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| knee sure wuh duh new-are

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knee sure wuh duh new-are


A happy family picture!  If only reality were as easy.

A happy family picture! If only reality were as easy.

Today was one of the most emotionally taxing days of my life. I am holding on to the words of a fellow adoptive friend who encouraged and reminded me tonight that today is not the big picture. I am going to start out with the lighthearted because I do that better, and I am still trying to process it all. Having a Gotcha Day that starts at 3PM makes for a very stressful first half of the day. We knew we couldn’t just sit around waiting for that time to come, so we went to the Kunming “zoo” which was actually a combination of zoo/botanical gardens/mega carnival/vendor stalls of strange culinary questionables and tai chi grounds. It really helped take our minds off of what was to come and it was a pure China experience. Claire and Caitlin were beside themselves with excitement and planning the “party” for Chaela that would include bubbles and balloons and all sorts of fun. I tried to warn them that she would be sad, but trying to help a 5 and 7 year old understand why and explain an unexplainable situation was next to impossible.

There are birds in the trees we were attempting to get in the picture.  Fail.

We started out the day full of happiness and hope and ended it trying desperately to cling to both.

Fuzzy bear, sayin' hey.

We saw so many of the animals gnawing on their cages and trying to push through their barriers…and by tonight I could relate

This bear looks like some Lord of the Rings troll bear.  Creepy.

This bear looks like some Lord of the Rings troll bear. Creepy.

The lion watched Joey the whole time we were near the cage.  The tiger, on the other hand, licked the cage suggestively.

The lion watched Joey the whole time we were near the cage. I think even he was amazed to see a white person in the park. The tiger, on the other hand, was trying to bite through the bars.

We were warned to be ready with our cameras as soon as we pulled up at the civil affairs office, and it was a good thing. We did not have time to mentally prepare in any fashion as we did with Carrigan or even Charlotte- as soon as we walked in the door of the shanty building they called a government office, she was there sitting on the couch. There were no fireworks, there was no excitement or big scene to speak of…it was just awkward and uncomfortable. The nanny and director who were there with her told her to hug Claire and Caitlin, and I sat down with her and put my arm around her shoulders and told her in my best Chinese impersonation that I was her mama and introduced her to her new “mei mei’s” (little sisters). She looked terrified and nervous and it’s safe to say I felt exactly the same way. The sadness she is experiencing is beyond my comprehension. We know that her orphanage was home to her for the last decade, and those 30 children she lived with were siblings to her. I imagine what it would be like for Grace to leave at her age from the only family she’s ever known and say goodbye to Corin and Caitlin and her other siblings and think she would never see them again, and this is what it must be like. Carrigan’s orphanage housed 600 children- he was in a completely institutionalized setting and never had any real bonds or attachments to speak of, and he was thrilled to leave that place. It is not like this for Xiao Mei.

IMG_1340 from Joey Odell on Vimeo.


I tried to break the ice with showing XiaoMei the recordable book I had brought for her friend, Fen, from Fen’s new family. Fen’s mother from Tennessee mailed it to me and I brought it to give to the orphanage director for her to give to Fen. As soon as I got it out and started showing her Fen’s new family, she began to tear up. From this point on the both of us were wiping away tears for the rest of the time there. By this point I had completely forgotten any of the Chinese phrases I had memorized and intended to use, so I got out the book and with a choked up voice tried to communicate to her that she was safe, that she was coming to live with us, and that it would be okay. Her eyes lit up for a brief moment when she heard me speak something she recognized, but it was short-lived. We sat down with our guide and the director and XiaoMei and were able to ask a few questions with the guide as the interpreter. We scratched out half the questions on our list about visiting the orphanage, because at this point we could see how difficult this was going to be and we knew we needed time to process and pray about if this was even a good idea to take her back there to say goodbye all over again. She has been through so much and she is so brave, but one can only take so much. This possibly could do more harm than good.

She fiddled with the baby doll Caitlin handed her.  She was so scared!

She fiddled with the baby doll Caitlin handed her. It gave her something to do with her hands. She was so scared and sad!

Coloring helped.

Coloring helped.

We watched around us as two other families were united with their infants and remembered how much easier it was adopting Charlotte, and even Carrigan, and we missed that happy day. We didn’t expect it to be that way again, but you just can’t fully prepare for what it will be like. We also watched as one mother had her new 3 year old little boy on a ventilator placed in her arms, his skin blue-black from lack of oxygen and witnessed one of the most selfless acts of love I had ever seen. This mother is here alone with her best friend traveling with her because her husband is at home with their other 6 children, 5 of whom have Down’s Syndrome. I was a blubbering mess at this point. By the time we got back to the hotel, Xiao Mei was still quiet and stoic and we had the bonus of our guide interpreting for us and telling her what was going on. It is especially difficult in-country because on the one hand, the guides are helpful. On the other hand, we know with Carrigan that when he would act defiant or naughty the guide would tell him, “You don’t want Baba and Mama to think you are a bad boy, do you?” There is cultural pressure to put on a happy face, a false front, a tough “don’t cry” exterior, and we are telling her it’s okay to be sad and cry. She is getting mixed messages. Anyway, the guide walked us to a Walmart (the craziest Walmart I have ever been in) and through a round-about for motor bikes that was the most insane spectacle I have ever seen on wheels. Xiao Mei held my hand in the store and on the walk, but it seemed a bit reluctantly and definitely awkwardly. Breaking through her tough outer shell is going to be a long process.

Watching one of the babies arrive - quite a contrast.

Watching one of the babies arrive – quite a contrast to what we were going through. XiaoMei said she will miss the babies at the orphanage and they were her best friends, too. We were told she LOVES babies. We’d better get to work!

When we got back to the hotel room and our guide left, she went into the bathroom alone and began to cry, quietly and reservedly, and I know there is little I can do to offer comfort, and that is so hard. Claire and Caitlin are sad for her and don’t really know how to respond- it’s not at all the party they expected. We tried to eat noodle bowls we bought at Wal Mart in between tears and trying to tell her it was okay to cry on the Google translate. My heart is breaking. This is messy, ugly and painful. This is the despair and pain of an orphan who has experienced loss and is scared to death to allow someone to love her. I don’t think she even feels deserving of it. At the Wal Mart, we told her she could pick out any book she wanted, but she shook her head no. She has done that for most things we have offered her. The only thing that brought some joy to all of us on this difficult afternoon was a game of Uno. She is smart- she knows how to play (and, I think, how to cheat!) and we were able to get a smile and a little chuckle out of her when Baba won and did a little dance around the room. By the end of the last game she was doing some nervous squirming like she had done at the civil affairs office and we asked if she wanted to go to bed (on the translate app) and she shook her head adamantly “yes”.

Someone is a card shark!

Someone is a card shark!

She is very afraid of losing her things (she came with a small plastic bag with a few toiletries and the things we had mailed to her) and looked very concerned and panicked when she realized she didn’t have her clothes to change for bed. I handed her pajamas we brought for her and she reluctantly took them and I showed her where her bed was next to ours. I went to sit next to her and stroked her hair, but she looked uncomfortable and Joey asked her on the app if she wanted me to sit with her, and she shook her head no. I moved away, and then later when I thought she was crying I went back to sit down by her. She whispered something in Chinese (the first thing I had heard her say to me all day) and Joey again asked her through the app if it was okay for me to sit by her. She very clearly said “NO”, which was hard, but understandable.

We signed our paperwork today.  She gets her say tomorrow.

We signed our paperwork today. She gets her say tomorrow. It wouldn’t totally shock me if she struggles with signing the papers, to be honest. Our guide is on the left, and the orphanage director is on the right sitting next to Chaela. She has served at the orphanage for 12 years since it’s opening and has known Chaela since she was found at 2 months old.

While I am not surprised and what we are experiencing is normal for older child adoption, it seems closer to the end of the spectrum toward “worst case scenario” so far. I am being real with you all because first of all, we need prayer. And, second of all, I hope others can see the side of adoption that is not pretty- the whole picture. It’s beauty from ashes. The ashes of grief and brokenness and heartache. From abandonment and despair, and hopefully eventually resurfacing as hope and joy and reciprocal love. The Lord loved me even when I was unlovable. When I resisted and rejected Him and when I thought I didn’t need or want Him. I hope He can show me how to do that with Xiao Mei. And, may God get all the glory for the miracle I pray he works in XiaoMei’s heart and life. Right now part of me is wondering if we did the right thing. If this really IS what is best for her and what His plan is. I know that nothing worth having is ever easy. I know that this is going to stretch me and mold me into Christ-likeness in a way that nothing else could. I am not a naturally affectionate or emotional person- I am probably a lot like Xiao Mei. As I told her today when I met her: “knee sure wuh duh new-are” is the phonetically English way to say the pinyin phrase for the Chinese characters that mean: “You are my daughter”- and I am not going to give up on that!

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