Say When

Pack it up, pack it in, let us begin…

We’re sure it’s under the load limit. OK, that’s a lie.

The ability to be able to laugh in the face of extremely stressful circumstances is absolutely critical in chaotic situations, such as a cross-country move, with a large family. We’ve been living “on the edge” for a week now, bouncing from one hotel to the next, living in an extremely crowded, 15-passenger van packed to the brim with kids and stuff (pulling along an equally full UHaul of ~10,000 lbs of books, weights, and tools) which shuts off the air conditioning each time it crawls up even the slightest grade. In weather that’s been in the triple digits, this means there are a lot of sweaty kids crying and complaining, extremely messy melted chocolate from Hershey’s Chocolate World we are rushing to consume and nerves that are completely shot all around. By night we’re trying to navigate three separate hotel rooms (only one place has had adjoining rooms), suitcases that are all mixed together and a mess at this point while we’re all digging around for clean underwear and 14 toothbrushes, and finding our sense of humor among the shambles that is our life right now is crucial. We’re on the home stretch- today we will arrive in Kansas and wait for our belongings in Leavenworth. We’ve done 20 hours of driving in 5 days– keep in mind that a 4 hour car trip amounts to almost double that with the number of times we have to stop, how long each stop takes with this many people having to cycle through the bathrooms, and ordering and consuming food gives a new meaning to “fast” food.

Breakfast, Odell road style

We’ve continued to have some really funny moments, and some difficult ones, too. Chad can go from zero to one hundred in a split second as his moods shift for seemingly no reason at all. As we were heading into Buffalo Wild Wings last night and everything seemed fine, all of a sudden he burst into tears in the parking lot. We had no idea what happened, but Chaela immediately started saying she didn’t mean to upset him, so again, it had to do with an interaction between the two of them. Apparently Chad was complaining that he was hot (it’s over 100 degrees in St. Louis!) and Chaela made the rather innocent comment that he wouldn’t be so hot if he weren’t wearing long pants…a very sensitive topic for him, we’ve learned the hard way. That sent him into another one of his hour long meltdowns, including yelling at her, and then heading straight into the bathroom when we walked into the restaurant. As if we don’t cause enough of a scene with our group walking into just about anywhere. The shorts/pants thing is hard to figure out- as you’ll see in one of the photos here, he chose to wear shorts one of the days, and he picked his own clothes. I think he’s trying to get past his insecurity about this, but it’s just so hard. We have no idea if he endured bullying or teasing due to his condition in the past, so we are trying to be very sensitive to his issues surrounding this even if we can’t completely understand what sets him off one day, and isn’t so much an issue the next. We know there is so much wrapped up in this and it’s not just about the pants. Right about now he is probably really wishing he could ‘Go-go Gadget’ his way back to China and all things familiar.

McDonald’s fears us.

People continue to try to talk to him in public places as if he knows what they are saying, logically assuming he speaks English. The waitress was trying to help at one of the stops by squeezing ketchup onto the kids’ plates for us. We usually take up at least three tables in a restaurant, so our backs were turned, but we heard her sweetly tell a kid: “Say When!…” as she squeezed…and squeezed…and we soon realized whose plate she was on. Grace turned around and saw the pile of ketchup and said, “When!! That’s enough!” For poor Chad who had no idea why the lady was squirting a whole load of strange sauce all over his food. It was quite funny looking back on it, but it doesn’t take much for him to start a loud rant, so it was just one more descent into a crazy scene that happens to be our family in most public places this move. We had a really nice older man compliment our family and how well-behaved the children were- thankfully he left just before it all started melting down and he would have not been as likely to say these things!

Gwennie continues to be herself on this trip. She’s developed another cold after gnawing on every McDonald’s table and high chair from New York to Kansas. In fact, we’ve passed through 8 states- New York, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio, Kentucky, Illinois, Missouri and finally Kansas- so she is quite well-traveled at just 7 months old! She’s gone to China and back and done all of this within a one month time span- this exact day last month we were just getting on a plane to leave for China, and now here we are in Kansas. She hates being in the car seat after spending 17 days going all over China without one and now being forced to sit in it every day for hours. There are times she begins arching her back and crying when I even get her near the thing to put her back in after a stop. She’s quite strong-willed and stubborn. I don’t know where she gets that.

Arranged marriages? Yup, we support that.

 

Droppin’ in on the Say’s, because they get us.

During this crazy time of our lives I feel like the Lord has been piling more than I can handle on my plate…I keep saying ‘when’ and He wisely says “not yet”. If we would have listened to common sense and the wisdom of man, we would not have Chaela or Chad in our family. We went back for them in rapid succession after Carrigan, knowing it didn’t make logical sense, especially with Chad because of this move coming up. We were racing against time and logic to go get him, but I can see now why God laid him so heavily upon our hearts. We wanted to wait until we were settled in TN to begin another adoption. If we would have done that, we would not be qualified now with rules that say ‘no more than 5 kids at home’, ‘no children under age 3’, ‘you must be home at least 1 year to begin another adoption’, and the list goes on. Just one of those rules alone disqualifies us. We didn’t know, but God did. If He calls you and it just doesn’t make sense, trust Him. You may discover the reason after the fact, like we did.

As on most moves and long road trips, we make an effort to stop and visit as many people as we’re able as we pass through areas where we’ve previously lived or know someone there. A year ago we started planning a reunion for our children from Pu’Er to be able to see their friends who were also adopted into American families. Providentially, the other three children who were adopted in the U.S. From this orphanage live in TN, IN, and IL- all of us within driving distance of each other. We planned a meet-up in Cincinnati at the Great Wolf Lodge- and two of the other families were able to make it. Chaela was able to reunite with her best friend, Xiao Fen, and Chad with his dear friend, now “Luke”. The family from Illinois will likely join us next year- Daniel is the only one of the group who no longer remembers how to speak Chinese, even though he’s only been home less than a year. That is the difference between adopting an 8 year old and an 11 year old. At 8, he’s completely forgotten his native tongue. The other families were amazed at how well Chaela is speaking English- she really is exceptional. Our guide in China told us that she knows people who have gone to school to learn to speak English for well over a decade now, and they don’t speak nearly as well as she does. I hope in a year we can say the same about Chad. He does have more of a crutch with Chaela as a go-between and not the “total immersion” that she had. Their friend, Luke, has struggled the most, coming home at the age of 13, just one month before he would have “aged out”. Seeing their reunion was heartwarming and such a testimony of the Lord’s hand upon each of their lives. The way He orchestrated their adoptions and that we all live this close to each other- in fact, Xiao Fen’s family lives just an hour away from our home in Clarksville and we are set to return there next summer. Jon Jing, the little boy whose family is traveling soon to adopt him this fall, will be living only 15 minutes away from Xiao Fen in TN- how amazing is that! All of these kids will keep their connection for life, though when they left each other at the orphanage, they likely thought they would never see each other again.

Unexpected joy

After my last blog post I received three messages from friends who commented about their church’s involvement, or lack thereof, in orphan care. I also had two people comment that they were “offended” (one said in a good way!) by the admonishment to believers to foster or adopt or get involved in some way. I realize it was “harsh”. There is absolutely nothing special about me that makes me better than anyone else simply because we have chosen to pursue adoption, and another brother or sister in Christ hasn’t. If you watched Chad’s video with some of the background story you would know that our story included an entire decade of marriage where Joey was ready to adopt, but I wasn’t. It absolutely has to be a joint decision in a marriage and NOT one partner pressuring or manipulating the other. For 10 years, I was scared. I was all the things I mentioned- comfortable, afraid to disrupt our nice little family, and content to live in relative ease. God gave me a kick in the rear through reading “Crazy Love”, “Radical” and “Adopted for Life” and watching several Christian families we knew in the process of International adoption. I often hear “you must be SO patient” when people see our family. Quite the contrary- that is something the Holy Spirit is constantly working with me on as patience and courage in the face of adversity, are traits that adoption and having a ‘mega’ family are shaping and molding me into Christ-likeness daily…but I have so far to go. I don’t ever want to give the impression that I am doing more or better or that it’s easier for me than for someone else- like I’ve said before, this is my calling and may not be yours- I simply hope that you will investigate if it might be yours, too. There are so many waiting children that also hope it is your calling to invite them in. There are also families in the throes of fostering or adopting children from hard places who could use your prayers, encouragement and a home-cooked meal. I hope to be encouraging and not condemning if God has called you to a different mission field, as He very well may!

They never could have guessed they would be together again.

It might help to give a bit of perspective on where we are coming from in regards to our church experience with adoption and orphan care ministries…the lack thereof. During one of our adoption processes, we were approved for a Lifesong for Orphans Widows & Orphans project. This is an amazing opportunity to help a widow by fixing up her home and doing projects and service for her at no cost, while also raising funds to help bring an orphan home to a family. The first step in this project is to locate a widow in need- and the intent is to go to the local church you are a part of and ask them to get involved, making this something that the body of Christ can do together to help the cause of both the widow and orphan. It is a beautiful Biblical picture of the body being the hands and feet of Christ to the least of these. We took the first step in reaching out to our small church pastor with an e-mail briefly explaining our desire to do the project and asked if there was a widow in the church or community they knew of that we could help. We were immediately shot down with a curt e-mail reply that simply said, “Our widows are taken care of by our families and we don’t do fundraisers.” That was it. No questions asked. Only a week later, we received in the mail an offering envelope from the church with a letter explaining a fundraiser to raise money to build a new dining room for a Christian summer camp facility. We were floored. We’re more concerned as a church with filling our bellies in nice surroundings than fulfilling the Biblical call to care for the widows and orphans. We never had the opportunity to do this project, and many were robbed of the blessing it would have been to them, the church, the widow, and the entire community. Thankfully, we were blessed to have some meals set up by members of the military community and Christian friends we knew when we came home from China…but the church was silent and the adoption was largely ignored by the group that should have been cheering the loudest. We know not every church is like this. But, as a whole, churches have dropped the ball when it comes to orphan care and many of the other Biblical mandates and have turned instead to being a type of social club that only serves insiders and shallow agendas. It’s a sad state that is a sure sign of the end times.

Church, you are missing out on this.

We are hopeful that in a few years China will relax some of these new restrictions and it might open up again to more families like ours. In the meantime, we’ll be spending a year discipling those He’s already placed under our roof, preparing for a move again next summer, and praying about how we can serve right now where He’s called us. It may be that Bulgaria is in our future if domestic doors are closed and China keeps the door shut, too. Sadly, the world isn’t lacking in orphans to care for. I had the pleasure of watching the movie “Lion” on the plane ride home. I highly recommend this movie- grab a box of Kleenex and thank me later. I’ve always had a desire to adopt from India, but the restrictions there are even tighter than China’s. We know the Lord has called us to live a lifestyle of having an open home to the fatherless. We aren’t “done” and can’t imagine a time we’ll feel we are. We’re eager to see what the Lord has in store for us in this next chapter.

Until then, we’d better find dinner.

But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint. ~ Isaiah 40:31