Just a few bullets to keep you up to date:
One clue that your international trip may not be going according to plan? If the airport hotel you booked to stay at the night before a very early flight is padlocked when you arrive to check in.
Yes, that’s how our trip started one year ago today. As the old adage goes…if I had known then what I know now… But I didn’t, and no one can say what would have happened if we had stayed in China. I have played those “what if” games a few times, but every time I come back to the time spent in prayer when flights seemed impossible, and the amazing way that everything fell in place overnight. We may not have gotten to watch Marissa receive her college diploma, and Kristen and I didn’t get to visit colleges from California to North Carolina… or anywhere actually… but I do believe we are where we are supposed to be, even if I don’t understand why, and that God’s provision has been evident every step of the way…even when we were padlocked out of our hotel.
So what has happened?
We started our “visit” uneventfully but very enjoyably in Wellington, FL. We spent two weeks in quarantine (nothing like quarantine in China – trust me), taking our temperature twice a day and calling it in to the local health department every few days. We also took quiet (distanced) walks soaking up sunshine and palm trees, did homework in the pool and learned how to order groceries online and use GrubHub to savor the foods we had missed. After the quarantine was over it was evident that this was not going to be a typical visit, so our next two weeks were a repeat of the first two. Now that was certainly nothing to complain about (have I ever mentioned how much I love sunshine and palm trees?) but sadly, we didn’t visit with all of our very dear friends from our ten years living in Jupiter, and we didn’t go to the beach. (Have I mentioned how much I love the beach?)
Then it was time to move on to Chicago to see the bigs and the grands…hooray!
Once again we quarantined for two weeks. Did we have to? Well, no one was telling us to, but after airports and a flight it seemed the right thing to do to protect those around us. Thankfully we didn’t get sick, and soon we were able to visit with the people we love. For the next several months we lived in a small basement apartment just a few blocks from Ryan and Laura, my three grandchildren, and Marissa, too. Not only would a short walk allow us to spend time with all of them, the home we were staying in had a sweet little backyard with a covered deck – and wifi – where I could enjoy the warm weather and work on my China projects. It was a good summer. It was a hard summer. It was a summer of uncertainty, but it was also a time for seeing family, practicing Chinese online, updating and streamlining our sponsor reports, completing online classes and attending Zoom conferences on childhood trauma, meeting several times a week with our China team (I don’t know how we would have weathered this without Zoom!), and bingewatching old TV shows from my childhood. I am especially thankful for time spent with Lindsay when she came to town for a long weekend, for a couple of weeks driving to and from work with Marissa as she gained confidence with her new driving skills, and for playing Sleeping Queens, Rummikub and farm games on my phone with Maggie and William.
Our living situation changed again mid-October when Kristen and I moved into a slightly larger apartment in Glen Ellyn, about a 40 minute drive from where Ryan lives. We are so fortunate to have been able to make a reservation for just over seven months in an apartment home for missionaries home on leave. Like the basement apartment, this apartment is also one bedroom, so Kristen and I traded so that she could now have the bedroom with more privacy and study space. (In the basement apartment I had the bedroom, and she slept on a foam mattress on the floor…in the kitchen.) The change of venue has come with more space, but has also meant that we are too far from family to see them frequently. The virus situation also made me more careful about isolating and limiting exposure, so near or far our family visits were limited.
Despite the many precautions, Marissa was able to come for Thanksgiving and spend the long weekend with us. We had fun cooking a very large turkey breast, eating and playing games. Meanwhile Lindsay was carefully isolating for two weeks alone in her dorm room at Calvin University. Kristen and I took a road trip to Grand Rapids to pick her up (OUT OF THE HOUSE!!!) to spend almost two weeks with us at Christmas. It was fun to visit her dorm and see where she lives as well as enjoy the laughter and silliness that always ensues with Lindsay in the house – or car. We took advantage of having a car for a few days by tracking down a very small Christmas tree – a real one! Since we couldn’t find a stand to fit it Lindsay devised on from a half cinderblock, some cut up Amazon boxes and a milk jug. That girl has talent! We decorated Christmas cards, and despite some moaning and groaning it was both fun and successful. We also decorated some ornaments for the tree, which was way less fun and not so pretty. Amazon to the rescue – we bought a few inexpensive ornaments and used some fairy lights sent to us by our China team. We baked our traditional cookies, which we shared through a cookie exchange with some neighbors in our building and sent home with Ryan and Laura when we traded gifts– outdoors and masked – a few days before Christmas. It’s always a bit amazing to me, and it shouldn’t be after so many years, that no matter where we are or what the circumstances, Christmas comes and it is magical and sweet. So much about this holiday was not the way we wanted, but in the end it was perfect. Baked ham, sweet potatoes, stuffing and peppermint ice cream didn’t hurt.
In January and February Kristen and I stayed home and watched the snow pile up outside. These were some of the hardest months since it was impossible for me to go outside for walks since my winter clothes are still in Hengyang. I was counting down the days until the temperature would climb into the 40s and I could stretch my legs again. Thankfully those days are here!
It was apparent almost immediately after we arrived in the US that covid was not going to be tackled in the US the way it had been in China and that things were far worse than I had imagined. Very shortly afterward China closed its borders and going back was no longer even an option. Whether being optimistic or in denial, I thought that things would improve and borders would open by the end of the summer, about five months away. Of course the opposite was true, and as the devastation of the virus spread like wildfire through the US I knew that China would not be opening to Americans in 2020…but surely by the end of the year. Or not. At this point it is unclear when China will open to any except a few essential workers, and sadly I don’t qualify for that designation. I won’t pretend that I don’t miss my home, my bed, my clothes, all the creature comforts that make a place – even one that has its own challenges – home. Even more I miss our China team, the teachers I have worked side by side with for the last three years and especially every young person who has brightened my day, tested my patience, hugged me really tight, laughed at my Chinese, and fogave me for being less than they need. Through all of this and whatever is ahead, God has been so faithful in providing contentment, work to do, a roof over our heads and food on the table. The basement apartment was free while the missionary apartment is not, and I am so thankful for the way God has provided for us through our community of supporters. Life in the USA, even with our very simple stay-at-home life and no car, is more expensive and our needs have been met one by one.
We are truly blessed.
Sadly, due to privacy concerns and the changing situation in our host country it is not possible for me to share photos and stories about our life and work on this blog. However, many people have contacted me over the past week to find out how we are doing amidst the coronavirus epidemic.
First, thank you for reaching out and letting me know you are thinking of us; you really can't imagine how much that means!
Second, we are fine. We are taking all the precautions possible -- masks, hand washing, sanitizer, staying away from crowds and public places. Add to that that Kristen and I are healthy and have strong immune systems, and I feel that we are as safe as we can be. We are very thankful for your concern and for your prayers.
Third, I continue to work at our Care Center daily and will unless the government further restricts our movements.
That is all I can post publicly at the moment. If you have questions, please send me a note through the contact page. Thank you again for your concern!
I want to thank each of you who purchased a t-shirt over the past five days. Most of you I don't know, but I know your heart. The funds raised will help keep Kristen and I warm this winter by covering a large portion of what I expect will be very high electric bills over the next three months. In some ways it seems like a small thing, but being able to warm up in the evening is not a small thing. Life here comes with many challenges; most are small things, but they do add up. Coming home to a warm room, a comfortable chair, and a cup of tea....ahhhh.
Thank you to Gael for coming up with the idea and making it happen, to Adriana for the design (love it!), and to TaylorMade GraphX for the printing. And thank you to each of you who, through the purchase of a shirt (or many!), said, "I care about this work with older orphans. I want to make a difference, too." Thank you for letting YOUR light shine in their lives.
Mother's Day 2018
Jetlag is the name of the game today. Mother's Day greetings from four of my five kids, so I guess I did something 80% right. On the other hand, I am sure that I have received far more than I have given to this motherhood thing, and I am 100% grateful for every silly, hard, messy, marvelous moment. Since I don't seem to have enough functioning brain cells to write something profound, I thought I would share a sampling of Mother's Day Past as recorded on my Facebook timeline.
Happy Mother's Day.
Mother's Day 2012
Happy Mother's Day!
I have spent mine being lazy, eating fresh baked coffee cake, reading a friend's first novel and watching the finale of the Amazing Race with my five kids. Yup, about perfect.
Mother's Day 2013
Sending special Mother's Day wishes for those moms waiting to hold their children for the first time. Btdt and I know how empty those arms can feel. On Mother's Day in 1997 I had been waiting 11 months for a referral that should have taken a month. My heart was broken in pieces wondering if there would ever be a phone call telling me I had a daughter. I had precious calls that day from friends who were also waiting and sweet friends who had received their calls and knew how hard that day would be for me. I will never forget their kindness. I will also never forget the Monday after Mother's Day when the phone rang and I heard the words I thought would never come, "You have a daughter".
Fast forward 8 years to Mother's Day 2005, when the Civil Affairs office in Zhengzhou opened on a Sunday to expedite my third daughter's adoption. No more meaningful day to welcome her into my family.
Mother's Day 2014
I had a lovely Mother's Day and am wishing the same for all those moms whose day is just beginning. In addition to peanut butter chocolate chip muffins for breakfast, adorable hand made cards, and being taken out to dinner (and NOT having to pay - a first!) by my daughters, Mother's Day is always a time of reflection. It feels a little odd that *Mother's Day* is supposed to be about me. For me it's about the ones who call me Mom. I have been blessed beyond anything I could have ever dreamed or hoped by each of them, whether they came into my life through birth or adoption, by marriage or even for a season. I am so thankful for each of them and thank them for the privilege of knowing and loving and being loved by them on my good days and those other days, too. I thank God for giving me more arrows in my quiver than I could have ever imagined possible and pray daily for the strength and wisdom to be the mom they need me to be. I think how quickly these 26 years of motherhood have flown by and know that while I will be a mother as long as I live, the days of day-to-day mothering are all too quickly passing, and the end of that phase is nearly in sight. At the same time, this Mother's Day is one of great anticipation, as we celebrate with a new mother-to-be in our family.
Of course, no Mother's Day passes without thoughts of the moms who are silent shadows in our lives: those who gave life but whose names we do not know and the one who left this world too soon.
Mother's Day 2015
Mother's Day. The best of times and the worst of times. Definitely a mixed bag of thoughts and emotions for me. I love my kids and I love being a mom: I think that's clear to anyone who knows me even a little, so it is nice to have a day that celebrates the not-so-little blessings that made me a mom and to share the day with a new generation in our family.
But I also think of the mothers who aren't here but stand silently in the shadows of our hearts. My own mom left this world much too young; she never saw her babies all grown, missed so many special moments and never saw me walk in her mom-steps. Even after all these years, it's sad not having someone to say Happy Mother's Day to.
I also can't help but think of the three nameless women who gave birth to my daughters. I can't help but wonder what the words "Happy Mother's Day" feel like to them: a bittersweet allusion to what could have been or a cruel reminder of impossible choices and eternal regret.
So, "Happy Mother's Day"? Maybe not so much. What I feel is grateful, deeply grateful -- grateful for a mom who taught me well and loved me completely if not long enough, grateful for all the amazing young people who call me mom and grateful for the newest mom in the Laurie line and all the joy that lies ahead for her. May you all have much to be grateful for this Mother's Day.
Mother's Day 2017
The cycle of Mother's Days:
1) Toddler days when you get up at the crack of dawn, change diapers, cook and ooh and aah over crafts done in daycare and Sunday school. You are kind of jealous of the mommies getting breakfast in bed or dinner out, but it's all good.
2) School days when you give them money and drive them to the mall so they can buy *interesting* treasures that you will feign surprise when opening. Breakfast in bed! You are confined to bed long past when you would actually like to be up and wonder what takes an hour to prepare and what the kitchen will look like. Breakfast arrives consisting of poptarts, banana and orange juice because they aren't allowed to use the stove. The handmade cards and hibiscus from the garden are precious. To avoid cooking we go out to dinner. I drive and pay.
3) Ah, big brother can now use the stove! He corrals the little girls, pulls off a coffeecake, hot tea and the obligatory banana. Handmade cards and a flower made by the toddler complete the tray, which arrives about an hour before you'd like to get up, but...all good! Dinner out (I still pay).
4) Breakfast is a group effort, comes at a decent hour, cards are a mix of homemade and store bought. Brother can even drive so there are gifts that I didn't pay for and don't know what they are! I don't mind buying dinner.
5) Brother is off to college. Breakfast is poptarts, banana and orange juice because they aren't allowed to use the stove. The handmade cards and hibiscus from the garden are precious. To avoid cooking we go out to dinner. I drive and pay.
6) Big sister is big, and we live in China so everyone can easily get to the store to buy their own treasures though I may have to provide some cash. Breakfast in bed is coffeecake or muffins, hot tea and that banana. Flowers are strictly homemade as there is no garden. Dinner is at home because...Chinese food.
7) All the bigs have flown the nest, just the baby is left at home. No, she isn't very little anymore, but she is the special child. As I got up this morning she yelled from her bed, "Don't make cookies, I'll make them." Well, I wasn't making cookies anyway, I was making the coffeecake...and the hot tea, will go out later to get bananas. And now it's 4pm and guess what? No cookies. But she did just come in with two lovely red roses. Another perfect Mother's Day.
There isn't a whole lot to tell at this point, but a quick update seemed to be in order:
We arrived. I was jetlagged, but much less violently than previous trips for which I am extremely grateful!
On Thursday I submitted my visa application with the help of a super visa/adoption paperwork courier whom I have known virtually for over 20 years. (www.theresalwayshope.com) The name of her business, There's Always Hope, is prophetic I hope. She has been a great help and encouragement.
So now we wait to pick up the visa on Tuesday. As of nearly midnight on Friday the consulate has not contacted her to say there is a problem, so I am taking that as a good sign. Prayers for a smooth process continue to be a high priority.
Otherwise life is pretty low key. I can't go anywhere that I cannot walk or train since my DL is in China, so that does limit my options. I miss the kids in China a lot, but my three adorable grandchildren are...adorable...so that's a big plus. Ice cream is plentiful.
Please consider donating to the work I do with older orphans. It is my only source of income, and while I have many financial needs at this time, really the best reason to donate is because providing a dedicated resource for youth and young adults who are orphaned and disabled is worth it. Thank you.
This is an update that was definitely not on my radar last week. Definitely.
Last Sunday I was leading worship for our little expat team, getting the guest flat ready for a family coming to visit for a few days at the end of the week, and making sure I had all the paperwork ready to submit my visa application in Hong Kong. (At the end of 2017 my work visa had expired and Kristen and I had applied for new visas in Hong Kong. While she got a 10 year visa, I only got a 3 month one because my passport was expiring in August. I applied for a new passport, which was now ready to pick up in Hong Kong.) So on Tuesday we took the fast train to the border and then the subway into Hong Kong. New passport, new visa and we would be back in Hengyang on Friday.
I picked up my passport at the US consulate Tuesday afternoon. All shiny and new.
I dropped off my visa application at the Chinese visa office on Wednesday morning. Except:
On Friday at about 1:30pm Kristen and I returned to the visa office, all packed and ready to race to the border for our train home. I received a number and we waited for the number to be called. Then we went to Window 6 where the lady there proceeded to tell me that my visa application had been rejected. You know that feeling when you are pretty sure you heard what you heard but there was no way that that was what you heard so you say, "What??" Because this was really, really not acceptable.
I asked the reason, with what I am sure was a look of utter disbelief mixed with despair. She was apologetic but of course there is "nothing we can do." Of course.
So that's the long part of this story. The short part is that after a day of seeking advice from some long time China expats, checking with three visa agents, one in Hong Kong and two in the US, to determine any options, lots and lots of prayer by people all over the world, and gradually getting my shell-shocked brain cells to work, Kristen and I are flying to Chicago so I can resubmit my application in the US. I will now and forever have to check yes to question 13.2: Have you ever been denied a visa to China? I feel like I have done something wrong, but I absolutely have not.
Do I feel bitter? angry? resentful? There is plenty of reason to feel all of those things, but I don't. I am sad that it will be weeks before I can get back to my co-workers and the young people I work with. I am disappointed that I am missing an important conference for people who work with children and youth with traumatic backgrounds. I am thankful for all the people who have been willing to help however they can here in Hong Kong and also in Hengyang. I appreciate so much the prayers and encouragement from my support network: knowing I have a place to go to share the hard is a big deal. I am confident that though I have NO IDEA why this has happened, or if there is a reason at all, that the hand that calms the storm is in control of this situation and keeps me calm in the middle of uncertainty.
This blogging is not for the faint of heart! Trust me when I say that the lack of posts does not mean a lack of things to say...far from it. It's really hard to know where to start most days.
So here's the short version:
Life is good.
Life is hard.
Would I change it? No.
For those who like a bit more detail:
I have spent lots and lots of time getting to know the young people and the local staff who work with them. Lots of time. And most of that time looks like doing arts and crafts side by side with the youth, playing with Legos, cutting paper, holding hands, giving and getting hugs and high 5s, and huddling together with legs and arms under a table with a heater under it. Happily the weather has turned warmer and we do less huddling to stay warm.
The biggest change so far has been the start of a sign language class (Chinese Sign Language!) to give the young people who cannot speak due to their disability a voice. It's a slow process but so far very well received. You can read more about it HERE.
Some other odds and ends:
I had a bout of the flu which kept me home for two weeks, recovering and making sure my lingering cough wouldn't put any vulnerable kids at risk.
We made two trips to Hong Kong this winter as required by our visas. It takes about 6 hours to get there by bus, train, and 3 subways. I can't complain; we eat familiar food and enjoy the change of scenery. I am thankful to be able to go to church while we are there whcih is the highlight for me. Kristen probably likes the fast internet best. On our last two trips we brought wheelchairs back into China for two of our kids. That was an adventure!
Our 60 day stay is nearly up so we will be heading to Hong Kong again in another week. This time I will be picking up a new passport and applying for a new visa...that's always a bit stressful so I appreciate your prayers.
Also...I have updated a lot of pages on this site, especially the section "About Older Orphans." I will warn you that there are several pages and each is more like an article than a pithy blog post, but if you are interested in learning more about the issues around older orphans with disabilities, there is a lot there. I have added a page, "Work in Progress" to tell more about what is happening with the work I am doing. If you have any questions, please Contact me. And if you are inspired or encouraged or even just informed by what I am doing, please Donate so I can keep doing it.
My apartment is a little less than two miles from where I work at the ICC Center. The Center is at the top of a hill, so it's uphill most of the way, but thankfully, a bus picks up staff from various parts of the city, and there is a stop just a five minute walk from my apartment.
In the afternoon I like to walk home, barring blazing heat or torrential downpour. It gives me some time to decompress, to think and to pray. It also gives me a chance to observe and assimilate my surroundings and the lives of the people around me. It helps me appreciate all I have -- even when it seems to many that I have given up so much -- and also makes me smile to see the juxtaposition of old and new that is China. So take a walk with me!
Please join us by making a financial contribution on our Donate page.
Today I did something just for myself. I took a shower. Haha...well, that doesn't sound like a big deal, and it isn't that unusual. Except. Today I pampered myself just a little, and oh, how lovely it was.
You see, my bathroom is all tile and unheated, and in November, it is cold. As in, COLD. There isn't a separate shower, just a shower head on the wall, and the water drains into the squatty in the floor. (If you don't know what that is, google it.) I will say that that dedicated water tank on the wall puts out a lot of hot water, for which I am daily thankful. Even if it isn't hooked up to the sink!
So it is Sunday morning, and since I didn't need to rush I decided to take a few extra moments and this is what happened:
First I found an extra space heater in a closet and plugged it in in the bathroom. After a few minutes it definitely took the chill off.
Then I had an inspiration:
Okay, it's no spa, but I rarely light candles at all, and this one didn't really give off much scent, but it made me smile. I hope you take a few minutes to do something special for yourself today, too.
If you find you have an interest in the work I am doing with older orphans, please join me by making a financial contribution on our Donate page.
About This Blog
Part documentary, part family chronicle and part personal reflection as I try to sort through the ups and downs, the joys, heartaches and surprises of our life and work as we follow the path that God has set for us here in China!
Kristen to continue to adjust to college life and find good friends.
Donna to have wisdom in planning and implementing new programs for the youth and for financial provision to cover our expenses.