pictures, save a grainy black and white finding picture taken at the police station.  No record of how their mama felt or who came to visit.  No list of gifts given or weepy snaps of wonder filled faces seeing them for the first time.  Just a one inch by one inch photo and an address of their finding spot. They come with nothing; literally the clothes on their backs.  Maggie also had a rattle, all the little plastic pieces broken off so only the ring remained.
But adoption, if nothing else, is a redemption story.  And so our birth pictures look like this:

No stripey blankets to secretly steal because they swaddle so well.  No balloons shaped like bears.  Just us in a Chinese Government office becoming 7.  What came before us will always be a part of her story.  A vital part.  And we will tell it to her.  But her birth happened this day.  And the day we walked off the airplane in Grand Rapids, MI and all our family and friends were waiting.  That was her birth story too.  And someday our China babies will wonder, of course they will wonder, if anyone ever really wanted them at all.  They will be trying to make sense of the cruelty of being left and they will wonder and we will tell the story of their adoption birth and we will show them the pictures and we pray it helps them understand how very very much they were wanted.
Which is why I've asked a dear friend to photograph at the airport.  Walking off to a crowd and a photog all feels a bit showy, no?, but please hear me on this: we want nothing to do with ticker tape parades or fanfare.  We are deserving of neither, but are only simple sheep doing what our shepherd has bid us do.  But we do desire, very much, to record that moment when everyone who has loved our China babies home, who has supported us and loved us and who have wanted Maggie and Abram to join the family finally lay eyes on them.  And so we asked for professional pictures, not as a record of how brave/obedient/philanthropic we are, but as proof to them, to our China babies, that they are wanted.  Nothing says that like a crowd of people waiting for a first peek.  A family who cheers when they see you for the first time, running down that hallway.  This, then, will their birth story.  And I want to fill an album with it to join the others on the shelf, to be opened in a sun puddle, feet crossed and lips pursed.  So if you join us at the airport, please know that you are sharing in Abram's birth story.  If you have prayed him home, please join us and give him the gift of proof of his wanted-ness. Just get out of my way, please, until I have my girls in my arms.
This is me being real.  And challenging you that if photography is a gift for you, then offer your services to help an adopting family somewhere record their child's homecoming.  It's a beautiful way to care for orphans and to give tangible proof to the redemption work that happens when a child becomes one less.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015


We leave day after tomorrow.  I can hardly type it.  The suitcases are bulging with everything we could possibly need for the next two weeks.  Which means we've probably forgotten something really important like underwear or deodorant.  But none of that will matter as long as we have our boy.  
Flying away from my girls will be the hardest hard.  My beautiful sister wrote this to me, "It is a very hard and very good thing you are doing, and you can't do the good without engaging the hard, and that must cause you pain."  It does indeed.  I have found myself watching my girls this week and crying silent tears at the thought of flying away from them.  It seemed easier when we were leaving all three, but it's clear Maggie needs to come and it's just too darn expensive to take them all.  China is not for the faint of heart and they've been once.  They have wonderful babysitters and a Nana and Papa who have strict instructions to rest up so they can be ON when we land.  We will need their help more than ever when we get home.  
Friday morning we fly to Chicago, to Beijing and then to Hohhot, Inner Mongolia.  It's about 24 hours of travel and with Peter and Maggie both sick as dogs right now, we could really use some prayer coverage.  
Sometime on Monday, May 4, XingYou Chen will be brought to our hotel and given to us.  The next day he will officially become Abram XingYou Vos.  We will stay in Hohhot until Friday morning when we'll fly to Guangzhou for the rest of our time.  Medical exam will take place on Saturday with our consulate appt on Tuesday morning.  On Wednesday afternoon we will be given Abram's Visa and will be free to leave.  We will fly to Beijing late Weds and then home via San Francisco and Chicago on Thursday the 14th.  
We need you, prayer warriors.  
~This trip is taxing at best, a bit of a killer with young kids.  Maggie is a wild card.  Pray she feels well as she is a cuss when she's sick.  In fact, will you pray for health for all of us, including Lulu and Tess?
~Pray for our goodbyes on Friday.  I can't even.  
~Pray for our girls being left home.  For their tender hearts and that the time speeds by until we are together.
~Pray that the seeds of adoption will be sown as we share our journey with whoever is crazy enough to listen.  This is work we are all called to do if we claim to follow Jesus, this caring for orphans work.  Pray it gets done.
~Pray for unity for Dan and I.  That this bring us even closer together.  That satan's hand is stayed as he seeks to break us down in myriad ways.
~Pray for our Abram boy.   That his heart will be prepared for the incredible upset he is about to face.  He has known such loss already, ask Father to heal his heart as he knits him into our family.

Thank you, dear ones, for your support.  It means the world to us.  We are terrified and anxious and thrilled and a million other things all rolled up.  Bless you for putting up with that mess.
This is me being real.  Pretty positive Maggie has been unpacking things over the last few weeks and squirreling them away in places I'll find when the kids move out.  Please let it not be perishable of expensive.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015


This boy.  He has no idea what is about to hit him.  No idea that in a few short weeks, Lord willing, he will be orphan no more.  That he'll belong to two bros and three sisters and 20 Kevins and a Keloid scar named Steve.  And a mom who defrosts Lucy's hot dogs in baggies in her arm pits while making everyone's lunches.  He has no idea the chaos and beauty and sheer lunacy that is this family.  That we regularly drag our kids to Ann Arbor just to buy peanut butter and popcorn, that laundry gets cleaned but not folded, that there are more toys in the yard than in the garage most days, despite ridiculous threats.
Y'all, we might be two weeks away from having him in our arms, his chubby cheeked, curly lipped self (yes mom, he does sort of look like Grant.  Sort of.)  Father is throwing open doors and showing me once again that my trust is barely enough to keep my lips above water and yet, his hand, it's always there, pulling me away from the abyss of my doubt.  I told my sister this week I feel like a remedial student in trust school.  Totally failing that class most days.  Laying in bed, wondering if Father will answer the big prayer to get us there in time for his birthday on May 7, doubting wether all the pieces will fall in.  And if they don't?  Father will still be on his throne.  Because the delivery part is not my deal, just the go part.  So I'm packing like a madwoman.  Thinking and over thinking how many NoGii bars and Aldi's dark chocolate and beef sticks these people of mine need to survive another China trip.  Wether he'll need pull-ups.  If his buns are squishy and how soon it'll be before I feel comfortable giving them a little squeeze.  Whether his eyes are the same black as his sisters and how they'll get along.  How long it will take to hear him say mama and how badly it'll wreck me.  If my girls will survive two weeks without us and how wicked sad I'll be to give them some last sugar before I head to the airport.  Oh my stars, can't imagine walking away from their sweet selves.  
But there is this: our boys needs us and I would move heaven and earth for any of my children, Chen XingYou being no exception.  And so we'll pack twenty deodarants for the orphanage workers (don't judge me) and we will buy our plane tickets in lieu of taking the kids on a smashing vacation this summer and we will walk away from two people we love most in the this world, leaving them in such capable hands, to go and redeem another that we love most.  
Because we have been called for such as him.  Cannot wait.  
So we wait for our Travel Approval to be issued.  
And you'll know when it happens because we will be shouting it from the rooftops.  Us and the Smalls, who keep reminding me that this is family work by their eager anticipation and, in Lu's case at least, their sometimes funky moods as they get less than all of me, my mind split in seventeen hundred million different directions over seven thousand miles.  This is family work.
This is me being real.  Admitting to you that I sent Dan to take the kids out to dinner even though I already had flank steak marinating in the fridge simply because I needed to hear myself think for one hour.  Admitting that one hour was woefully inadequate, but happy to see them run through my back door anyway.  Can't wait till those 5 become 6.  Slightly terrified of when those 5 become 6.  Just being real.

Monday, March 30, 2015


We are coming off a couple rough weeks here.  I spent one whole nap time a day last week crying on the couch.  Crying and praying and reading my Bible and swearing I couldn't do this another second and then feeling Father assure me that I, in fact, could.  It's just been hard.  Hard, y'all.  This girl, she's the world's teeniest terrorist and sometimes we think she was sent here to undo us.  She controls us from her chair, set high on the counter, pointing at things faster than we can retrieve them and not really wanting them anyway once we do.  And just when we think we've got this bonding thing nailed, she gets sick or we go away for dinner or something and we realize again what complete idiots we are.  What utter dolts.  We know nothing.  She is king.  We are her serfs.  All bets are off with this one.  A wise woman once likened three year olds to drunken bipolar trolls.  Yes.  Add in inability to speak and the incredible adjustment from a life of neglect and near starvation to a totally foreign family and I think we're getting close.
This baby, we love her so much.  I ache with it.  She spent the better part of last month mourning something.  Our five day escape?  Some hurt of her past, just remembered?  We'll never know.  But she reacted fiercely, holding her food in her mouth for hours, refusing to swallow and losing two whole pounds, while I stood for hours by her chair, trying to coax her favorite foods down, tears rolling down my cheeks, growing angry and sad and hopeless in turns.  And she wants nothing to do with daddy in those sad times.  Wants only to be held by me, which is beautiful, but sometimes threatens to suck the life right out of me.  I lost count of how many times I tripped over her in those weeks, her needing always to be 3 centimeters close, always.  I shut the door of the bathroom, desperate for 5 minutes of solitude, only to open it minutes later and find her standing, silently, on the other side, self soothing, right arm rubbing left elbow, rubbing head.  It's her safe place, that rub.  And half of me wants to scream while the other half wants to cry with her.  She has been hurt.  There's no question of that.  Our baby has been hurt bad and we are only beginning to help her heal.
And I'll be real, since it's sort of my thing, and say that in my ugly moments I have looked at this child, whose progress seems so slow, who demands the lions share of my time and energy, I have looked on her with ugly resentment.  She has cost us so much time, money, energy.  We have given her everything.  And so a couple weeks ago, I collapsed on the couch after watching her refuse another meal, after laying her down with blankie and George and telling her I loved her.  I collapsed, wailing to Father.  I felt the need to remind him of all we've been through in the past 10 months.  Of how I have four other children who need me and a husband too and how I used to be able to pour myself out outside the realm of therapy and doctors appointments and bonding exercises.  I helped him recall how much we have given to bring her home and graft her in, because surely he'd forgotten.  And as I lay there, I heard my Father remind me, gently, always gently, "Beloved, those things were never yours to begin with.  Not the time, not the money, not even your very life.  Never yours."
And it's been a game changer.  This remembering that Father calls us to pour ourselves out on behalf of others, that our time, our resources, our very lives are not ours but belong to the one who will direct them for his purposes if we will only ask and listen.  And it won't be a rose garden, you can take that to the bank.  It'll be ugly and hard and it'll break you, but I'd rather take a day in the hard of Father's Kingdom work than a year chasing my own dreams because that'll leave me emptier than when I started.  I've spent many years doing that.  Do it still, often.
It's a hard line to toe, this adoption stuff.  It's so important to me to be real about it.  To not paint the picture that grafting a hurt child into your life will be all unicorns and rainbows, but also to not scare people away from this work.  It's the best thing we've ever done.  The hardest, most exhausting, best thing we've ever done.  Maggie has changed us, all of us and we will never be the same.  She has given us far far more than she has taken, has wrecked us in the best ways.  And all the things we've given her?  They were never ours to keep.  The things we are most reluctant to let go are the things Father bids us give.  For me it's been my time.  It's the hardest gift, the one I most resent having wrestled out of my greedy hands.   And Father, in his great mercy, has given me her nap time.  Two hours every day where I can find rest for my soul and body.  Because that's vital too.  If you're going to pour yourself out, you must make time to be refilled.  And somehow, miraculously, though sometimes I feel I've poured myself all out, there is always more.  Not because I'm enough, but because he is.  And so I wander through these days wondering how in hades I'll have time for one more, but knowing that the Father who has placed all these Smalls in our home will provide what we need to parent them.  All and more, because he is gracious and kind and enough.  There will be days when I forget that, happens all the time, but I'm asking him to boost my memory and break me in whatever way I need to be broken so that his precious work becomes my precious work.  And give me grace to do it with a right heart.  At least most of the time.  And while I'm waiting for those things, could we talk about perhaps miraculously solving the problems of toothpaste in the sink and why no one can seem to hang up their coats?  Can we solve those at least?  Because sometimes I think my sanity hangs on them.  Yours?
This is me being real.  Smirking over poor Lulu who, upon seeing a flyer in the mail for our adoption agency, sweet little available faces all over it, sighed "We're never gonna get a dog, are we?"  Prolly not Junebug.  20 Kevins, a bearded dragon who long to be a carnivore but must be a flexitarian, 6 Smalls and a keloid scar named cup is full.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015


Dear Birth Mother, our baby turned three yesterday.  Only we pretended it was Sunday because she can't read a calendar yet and it just worked better.  I watched her opening presents, dressed in the pink satin dress we bought her on Shamian Island, big gold bow in her hair, teeny gold ballet slippers on her feet and I ached.  This baby, we love her so, but her being here with us means you've suffered greatly, have sacrificed much.  I know that now.  Whatever circumstances led you to the choice you made to leave her, it must have ripped you up.  And, so, these early days of February must be made of sadness and longing for you.  I thought that while I watched our girl signing 'thank you' for her presents, thought it while she dug into her chocolate chocolate cake, thought it watching gift after gift involve her beloved emms; everyone knows her so well.  Everyone except the one who conceived and grew her.  She is beautiful, this baby.  She is somber, smiling only when really tickled, laughing only when it's hard-won, but she is happy, still.  I know that.  She is adored by her sisters and brothers.  They dote on her, laughing at her smallest antics.  God has used her to break them and us for the orphan.  That's the most beautiful gift she's given us.  This baby, she is healthy.  Her palate is repaired, she can eat anything (but won't because she's a stinker), she runs, she is learning to make sounds and using her hands to speak to us when her mouth fails her.  She lacks for nothing, I promise that.  I held her this morning and whispered to her of you.  This baby we have birthed, you and I, she blesses me.  Raising her is a relay race and your leg is over, but you ran it well.  You carried her, labored for her, birthed her, loved her enough to let her go.  You are valiant.  Her foster mother ran her leg and it was brutal, but it made our girl strong, birthed in her a fighting spirit.  Now it's my leg and I'm running hard, with this baby we share.  But I want you to know, need you to know, that I see you.  That I spent the better part of the last nights laying in bed praying comfort for you.  Asking Father to supernaturally give you the sense that all is well with your girl.  That His peace would cover you like the softest of blankets as you wonder what became of her.  I wish now I'd followed others examples who have left signs at their child's finding sites, telling all who see it that this child has been found and is going to be forever loved.  Entreating mother's and father's hearts to be at rest from the ache of the not-knowing.  Wish we'd taken the time to find that doorway outside that furniture store, but we were overwhelmed with her needs and didn't.  So let this be my sign, posted for all to see.  We have found this girl.  She is home now and is forever loved.  And this won't replace your ache, but I pray it eases it some.  She is home.  She is loved.  And you, as her bearer, will always be dear to us.  Will always have a main part in her story.  And we will tell her.
So on this day after, I honor you.  I feel strange thanking you, when it is only terrible brokenness that forced your hand, but thank you.  Father has brought her home and she is well-loved.  Let that soak into your mama's heart.  Happy birthday, birth mama.
This is me being real.  And totally unprepared for the bittersweet that was her birthday.  This mama's heart has been burdened.  May it always be so and may the burden lead me to prayer for her salvation and peace.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014


Six months today since we walked into the mint green room and waited.  Six months since we spotted the workers coming through the door with two scared littles, one by hand and one in arms.  I can't describe it, how it felt.  It's like giving birth and finally seeing that sweet baby face, but different, because you have fought tooth and nail for this one.  And have traveled across the world and filled out thousands of papers and paid tens of thousands of dollars and you have wondered all this time if it would actually lead to this.  You've been pinching yourself since landing in this very foreign land, sure that something is going to happen to make it all fall apart.  And then, there she is and it's you that's falling apart.  Because she's orphan no longer, the minute they place her teeny, weak body in your arms and something in you dies, but it's good because it needed to.  It's a bit of your selfishness and your innocence.  This is what I learned six months ago today:
~You can't unknow what you know.  We took off from Hong Kong and I wept silent tears watching out the window as a country that once terrified me became smaller and smaller.  Wept knowing we were leaving millions behind who, like her,  need food and love and forever.
~It's hard.  They'll tell you that, but they'll sugar coat it in the same way women at a baby shower tell you you'll probably be tired some.  The don't divulge that you'll be so exhausted you'll think you might die of it.  Adoption is like that.  There are days still I'm sure I'll die of it.  But I'll happily go down with that ship for the sake of one less.
~It's good.  They'll tell you that too, but they'll get it wrong.  How can they describe what it's like, possibly? Just like how you can never find the right words to tell a new mom how great it'll be.  Just can never find those words.
~It's the work we are called to.  Not just me, all of us.  Don't you doubt it.  It's laid out in black and white, clear as a bell.  This has hit me upside the head lately, since all our children have asked for a Chinese brother for Christmas and my China mamas are chewing on going back for one more.  Just one more.  And one asked, how do we know if it's right? and another said, it's adoption.  If it's not a clear no, then it's a yes.  If it's not a clear no then it's a yes.  Kapow.  See what I mean?
~It's a step forward and two steps backward.  Maggie is walking all over the place.  Awesome.  But if a friend comes over who is a mommy, she'll choose her over me every time.  Not awesome.  She said "help" tonight.  Awesome.  But it took me 45 minutes to feed her enough to feel ok about it.  Not awesome. One forward, two back.  It's a strange dance and one that leaves my muscles aching most days, but she's just about the sweetest little partner, so I'll stay on that dance floor till I drop.
~It has wrecked us.  All of us.  The kids would rather fly to China and snatch up another sibling for Christmas than open a pile of packages under the tree.  Except Lu, who, according to her pictorial list is really longing for a cheeseburger and a bag of balloons.  And if it was between the new American Girl carriage with bells and working lights, it'd be a toughy for sure.  But at the core of it, they have been wrecked and are longing to hear stories of children set down into forever families.  It's part of their vernacular now.  They play orphanage on their home days, wonder aloud if any of our friends will decide to adopt, set lofty goals for how many times they're going to adopt when they're grown up.  This.   Is.  Beautiful.  I would do this whole thing over just for the side benefit of growing kids whose hearts have been broken for the orphan.
~I get it now.  This whole salvation thing.  Get it with a clarity that has brought me to my knees more times than I can count in the last year.  Maggie and I share a birth story.  You do too.  Redemption stories always start in the ugly.  It just makes sense.  Hers did and so did mine.  The poverty, the dirt, the yuck, the whole thing.  It's how it starts until a Father who longs to call us home enters in and invites us into his family and suddenly the ugly is made beautiful.  And when Father says that he desires to set the orphans in families I think he just might be talking about you and me too.  Redemption is his most precious work and it ought to be ours too.  The redemption of orphans through adoption and fostering, the redemption of lost neighbors and family and coworkers.  All of this life is meant to be working toward redemption and if we're not working too, then we are just standing in the way.  
Adoption, dude, it's a killer.  Yours and mine and hers.  Literally a killer.  There is a Jesus with nail scared hands that prove your worth, that pay tribute to your adoption. And if you haven't signed on yet, then you are still an orphan, despite an incredible Father who longs to make you his.  Please, join this family.  We are waiting for you.
This is me being real.  Thankful for redemption in my own life, thankful for it in yours, blessed to my toes to be a part of Maggies.  And pretty sure she would rather have had a family who came from a more temperate climate, but we will have to do.