juxtaposition

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ocean snow

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 sunbathing, anyone?

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 black & white

Juxtaposition. Two things seen or placed together with a contrasting effect. The snow this week provided a perfect backdrop for contrast, for unexpected pairings.

Also, I love when little bits of life converge all at once, like this poem and our current weather…

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“A Hymn To Childhood” by Li-Young Lee

I’ve recently been reading more Li-Young Lee, one of my favorite poets. I found two of his collections–Behind My Eyes (which the above poem is from) and The City in Which I Love You–at the library last week.

I don’t know if it’s the fact that he’s a Chinese male, like my son, and that his lyrics feel like some sort of link to my son’s culture, which we long to preserve in some way, or the fact that he has this elegant and sensual way with words. Probably both. He is one of those poets that feel very special to me in some indescribable way.

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In any case, this poem felt like the perfect one to share today, as we are holed up in the house, the city shut down from snow…

Still talking to God and thinking the snow
falling is the sound of God listening…

What juxtapositions do you see or experience in your life lately?
What unexpected pairings?
What convergences?

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THREE

My son, Ren, turned THREE yesterday!
Here are a few of my favorite photos from the past year that capture his personality and celebrate some of the things I love most about him…

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He has the best smile of anyone I know.
My favorite thing is the way his eyes disappear like little crescents when he smiles.

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He is a GOOFBALL.
He is the most playful kid I know.
It’s hard to take life too seriously when Ren is around.
Thank goodness for that…because I can tend to take myself way too seriously.

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He is already getting brainwashed by his granddad when it comes to SEC football…

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I love his Alfalfa hair when he wakes up!

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He can go from this (all smiles!)

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To this (epic tantrum)
in less than two seconds flat
(as can all preschoolers, I suppose!)

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He LOVES his sister Lucy (aka Woosie)…
but sometimes they embody that phrase
“Can’t live with you, can’t live without you.”
If you were to look up the term “Frenemies” in the dictionary,
the above image is what you would find.

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He LOVES to eat!

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He can also go from epic tantrum…

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to completely content
in less than two seconds flat.

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He is CRAZY smart.
I can say that without it coming off as bragging because I realize I did nothing to contribute to it. Last year, at about nineteen months old, he was practically fluent in Mandarin. Now he speaks English like a boss. I can’t wait to see what he wants to be when he grows up!

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He likes to dress up in women’s clothes and shoes.

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But don’t be mistaken. He’s a man’s man. An alpha male.
He LOVES his grandaddy Bucky…

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And his Daddy!

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He is tough and resilient…
braving a lot of needle sticks during his first year home.
He will do just about anything for fruit snacks.

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His joy is contagious.
He is Mr. Popular at school and I love to sit back and watch him “work the room.”
He walks with a swagger and has a natural confidence.
He is a strong extrovert but has a mind for detail and order.
My dad thinks he has a future in sales.

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He seems happiest when he is playing with his sisters.
He is social, cuddly, affectionate…
it’s inspiring the way he connects with people.

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And did I mention that he LOVES to eat?!…

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and eat…

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Happy Birthday, Ren Boy! We love you so much!

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We know God has BIG things in store for your life.
We are so proud of you and thankful that you are our son!

love [minus biology]

There is a day we are born into the world. There is a day we are born into a family. For many of us, this day is the same. For some, it is different.

Our son, Warren, was born into the world on November 21, 2010. He was born into our family one year ago today, July 2, 2012. Today we celebrate his 1st birthday in our family.

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This was the scene, one year ago, when we left our hotel room in Zheng Zhou, China to go meet our son. It was like the long corridor of a labor and delivery unit in a hospital. There were ten other American families staying in our hotel, all expecting the birth of their children that day. The hotel was preparing for us to bring our babies home from the public affairs office that afternoon. Our babies ranged between the ages of 18 months and 8 years old, but for us, it was as if they were being born for the first time.

At breakfast that morning I spoke with some of the other adoptive moms. Many of them were returning to China for their second or third time. I asked them what to expect as we all gathered together to meet our children. They said “chaos…It is chaos.”

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Imagine a delivery room. Bright white surgical lights. Adrenaline, nerves, anticipation. Crying, screaming, pain. Birth, joy, awe. All of those things interwoven and branded into the deepest recesses of your heart, never to be forgotten. All of these words describe the day we met Ren, except we shared this delivery room with ten other families in a sterile room of a government building. I remember feeling so exposed and overwhelmed. Multiple cameras flashed at one of the most awaited and vulnerable moments of our lives. It felt impossible for one place to hold so many profound moments for so many people.

This year I have learned that birthing a child is not necessarily a biological process. It can be, but it is not limited to this. A birth is something that happens in one’s heart. It is not confined by cells or DNA or blood. It is spiritual and emotional. It is something that happens between two people, in that hidden space we often find hard to touch and define.

I often liken a biological birth to the process of falling in love. It is fueled by chemicals and hormones, emotions that are powerful–so powerful that they rewire your brain and create a bond that is immediate, overwhelming, and inexplicable. There is a sudden rush, a feeling of power and euphoria. I didn’t realize how much I connected childbirth to these emotions–how much I depended on them and took them for granted until I experienced a different kind of birth, the birth of my son.

If biological birth is like falling in love, then perhaps adoption is like an arranged marriage. I believe God did the arranging; it was this mysterious, perplexing process that required great trust. God arranged for Warren to be our son, just as He arranged for Tessa and Lucy to grow inside of my womb, but I quickly realized that love takes many different forms and grows in different ways.

Love, sometimes, is not immediate. It takes months, years, to develop. It is not primarily fueled by feelings. Sometimes its roots must grow deep into dark soil before a flower can blossom. I have learned that this is okay. I have learned that sometimes, the types of love that are the strongest and steeliest are the ones that grow slow and steady. Eventually, the feelings follow.

This year has not been easy. It has been hard in the way that bringing new life into the world is always hard, though the challenges have looked and felt different. My son and I, unable to fall back on more organic means of attachment, have developed new ways to connect. We have learned each other. Learning can be exhausting and frustrating and loaded with failures. Learning requires grace and resilience.

Ren came into our world like most children–confused, traumatized, crying, and screaming. On that gray summer day in China, as I held his sweaty, terrified body to mine, I knew that I wouldn’t be enough for him, just as I’m not enough for my girls. That day, in the humid drizzle, I felt the weakness in my arms and back as I tried to carry his weight and keep him secure. In that moment, I asked God to be enough for me, for Warren, for our family. My bones could feel that terrifying gap between the neediness of my son and my own resources…the neediness of myself and my own resources. It was the beginning of a greater understanding of what it means to be born into God’s family, adopted as sons and daughters of His kingdom.

It is hard to find adequate words to describe the journey, the challenges, and the immense blessings that Ren has brought to our world. I have done my best in this moment I have to write today. As my favorite poet, Laura Gilpin says,

“How flimsy words are,
crushed or shattered under the spilling weight of meaning.
All I can do is dip into the depths
and hold what I can here in my cupped hands
letting the words fall from my hands into your hands,
and say no more.”

I feel so much gratitude. We love you, Ren boy. Happy 1st Bday. You are so special.

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Ren. 2 July 2012

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Ren. 2 July 2013

french press saturday

I started French Press Saturday on my last blog and I thought I’d bring it back. Now that our family has transitioned out of survival mode and into what feels like “normal” life, our days have taken on more structure and stability. Chris has resumed his usual routine of taking the kids to the YMCA each Saturday morning, which means that this is one of my most savored times during the week–the perfect moment to sit down and enjoy a cup of coffee and some solitude.

Since I’ve been revisiting our time in China, I thought I’d do a China themed French Press post. After all, the topic of coffee during our China visit deserves a post of its own. Coffee is that important in my world. My life is measured out and categorized by cups of coffee. Like music and scent, my memories are strongly attached and provoked by the taste of it.

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I was anticipating that the coffee in China would be awful. One thinks of green tea when one thinks of China, not a steaming cup of dark, bold espresso. I love tea, but only when it is a compliment to, not a replacement for coffee. Therefore, I’d packed liberal amounts of Starbucks Via packets to get us through the sticky parts. We always had an electric tea kettle in our various hotel rooms, so Chris and I were able to make our own instant coffee during the afternoons when Ren napped, or sometimes in the morning too, if we couldn’t wait until our first breakfast dose.

We spent the first week of our trip in the city of Zheng Zhou, which is the capitol of Henan province, where Ren is from. Our hotel in Zheng Zhou surprisingly served some of the best coffee I’ve ever had. Breakfast was the best part of our day (another post about that), mostly because of the coffee–cafe americano, hot and velvety, served in limitless amounts. I drank about three cups each morning. Shamelessly.

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We spent the second week of our trip in Guangzhou, which is where all of the American families pass through before returning to the States with their children. Guangzhou is in the south of China, near Hong Kong, and is more westernized than many other parts of the country, which means there was a Starbucks right across the street from our hotel. I tried my standard tall americano at the Chinese Starbucks. It was great…until I added some half and half…and dairy products are an entirely different topic in China. That was my first and last Starbucks coffee in Guangzhou, but I did buy this commercial mug as a souvenir.

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I am drinking my second cup of Saturday morning coffee from this mug as I type. Each time I use it, it reminds me that God provides for our daily needs. Sometimes, I experience His love most tangibly through a proper cup of coffee.

Day One: Letting Go

I kept a daily journal of our China trip last year. I was good about writing during the first week, but after that my entries abruptly tapered off. Once we got Ren, we quickly entered into newborn delirium, even though he was already 19 months old. At that point, I had to trust that my mind would hold onto the moments I was meant to remember.

I thought I’d share the entry from Day One. I remember writing it in an airplane as we flew back to the west coast en route to Beijing. It was the second of ten flights we took round trip. It was such a strange feeling flying back to California that day, as we had just left our home there to move to Virginia. It felt as though we were back-tracking and getting nowhere, stuck in an endless round-a-bout of planes and automobiles, like an episode of The Twilight Zone. This journal entry could probably use some editing, but I left it as is, an authentic draft of delirious travel thoughts.

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Day 1 — Thursday, June 28th, 2012

We pulled out of our driveway at 7:15am this morning–or should I say yesterday morning? It’s past midnight EST right now, so technically today is already tomorrow, but I’ve entered into that traveling-haze where the hours blur together and it hurts your head to try and figure what time it is. All I know is that I’m tired.

We have been traveling all day but we are still in the continental US. We are flying over the western states right now, but it’s hard to say where because it’s pitch black outside. I think we are due to land at SFO in about an hour and a half.

The first stretch of today’s journey involved driving the girls down to my parents’ house in NC. We woke the girls up this morning and loaded them right in the car, gave them juice boxes and protein bars for breakfast. It was strange pulling out of our driveway, leaving our new home that doesn’t feel quite like home yet. We just moved cross-country from California, and after a week and a half of unpacking boxes and moving furniture, it is already time to let go of “home” again.

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[leaving the Atlantic coast. Portsmouth, VA.]

The road trip to my parents’ place is four and a half hours, door to door, with one stop. We got there around lunch time and my parents had food waiting for us. We were ravenous! Chris and I stayed for about 40 minutes–just enough time to eat, get the girls somewhat situated, and say goodbye.

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[driving through the Virginia countryside.]

That was the hardest part of the day–saying goodbye to the girls. I felt like I was betraying them. My dad wanted to pray for us all so we huddled together in the middle of their family room, held hands, bowed our heads. I immediately felt the sting in the back of my throat, the warning that tears were soon to follow. Both of my parents prayed over us and the gravity of what was before us hit me with each word.

I was eyeing the girls during the prayer. Tess looked around, not quite sure what to make of it all. She was studying our faces for some indication. Lucy stood next to me, lost somewhere in toddler-la-la-land. My heart ached for them because I know I won’t see them for seventeen days and I know they can’t wrap their minds around why we’ve left them–at least, I know Lucy can’t. Tess and I have been talking about her brother in China for awhile now and she seems to be tracking pretty well. I know my parents will do great and the girls will enjoy their time, but I also know that this is a long time to be away and this journey is going to impact everyone–everyone is going to feel it–everyone already does.

We all walked out to the car together and I scooped the girls up and squeezed them tightly, whispered in their ears how much I loved them. Tess burrowed her nose into my neck and didn’t want to let go. Lucy said, “I love you, Mommy.” She knew we were getting ready to leave her and she wasn’t going to let me put her down. Her legs tightened around my hips. Finally, my dad asked her if she wanted to come inside for a popsicle and she happily obliged.

Chris and I drove away, suddenly alone in the car. We drove past roadside stands of plump peaches, ears of corn as big as bowling pins stacked high in pyramids on wooden stands. They had tables full of watermelon and tomatoes and wooden signs advertising homemade ice cream–tastes of summer in the South. The dense green foliage along the North Carolina country roads stood in such sharp contrast to the golden rolling hills of northern California that we’d grown so accustomed to. I found myself struggling to adjust to the jolting differences between the east and west coast (not to mention the new continent we are now heading towards). I was quiet in the car as we drove by it all. Everything was starting to feel real.

We drove for about two hours until we finally reached the Greensboro airport, where we started our journey back to the west coast. We had a two hour flight to Chicago, then a two hour layover which turned into much longer thanks to delays caused by thunderstorms. Day one of travel has been full. We’ve been going non-stop in cars, terminals, and airplanes for about 18 hours and I’m ready to get off of this plane. Tomorrow is going to be just as intense.

The flight attendants are about the bring the beverage cart by for the second time. It seems strange to order coffee so late at night, but I think I’m going to need some. When we land at SFO, it will be about 11pm PST, but it will be 2am for us. Then we will need to rent a car and drive to Modesto–about an hour and a half drive. We will stay in a hotel in Modesto and then fly from there BACK to SFO tomorrow morning, and then onto Beijing a few hours later. Flying out of Modesto verses SFO saved us about $600, and Chris was trying to be as thrifty as possible when booking our airfare. It is insanity to me, but every $ counts at this point.

We are quickly approaching the end of our funds. We are almost tapped out. We have about $8,000 cash strapped to our bodies in money belts. As we stashed the wads of money around our abdomens this morning, it felt as though we were conducting an illegal transaction. We are close to reaching the limit on our credit card. There have been so many costs along the way but most of them have come right at the end. We weren’t expecting that. Still, God is providing in ways we didn’t imagine and I know He will continue to do so. And, like Anne Morrow Lindberg says, purposeful giving has a way of filling one up…the more you give the more you have to give…like milk in the breast. I don’t know that life always feels that way, but I’m hoping this proves to be true.

That’s it for today. I will write again tomorrow, most likely on the flight to Beijing, high in the sky over the vast, blue, Pacific Ocean.

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[back to the Pacific. San Francisco, CA.]

one year tomorrow

one year tomorrow

Tomorrow marks one year since we left for China to bring our son home.

I captured this image last year on our drive to the San Francisco airport. The rolling hills in northern California were already sun scorched, a backdrop of gold and rust. We made our way through winding roads and windmills, images indigenous to the area. It was the last stretch of land we traveled before crossing the vast blue Pacific.

It’s as if my body knows and time itself is ticking inside of me, in my bones, as steady as my pulse, counting down to this moment that changed our lives forever.

I am still processing it. I have been without many words over the past year. One year later, and I finally feel as though sharing pieces of this story is a possibility.

I want to share parts of it over the next few weeks. It is a way of remembering and releasing. Sometimes it may just be a few photos. Sometimes a painting. Perhaps a poem or a string of thoughts. To try and tell it all feels overwhelming, so I will share the pieces as they come.

Thanks for sharing in the journey.