March 3, 2014

Meili's first "China Night"

It often feels like our little spot in South Dakota is just about as rural as you could possibly get. We are 60 miles from the nearest mall and 200+ miles from the nearest Ikea, pro-sports venue and Trader Joe's.  It's safe to say this isn't the most diverse community. But thankfully, we do have the state's largest university and upon closer inspection, we've discovered our tiny town is quite a bit more varied than people realize.

The university attracts people from many different cultures, and occasionally we have opportunities to recognize and celebrate some of the ethnicities that are represented here. We always enjoy the International nights, and of course now, especially China Night. Last year we attended right before we left to get Meili. 

This year, we were thrilled to be able to take her along.

When we were in China, I purchased Chinese dresses in multiple sizes so the girls would all have one to wear during Chinese New Year's events. (Unfortunately I didn't think to buy a set for each girl, because of course, they're getting stained and ripped when the older girls wear them.)

China Night is sponsored by the Chinese Student and Scholar Association, and features authentic Chinese cuisine (15+ different dishes) and a program that highlights different aspects of Chinese culture. 

We were a slightly curious about how Meili would react in this environment; first, because she typically goes crazy in large crowds and second, because about half of those in attendance are native Chinese. Meili doesn't have a lot of experience with other native Chinese children, but when she has it's been interesting. We left her with friends who have two boys from China and she marched right in, got comfortable and waved "bye-bye" to us. We aren't sure if it was a fluke, or if she felt comfortable around them because they were Chinese.

Either way, we were curious about her reaction to China Night.

The verdict?
She LOVED it.

She ate more food than I have ever seen her eat in one sitting before (we thought this was interesting since in large crowds she's usually too distracted to eat anything at all). Seriously, it was almost a full plate of food. And she had even had a large snack before we got there!

She was totally captivated by all the people, especially other Chinese children and even seemed interested in the performances. All four of our kids found a little corner and danced to the music together. A woman sitting next to us commented on our beautiful family and well behaved children. She even jokingly asked if Meili's name was "Sparkle," because she said it just seemed like it would fit her. Of course, she didn't know Meili's Chinese name meant "like crystal, or sparkles."

Although we don't exactly "fit in" with the other Chinese people in our area, we're thankful for the opportunity to expose our biological kids and Meili to little pieces of Chinese heritage without having to go far from home.

We just hope she'll enjoy it this much next year!

March 1, 2014

This time, last year: the one-year ago post

Tuesday of this past week marked the first anniversary of one of our most life-changing events: the day we met Meili. We let the day come and go without much fanfare and instead enjoyed a few interactions on Facebook with the families we met and traveled with in China. There's not really any protocol for how to celebrate such a day, though many families do have big "gotcha" day parties, and maybe we will do that when Meili is old enough to realize what it's about. But this time, we just needed to quietly reflect on what the last year has been for us. 

It has been a enormous mix of emotions that no one who hasn't adopted could begin to understand. Just like how you can't truly understand what's like to be a parent until you have your first child, only parents who have adopted really understand the fear, joy, heartache, love, pain and reality that is adoption. Last week, when talking to a friend who is in the process of adopting from China, I off-the-cuff compared the whole thing to a grab bag. You know…one of those little things you used to buy as a kid at small-town Crazy Days events. It just came out as we were talking, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized it was a decent analogy:
They're sealed tightly, in bags you cannot see through. You can only feel around a bit to get some idea of what might be inside. You choose one without really knowing what it is, hoping that you've made a good choice but having no way of knowing for sure. And when you finally get a glimpse, you find an unusual conglomeration of things inside; some good, some strange, maybe something you really like, something unexpected. 

And that's how the last year has been for us. There has been joy - if you know Meili you know that her smile can light up a room. But behind that smile lies 3 years of neglect, malnutrition and only God knows what else. We're left picking up the pieces from a past we know nothing about, and that hasn't always been easy. We've rejoiced when she learned how to chew, feed herself with a spoon, take off her own shoes and cut with a scissors. But at the same time we silently wonder why she can't put together a simple puzzle, has difficulty speaking and often can't follow directions.

Is it because she's a 3 year old who has only lived here a year? Is it because of her difficult past? Is it because we're missing some diagnosis?

We don't know.

And living in the not-knowing is sometimes hard.

Our friend Joel, who traveled with us, has been re-living our days in China with his blog. He describes this day so much better than I do:

I’ve come to think of adoption as life accelerated. Condensed, concentrated. And although life is good, it’s also hard. And it’s not just hard because we too often make it so through moronic choices. We’ll all undoubtedly make a lot of foolish decisions in our lives and thereby create incredible messes out of things. 
But here’s the real kicker: Even when we do manage to do mostly the right things, life will still often kick our tails, and that fact can really shake, sift, and test our faith. When dark days accompany our best and valiant efforts, doubt can first begin to gnaw at our heels, and then, as the dark days string together to form entire gloomy seasons, it can continue to encroach on our entire belief system and even threaten at times to overwhelm it. 
Shrouded by shadows, sometimes all we can do is whisper weak petitions into the space where we think God ought to be and hope that he’s there to hear. Our desperation drives us back to home base, where we feel safe, and there we wait, and, not knowing what else to do, we continue to tell ourselves to just keep on believing even when it’s terribly difficult to understand why we should. 
God does hear, and sometimes he receives our lamentations and sets them to ukulele music, turning the whole thing into a glorious blend of desperate words and happy, toe-tapping tunes. And when the sun shines, it shines so brightly that you forget your doubts and fears and regrets. Until the next time. 
That’s life. Bittersweet. Heartbreak rolled up in joy into a nifty little journey that you would always choose to do all over again if given the choice. Because as bad as the bad gets, the good is always better enough to make it all worthwhile.
Adoption is all of that, times ten, and on an accelerated schedule. (Full post here) 

And so that's where we are. "Heartbreak rolled up in joy" on our "nifty little journey"…where every day is an exercise in trust in the Father who, through a miraculous string of events, has put this child into our family, despite the fact that we had no money for an adoption and live halfway around the world.

One year later, one day at a time.